Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review - Achilles' Choice by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Short review: An Olympic athlete gambles her life on victory. So do all the other Olympic hopefuls.

Achilles could choose
Happy life or lasting fame
That's not the choice here

Full review: I've read a lot of Niven before, and three of his other collaborations with Barnes (Dream Park, The Barsoom Project, and The Descent of Anansi). This one didn't seem to be up to the same quality as the others.

The story involves athletes competing in the Olympics in the future. Normal humans are not good enough, so athletes all "boost", which gives them superhuman strength, stamina, and reflexes, but kills them within ten years or so. The Olympics have added artistic and academic events, but it appears that to compete in those you have to also compete in an athletic event (this is never made explicit though). The title is a reference to the choice the Greek gods supposedly gave Achilles: he could have a long peaceful life, or a short, glorious one.

But the name doesn't match the plot of the book. The Olympic winners get to be "linked" into a sort of world computer system which will counter the debilitating effects of the "boost". The people who don't win gold are shut out and die. So, the people who win glory don't die after all, just the ones who reach for the brass ring and fail.

The book never really explains why only Olympic winners should be chosen to be linked - the justification doesn't add up. There's a lot of time spent detailing the training of the main character, and not enough spent on the science fiction idea behind the story. This adds up to a fairly weak book.

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  1. I've tried to read his other books, but the only story I really liked was Ringworld.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: I have liked some of his stuff, but not other work he's done. I liked some of his novels, such as Protector, but I actually found Ringworld to be a bit weak in the story department.

    I've found that Niven's best work is often in his collections of short work like The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton, Crashlander, and Flatlander.

  3. Ringworld was strong in the character department and the concept department. Some of the story was boring - but I did like the luck as genetic notion.

  4. @Julia Rachel Barrett: I thought is was pretty good in the character development department, and that is what Niven is best at. If you liked that part of Ringworld, you'll probably like Flatlander, which is a collection of short stories about Gil Hamilton.