Tag Archives: larry niven

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.