Cowardice and Espionage

Betrayer of Worlds

by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

It’s worth noting that there are now as many books in this prequel series as there are in the “Ringworld” series itself: This is fourth novel in the “… of worlds” prequel series, and it brings Louis Wu, the future protagonist of Ringworld, into the story. In the first chapters of The Ringworld Engineers, Louis Chmee are abducted by a Puppeteer to be his agents. Similarly, Nessus finds Louis in a moment of desperation and employs him to assist the Puppeteers to assist with their problems.

The book is fun, and easy to read, as are all the books in the series. Unfortunately, as I read the book, it struck me as trying a bit too hard to fit in with the books that would follow it. The mere fact that Louis Wu met Nessus for the first time in Ringworld — meant to come later in Louis’s lifetime — is a problem handwaved away by this book: it is understood from the start that Wu’s memory will be wiped at the end of the story, and this is in fact a condition of Nessus, his employer. As a result of this foreknowledge, the book feels a little empty. How can a character learn and grow if he has no memory of events?

The primary conflicts in this volume is between the Citizens (a.k.a. the alien Puppeteers) and the rogue Puppeteer Achilles; the aquatic Gw’oth, and their colony on Kl’mo; and the supposedly neutral human world of New Terra. (The alien Pak are involved at the beginning.) It is to the writers’ credit that these complicated conflicts are all clearly drawn, and at no time was I confused. The characters are well-drawn, as they have been in previous novels, although some of the villains lapse into evil-genius mode a little — notable the Puppeteer Achilles and the Gw’oth despot Bm’o. Louis Wu seems a little smarter and quicker than he is in Niven’s solo novels.

Betrayer of Worlds isn’t my least favorite of the series (that honor belongs to Juggler of Worlds), and I recommend it only if you’ve been following the series, but readers jumping in won’t have a prayer of following what’s been going on.

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