Books: the Man-Kzin Wars series

This is a series of SF anthologies based on Larry Niven’s creations, the nine-foot-tall spacefaring/spaceferal felinoids called kzinti.  I think there are now twelve books in the series; not going to dig up all the Amazon links, but here’s the first book.

Niven is a superstar, though I myself haven’t read much of his work.  Some of his forewords come off pretty cocky, and if I read the runes right, Elf Sternberg managed to annoy Niven enough to get a personal diatribe–by submitting, evidently, a gay-themed kzin story involving homosexual kzinti with lavish detail about their implausible genital endowment.  One doubts that Elf, whom I’ve met and seems like a good chap, meant it to be taken entirely seriously.  Niven came off as ranting, which isn’t what I’d do even if I had his star power.  When I want to look to the model of authorial deportment, I look to the tact, class and generosity of C.J. Cherryh, whose SF is the kind that even non-SF fans find deep and delightful.

I give Niven credit for not putting up with bad writers, though; he doesn’t have to. The kzinti make a fascinating subject with a strong streak of horror (they eat humans, unless they enslave them; sometimes the latter precedes the former).  The thought of eating vegetable matter makes them physically ill. The humans described in the series are hundreds of years out of the habit of warfare, with even history carefully censored, a social transformation into pacifism that ends abruptly when they meet the kzinti.

My read is that the contributing authors, over the series, have added details and touched on/fleshed out areas Niven might never have gotten around to with regard to his feline creations.  As with any anthologies, some of the stories are a bit blah, some sparkle, and most are pretty good.  Four stars overall.

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4 thoughts on “Books: the Man-Kzin Wars series”

  1. I haven’t read any of this series, but I admit your review piqued my interest. I have read most of what he wrote with Jerry Pournelle, and some of those books (Footfall, Lucifer’s Hammer) are among my all time favorites. In fact, their take on Dante’s Inferno (also called Inferno), is brilliant, at least to me.

    Thanks for the review.

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    1. I was also a major fan of Footfall, Shawn. I am not sure if it isn’t really more ringmastering than writing at this point for Niven, and while Pournelle has his odd moments, he’s a pretty good writer. Thanks for weighing in!

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    1. When I look at how I should handle myself if I ever become a public figure, CJ is my first model. It was real hard for me to call her by her first name in the beginning–you know us Midwesterners–but ‘Ms. Cherryh’ would have sounded awkwarder than any over-familiarity in the SF con context. I admit I felt better about it all when I was able to sit down and explain that to her, so she wouldn’t think I was badly raised. Unsurprisingly, she was cheerful and understanding.

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