Book Report: World of Ptavvs

World of Ptavvs, Larry Niven, 188pp, 1966

If you are a scifi reader but don't know Larry Niven then you aren't reading this blog because you don't exist. However, in the off chance that you slipped in from an alternate dimension where Larry Niven never took up writing, then allow me to explain. Larry Niven is known for hard-SF writing, mainly in the 70s and 80s, though he is still writing today. Unlike contemporary SF that moved on to cyberpunk, steampunk, and singularity visions, Niven still writes about humans exploring the cosmos. He is also quite a stickler for scientific accuracy, to the extent he has created an entire universe called "Known Space" with a history extending from the early 21st century to the 32nd.

Larry Niven is probably best known for the Ring World series, about adventures on a giant ring the diameter of earth's orbit circling an alien star. The book I just finished, World of Ptavvs, is set in the same universe but much earlier. It also happens to be his first full novel, expanded from several short stories. Given that he was still early in his craft, I was impressed that it was so interesting. Clearly he got better, but even this early work is quite entertaining.

World of Ptavvs is a short novel (almost novella) about humanity's first-ish contact with an alien species, under the most strange and amusing circumstances. Kaznol, a greedy alien with power of mind control, is accidentally stuck in a stasis field which freezes him in time. Two billion years ago he crashes on an empty planet that eventually becomes the earth of today. In the mid 21st century humans find the frozen alien at the bottom of the ocean and attempt mental contact using a man with slight telepathic abilities (he practices on dolphins who are by this time known to be intelligent). Due to lack of planning on humanity's part, they accidentally free the alien and in the process the alien imprints his memories on the telepath. So now we have *two* rampaging aliens from billions of years ago bent on conquering the earth.

I know, it's sounds super cheesy but it's actually a very entertaining story with some cool twists. Throw in a team from the ARM (CIA of the future), some angry asteroid miners, and a few stolen spaceships and you get a rockin' adventure. Best of all it's *short*. Less than 200 pages. In an age when many authors feel the need to produce thousand page tomes it's nice to read a book that is no longer than it needs to be.

So, should you read it? Yes!

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Posted December 6th, 2011

Tagged: bookreview