(1999) Larry Niven, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, 227pp, ISBN 1-85723-844-3
This novel marks the welcome return of Hanville Svetz, hero of The Flight of the Horse (pbk, £5.99, ISBN 1-85723-841-9), a series of fantasy tales involving time travel. The book is consistent with the suite of short stories from the seventies, and follows Svetz and companions on a trip to Mars where convergent timelines meet towards the end of Mars' ability to sustain life. This allows Niven to present a Mars populated with the creations of Burroughs, Weinbaum, Bradbury, Wells and others, with the additional element of a natural (i.e. organic) sky-hook (or space elevator, if you prefer), in the form of a tree which Niven likens to Yggdrasil, Jacob's Ladder, and Jack's Beanstalk. Through various trials and unconscious meddling, Svetz alters the timeline of the solar system such that Earth itself is threatened, and the fate of life depends on his ingenuity in restoring things to 'normal'.
I enjoyed this romp thoroughly, which may surprise some, given my reviews of Niven's other recent work (such as The Ringworld Throne). To clarify my position, my objections to the previous couple of books are based on the idea that they were fantasy masquerading as science fiction whereas, in this case, the Svetz tales were always presented as fantasy, and as such can be enjoyed on their own terms. Neither does Niven's liberal 'borrowing' from the work of others upset me, since they are, for the most part, presented respectfully and joyfully in a kind of nostalgic celebration of the way SF used to treat Mars -- a far cry from the recent slew of oh-so-serious speculations presented by today's writers. Consequently I can happily recommend this book, and all praise to Niven for this enjoyable trip down memory lane.
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