What happens when a supposedly the indestructible hull of a spaceship explodes and kills its crew? That mystery is at the heart of Juggler of Worlds, Niven & Lernerís follow-up to their first collaboration, Fleet of Worlds. The man who is attempting to discern the answer to this quandary is Sigmund Ausfaller, an operative with the UNís galactic security agency. On the other side of the struggle is Nessus, the Puppetteer who was central to the story in the previous volume.
The authors characterize Sigmund as perhaps one of the most paranoid protagonists not created by Philip K. Dick. On many levels this works as a good viewpoint for the reader since we may have as many questions as Sigmund himself. The returning Nessus; however, seems more relatable than Sigmund. Niven and Lerner did a good job of conveying the alien in the previous volume and that foundation is built upon here in Juggler of Worlds.
As indicated in my review of Fleet of Worlds, Iíve not (even since then) had a chance to read any of Nivens other Ringworld or Known Space novels, so I donít know how much overlap or retconning/re-appropriating is done for this novel. Some parts of the novel lacked dramatic tension. The earliest portions of the novel were tense as we were introduced to Sigmund, but as the novel progressed, Sigmund became less interesting and the story also felt more by-the numbers.
The brief appearances of the Kzinti and hints at their multiple wars with humans provided a nice depth to the already vast canvas of the Known Space. Also shown in a small role are the ancient Outsiders, who seemingly laid the groundwork for much of the technology utilized in Known Space. I get the sense on the whole, this novel is just touching on a lot of things Niven has covered in past stories and novels about Known Space/Ringworld without giving firm narrative details. The effect was an uneven and cobbled-together story.
I closed my review of Fleet of Worlds with "If the follow-up is as enjoyable as this novel, it should prove a worthy addition to what is an already rich and diverse Science Fictional universe." Unfortunately for me, Juggler didnít work nearly as well and I hope if these two pen another tale together, it can return to the form they established in the previous volume.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford
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