Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tales from Known Space

In addition to re-reading Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization tales, I've also started reading and re-reading the Known Space stories by Larry Niven and others. First appearing in the 1960's in a series of short stories, plus such novels as A Gift from Earth and Ringworld, Niven eventually opened up the era known as the Man-Kzin Wars to other authors.

Heck, there was even a SF roleplaying game. I've got one, and no, it isn't for sale!

At the Core: Known Space Stories by Larry Niven

Here are the stories written or (in a few cases) co-written by Niven. I've read all but a few of the Ringworld and the most recent collaborative efforts prior to this (starting when I first discovered them in the early 1970's).

Larry Niven; Tale of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (Ballantine Books; 1975; ISBN 345-24563-6-150; cover by Rick Sternbach).

Short stories spanning the earliest days of Niven's saga (when humanity was within one solar system) to beyond the time of the Ringworld stories. You can see how the series just grew, instead of working from a plan (the story The Ethics of Madness in the collection Neutron Star, for example, does not really fit comfortably into the "canon").

My fondest memories of this collection come, however, not from the stories, but from the Sternbach cover. Around the time that this volume first came out I had discovered Niven (through short stories) and descended upon it with cries of joy when I saw how the series fit together. The entries in the series came out in a somewhat unified edition from Ballantine (later Del Rey), many of them with covers by Sternbach. During that time an exhibit of his work (mostly from Niven's work, but also some other science fiction, a cover for The Mote in God's Eye and some work for a non-fiction book) was touring and I found it at the Hayden Planetarium. It was there that you could appreciate the detail in what you only see as a mere approximation. In addition to a stunning depiction of our galaxy, and a map showing the various stars of Known Space, Sternbach sneaks in micro-sized versions of several of his covers for other Known Space works (such as Neutron Star and Ringworld). Amazing stuff!

Made up of: Introduction: My Universe and Welcome to It!; The Coldest Place; Becalmed in Hell; Wait It Out; Eye of an Octopus; How the Heroes Die; The Jigsaw Man; At the Bottom of a Hole; Intent to Deceive; Cloak of Anarchy; The Warriors; The Borderland of Sol; There is a Tide; Safe at Any Speed; Afterthoughts; Bibliography: The Worlds of Larry Niven; About the Cover (Rick Sternbach).

Counts as 10 entries in the 2009 Year in Shorts.

Man-Kzin: Known Space Stories by Larry Niven and Diverse Hands

These stories have been appearing since the early 1990's in a line from Baen Books. Volume XII will be published soon. There have also been a number of omnibus books (collecting fragments published in separate anthologies) and original novels.

Inconstant Star; Poul Anderson (Baen Books; 1991; ISBN 0-671-72031-7; cover by Larry Elmore).

This entry by the late Poul Anderson is one of the better stories not written by Niven. Anderson's lyrical writing plus his use of interesting astronomical facts plus Niven's universe make a nice mix. The book is an omnibus of two separately published but linked tales, Iron and Inconstant Star.

Running count for the overall reading project:

Counts as two entries in the 2008 Year in Shorts.

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