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Rainbow Mars
Larry Niven
Tor Books, 316 pages


Bob Eggleton
Rainbow Mars
Larry Niven
Larry Niven has authored or co-authored more than 40 novels and short story collections. His 1970 novel, Ringworld, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, while his short stories have earned him four more Hugos. His collaborations with Jerry Pournelle include The Mote in God's Eye, an intense first-contact yarn, Oath of Fealty, a blistering tirade against liberal values, and the #1 bestseller, Footfall. He resides in Tarzana, California.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Best of all Possible Wars
SF Site Review: Destiny's Road

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Todd Richmond

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Larry Niven's latest book, Rainbow Mars, is a combination of a novel of the same name, plus five additional short stories. For reasons that aren't obvious to me, the novel comes first, followed by the short stories. Do yourself a big favour and skip to the end, read the short stories first and then come back to Rainbow Mars. The stories supply some much needed background information that makes the primary story much easier to read.

Rainbow Mars takes place in the distant future, 3054 AD, where man has succeeded in wiping out almost every other species on the planet. The Institute for Temporal Research provides a way to change that, however. Waldemar the Tenth, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has instructed the Institute to go into the past and retrieve specimens to repopulate the planet. Okay, that's not entirely true. Waldemar the Tenth has the mentality of a six-year-old and the animals are more like gifts than scientific specimens. Nonetheless, Svetz, the adventurous chrononaut, diligently attempts to retrieve the animals that Waldemar requests. The short stories illustrate that while his trips are successful, the retrieved animals are not always exactly what they expect based on their books and other resources.

The real story begins when Waldemar the Tenth dies. His successor, Waldemar the Eleventh, has his eye on the stars rather than the past. However, faster-than-light travel is still only found in fiction. The powers-that-be have a brilliant idea -- go back in time a thousand years or so and launch a ship toward the nearest star. Once you get there, establish a colony, leap back in time and send a message back to Earth. The trouble with that idea is that no one told these visionaries that the time machine itself weighs almost four million tons.

A more realistic goal is set -- Mars. Everything indicates that there was life on Mars in the not-so-distant past. Time-travelling probes sent to Mars reveal vegetation, alien civilizations, and most startling, an incredible monolithic tree that reaches into space. Convinced that this is the key to the stars, a living space elevator, Svetz and two female companions are sent to Mars to collect seeds, bring back aliens, and determine what happened to life on Mars.

What should be a straightforward mission becomes complicated. They discover at least five different species that appear to be at war with one another as their civilization crumbles. The various aliens pursue the strange visitors in an effort to gain an advantage over their rivals. Worse, the tree, dubbed the skyhook tree, has become unrooted from the soil of Mars and they can't seem to locate any of its seeds.

Rainbow Mars takes a light-hearted look at time travel, environmentalism, and the possibility of life on Mars. The book jacket says: "thought provoking, vivid, viciously smart and wildly funny." Thought provoking and vivid -- yes. Viciously smart and wildly funny -- well, no. Humorous and intelligent, definitely. Niven take the concept of an orbital tower, an elevator to the stars, and plays with the idea of it being organic rather than mechanical. Kind of turning the whole Ringworld concept on its ear. What if instead of constructing a huge technological wonder, you grow it? Then throw in time travel and all of the complications that accompany it. Thankfully the story is not filled with painful, mind-wrenching time-paradoxes that can make time travel tedious and confusing.

There's an excellent piece at the end by Niven explaining where the initial idea came from, and how the story evolved. I think you'll enjoy Rainbow Mars. It's clever, humorous and an enjoyable book. Just remember to start at the end before you go to the beginning.

Copyright © 1999 by Todd Richmond

Todd is a plant molecular developmental biologist who has finally finished 23 years of formal education. He recently fled Madison, WI for the warmer but damper San Francisco Bay Area and likes bad movies, good science fiction, and role-playing games. He began reading science fiction at the age of eight, starting with Heinlein, Silverberg, and Tom Swift books, and has a great fondness for tongue-in-cheek fantasy Óla Terry Pratchett, Craig Shaw Gardner and Robert Asprin.


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