Trike's Reviews > Man-Kzin Wars XIII

Man-Kzin Wars XIII by Larry Niven
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Jul 09, 12

bookshelves: read-in-2012, science-fiction, short-stories, space-opera
Read in July, 2012

The Man-Kzin Wars series has been my favorite escapist literature since the first one debuted 25 years ago. Some of the books in the series have been brilliant, some terrible, but overall they've been quite entertaining. This volume is decidedly on the "really good" end of the spectrum. there are some annoying things, such as the witless dolt who proofread the thing, changing the multiple instances of "hangar" into "hanger" and the flash of "lightning" to "lightening." That sort of intern-level laziness aggravates me. Overlooking those lapses, though, shows a really fine collection overall.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about Larry Niven's Known Space books is that they generally don't take themselves too seriously. There's always the wry viewpoint which underscores everything. The best of the Man-Kzin stories capture that. The most brilliant example occurs in the very first volume with Dean Ing's story "Cathouse." That really set the tone for everyone following. However, here we have the Alex Hernandez tale "At the Gates" which fits right in with that same style. It's a fine line to walk and many authors aren't as successful at it, but when they hit it, everything is golden. Known Space is a lot like Star Trek: lots of fun, but short on continuity of scientific believability.

The stories:

Misunderstanding by Hal Colebatch & Jessica Q. Fox -- Colebatch is probably the most-active veteran of the M-K Wars. His stories have been all over the place for me, and this is one of the weaker ones. It's a bit *too* silly for my tastes... well, more than a bit. It's downright goofy. I don't know Fox's work, so I have no idea how much influence she had on the story. This is the weakest tale of the bunch.

Two Types of Teeth by Jane Lindskold -- I quite liked this story, primarily because of the pay-off of the title. It's about a Kzin POW and the woman tasked with studying him. There's some stuff about Helsinki Syndrome and politics, but this is one of those tales which feels somewhat canonical. (Many of the M-K stories aren't canon, according to Niven, but he's only talked about a couple.) Even without knowing about the larger aspects of Known Space a reader can easily follow this straight-forward story.

Pick of the Litter by Charles E. Gannon -- This novella is the longest of the bunch and the heart of the book. A special taskforce captures a bunch of Kzin kits who are then raised in captivity during the early years of the Wars so humans can study them. they 9and we) learn a lot about Kzin biology and psychology, as well as the recent history of Earth and the internal conflicts caused by shifting from a neutered Golden Age of peace to a war footing against a ferocious enemy. It's interesting in and of itself, but I also like how it fills in gaps in the M-K backstory about how humans learned to exploit Kzin emotional tendencies and physiological responses.

Tomcat Tactics by Charles E. Gannon -- This is pretty much a sequel to the previous story. Much of it is the pay-off to the various bits of knowledge gleaned over the 25 year span in "Pick of the Litter." It's also a cracking-good war story. These two stories really feel like Gannon has done his homework from previous volumes and has slotted his tales expertly into them, obliquely referencing things which happened in other volumes concerning the planet Wunderland. Plus all of his dates feel right. If they ever update the Wunderland War volume, these need to go with it.

At the Gates by Alex Hernandez -- As I mentioned, this is the stand-out tale of the bunch. It truly captures the flavor of the classic tales of Known Space as written by Niven: it's a cool adventure with daring, smart protagonists who have a sort of amused viewpoint of the world. The only thing I didn't care for was that the main Kzin character, Healer-of-Hunters, refers to having eaten a pet Pug as a young kit. That was just unnecessary. Pugs are such pleasant, happy-to-meet-you dogs. Now, Chihuahuas on the other hand... (And I mean "the other hand" literally: looking at my left hand as I type this, I can see the deep gouges left from my Chihuahua as he mauled me while I attempted to remove a tick. My Pugs wouldn't have done that.)

Anyway, we finally get to find out what happened to Angel's Pencil, the human spaceship which first encountered the Kzin way back in 1966. (1966 our time, not Known Space time. That's how old this universe is that Niven has created.)

Zeno's Roulette by David Bartell -- I'm not sure what to make of this story. It's really good and feels quite a bit like the previous one, but it really amps up the stakes by evoking many of the heavy hitters in the Known Space universe: the Puppeteers, the Slavers and the stasis boxes. In mercenary Flex Bothme (a pseudonym) Bartell has created a character the equal to the likes of Louis Wu, the hero of the Ringworld books, but there's something sinister about him and not quite complete. It's a good story, but again it went to a dark place more than once. I'm not against that but... maybe it was just jarring after the Hernandez story.

Bound for Paradise by Alex Hernandez -- This ties in with "At the Gates", pointing to bigger things to come with the descendants of Angel's Pencil and a new direction for the Known Space universe. Providing Niven lets it stand as canon, of course. This is brief and direct, almost a coda for everything that's gone before.

One of the things I've always liked about Niven's universe is the names of his spaceships. Instead of boring names like "Intrepid" and "Endeavour," he's always given them fanciful names: Angel's Pencil and Hot Needle of Inquiry. We've got some good ones in this volume, too.

Human ships:
Catscratch Fever
Euclid's Lasso
I Love Lucy
Pick of the Litter Alaric
Sun Wukong

Kzin ships:
Defiant Snarl
Devourer of Monkeys
Far-ranging Prowler
Guardant Ancestor
Incisor-Red
Incisor-Yellow
Righteous Manslaughter
Shadow's Chariot
Sizthz Chitz
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