It is only very recently that I started reading anything written by Larry Niven. The first works I read were included in the Anthology All The Myriad Ways. It was then that I discovered not only his intellectual writing style, but the fact he was quite funny. I was laughing out loud reading stories like Superman: Man of Steel Woman Of Kleenex. I highly recommend that story for anyone who wants an amusing read.
Flight of the Horse is another anthology of short stories mainly concerned with a time traveller called Svetz. As Niven does not believe in time travel the animals that Svetz is instructed to bring back area all fantasy animals. Charged to bring back a horse he finds a unicorn, Leviathan appears when he’s trying to capture a whale, he brings back a Roc, finds a werewolf society (the humans were descended from dogs rather than apes), and he finds a ghost man who changed his timeline by going back in history and changing the outcome of the Cuban missile crisis.
The second last story in the anthology deals with teleportation. In a future society teleportation has been perfected and is now being used in place of cars, and recently in place of airplanes. People are able to get from one place to another in seconds. News has changed as well. With reporters able to appear anywhere in mere seconds they can report as things are happening. This occurs at the scene of a robbery and creates a riot. This leads the reporter to examine the societal impact of teleportation and being able to get anywhere so rapidly.
The final story describes a thief who has come to steal a warlock’s wheel from a powerful and ancient warlock. He gets caught in the process and the warlock, as punishment, stabs him in the heart with a glass dagger. The thief is set free and must travel back to his land without magic, costing him almost all of his money and thus he’s not able to get all the way home. He gets a job in the town by the sea to save up money for passage to his homeland of Atlantis. He never returns home, instead becoming a wealthy importer of rugs. After thirty years he sees the warlock again and helps the warlock defeat another evil sorcerer. It is after this defeat that he learns he never had a glass dagger in his heart at all, but he has learned his lesson and is very conservative about the use of magic in future.
My thoughts on this anthology . . .
Like I said at the beginning I find his writing hilarious. The stories including Svetz are enjoyable in the fact that he doe not really like time traveling. Svetz is a coward. The main reason that he keeps going back in time is because he is scared of his boss. The story I found most interesting was the one in which is time machine goes sideways instead of forward or backward in time. Svetz finds himself in a society that has evolved from canines as opposed to apes. The werewolves are the dominant species and are served by trolls who are evolved from humans. You have to wonder if quantum physics is right and there really are alternate realities out there.
The last story in the book “What Good Is A Glass Dagger?” returns us to Niven’s actual sword and sorcery world in which magic is dependent on a force called mana which is starting to run out. The more magic that is used in a given area the sooner mana disappears and then magic cannot be used in that area any further. The warlock’s wheel that the thief tries to steal can be used to get rid of all the mana in a given area and the thief wants to use it to get rid of magic to prevent war. Throughout the course of the story the thief comes to learn that loss of magic does not mean the end of war. I love the idea that Atlantis was an island that was kept afloat by magic; it was tectonically unstable. Once mana was all used up the island would sink. It is really an interesting theory as to what happened to Atlantis and one that could be plausible, if we believe there was ever a substance called mana.
The story that I find the most fascinating though is Flash Crowd, the story about teleportation. One of the great things about science fiction is demonstrated here: the exploration of how technology affects society. How would such rapid travel impact society? How many people would stay in Canada when they could just as easily live in Australia or (as was the case in the story) Tahiti. People wouldn’t have to live in poor areas either to be close to work, but they could live halfway across the world. Who would ned telephones, or the internet, or the postal service when you could just as easily visit the person you wanted to talk to? One of the other points that Niven made in this story was the difference in policing and crime. Being able to get in and out of a house in mere seconds means that less crime would be solved. Would such rapid travel be a good thing or a bad thing? It can be both. It is the application of a given technology that dictates whether we see it as a benefit or a detriment not the technology itself.
If you want to read something that makes you think, but you don’t quite feel like reading philosophy, read science fiction – particularly the Flight Of The Horse anthology.