Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review - Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes

Short review: Colonists on an alien world disturb the local ecosystem with unpleasant consequences, and the lone military guy with the expedition has to save their bacon. Again.

Its just Beowulf
Aliens instead of trolls
Soldiers for heroes

Full review: The Legacy of Heorot is at its core a science fiction version of Beowulf. The first extra-solar human colony lands on a relatively small island that the inhabitants call Avalon. They find no large fauna, certainly no large dangerous fauna, and the colonists begin to become lax in their security procedures. Cadmann, the lone military/security specialist in the expedition, warns against letting their guard down, but the other colonists mostly ignore him.

Of course, it turns out that Cadmann is right, and the foolish pacifist colonists are wrong. A native predator shows up with the ability to move at terrifying speed and kills a couple of the colonists. The creature is quickly dubbed a "grendel" (to make the parallel more explicit). Under Cadmann's direction, the colonists kill the intruder and eventually root out the remaining grendels on the island, although the foolish colonists ignore Cadmann's advice a couple times, leading to further loss of life.

Killing off the grendels turns out to have been a huge mistake, and due to a life-cycle quirk (that the colonists, being supposedly crack scientists, should have figured out sooner), the colony is beset with thousands of grendels. Cadmann defends the colony, and all is well. The outcome is never truly in doubt, as Cadmann says, the grendels are basically nothing more than animals. Really fast and strong animals certainly, but nothing more than that.

The book seems somewhat disjointed at times, which one might expect from a work resulting from the collaboration between three authors. Some characters seem to forget pieces of information they learned earlier in the book, and some reasonably obvious connections between data are not made for prolonged periods of time. The book makes some attempt to explain this with "hibernation instability", but this seems like an incomplete answer at most, as the information and connections in question should have pretty quickly been linked up by someone of even merely average intelligence.

One side note, at one point the characters state that the follow-up expedition has been "Proxmired" (in other words, cancelled). This is part of a long-running feud that Niven and Pournelle (and many other science fiction authors) have had with former Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire (now deceased), criticizing him for opposing what they considered to be valuable scientific research and funding for the space program in order to (they allege) make sure there was enough money to fund agricultural studies. I tend to agree with Niven and Pournelle on this, but they use the name "Proxmire" in the middle of this book without any explanation, which probably will confuse some readers.

It is a decent book, and an enjoyable take on the Beowulf myth, but not really anything more than that.

1988 Locus Award Nominees

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