from Vanamonde (2005); reprinted File 770 #145
Deft, neat, brilliant, hugely imagined, it serves these with a terse crisp poetry few of our writers achieve. Niven introduces it explaining he had not planned another Ringworld book; it was sparked by fans discussing the first three on the Internet. "This is a playground for the mind," he says. "It's a puzzle too, a maze. Question every turn or you'll get lost. When you've finished the book, remember not to lock the gate" (p. 12). Many authors would not trouble to warn us, but Niven is big-hearted. Among his many paradoxes is whether this is true of these characters.
We have now met many kinds of Protector, of which four feature here, far more intelligent than humans, faster, stronger, capable of self-sacrifice, but fighting, fighting. Benevolence is not magnanimity, and protecting a sapient being even when vital is a tricky business. Nine hundred years in our future a truly old Protector asks a woman, about religions, whether humans feel a need for the companionship of someone greater. "We outgrew them," she says, a soldier in a technological army that gives her the rank of Detective, a leader who like so many of us today entangles love and dominance. At the end — well, I won't tell you, but as you follow Niven's hinting you'll recall in wonder the end of his first book about Protectors thirty years ago.