by Larry Niven
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
DreamHaven is publishing a series of chapbooks which pair the art of Lisa Snellings with the fiction it inspires by various authors. Strange Roads allowed Peter S. Beagle to explore Snellings' worlds and Strange Birds let Gene Wolfe dive into her world. In Strange Light, the third of the series, Snellings's work is brought to literary light with three stories by Larry Niven.
"Doubling Rate" follows the life and career of Wednesday Gaventry, a girl born with the second millennium whose life's work is wrapped up in the astronomical enigma she discovered as a young woman. Niven presents her dawning awareness of what her discovery represents and shows in quick, deft strokes, how the life's work she stumbled onto helps define who she is and how her life will progress, while at the same time it doesn't completely overwhelm her as an individual with a life outside her career. Even more than paint a picture of Gaventry's life and work, Niven manages in very few pages to imply a complex and interesting world in which his characters live, only partly due to the mystery which drives Gaventry's work. In a mere ten pages, Niven has laid the groundwork for a much longer and more complex work.
The second story, "The Artists" is set in Niven's Draco Tavern. In this short piece, Rick Schumann finds himself hosting an art exhibit by aliens, and discovers that one of the strangest pieces is by an alien whose home is much closer than he realized. As with many of the Draco Tavern stories, "The Artists" is a light-hearted piece with its heart in the right place as it looks at unintended consequences.
The final story in this chapbook is "Betelgeuse," a sad piece about missed chances as humanity finds that the promise of the stars has been denied them by the cruel and impersonal forces of nature. For all that, Niven's characters show no signs of recriminations against an unfeeling universe.
Strange Light offers a small taste of Niven and a smaller taste of Snellings. "Doubling Rate" opens the book with a sense of promise for potential stories of a universe which is opening up. "Betelgeuse" closes the door on that potential with a sense of finality. But it isn't final, as there will be more chapbooks in this excellent series and, it is to be hoped, eventually an anthology which reproduces Snellings's art in full glossy color.