Destroyer of Worlds
by Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765322050
Date: 10 November 2009 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In Fleet of Worlds, set some 200 years before the time of Ringworld, we saw that Niven's two-headed Puppeteers had set six worlds in motion to flee the explosion at the core of our galaxy. One of those worlds, Nature Preserve 4, was occupied by human slaves, a few of which had been selected to serve the hyper-cautious (paranoid) Puppeteers as scouts. Alas for the Puppeteers, those scouts got suspicious and learned the truth of their enslavement. In the end, they won their world for their own, renamed it New Terra, and left the Puppeteers feeling very wary of them.
Juggler of Worlds looked toward Earth, where Sigmund Ausfaller of ARM, the UN's military, brought a paranoid eye to ferreting out Puppeteer schemes. It also introduced the Gw'oth, a race of aliens from a gas-giant moon, evolved from something like the tube worms found around Earth's deep-sea volcanic vents. They are so frighteningly fast on the uptake, going from life underwater to space in three generations, that the Puppeteers see a potential threat and want to position a planet-buster nearby, just in case.
Destroyer of Worlds is the sequel, third volume in the trilogy but with all the hook anyone could need to justify a fourth. Sigmund is working for the Puppeteers, all memory of Earth erased and possessed of an almighty itch to find it again (shades of E.C. Tubb and Dumarest). And the Pak--whom we first met in Ringworld as the Protectors, the adult form of the species that gave rise to humans, its development triggered by ingestion of tree-of-life root, strong and smart and practically immortal--step onto the stage. They too are fleeing the explosion at the core of the galaxy, in wave after wave of ramscoop starships. Since Protectors jealously protect their kin, there are numerous running battles among coalitions of the ramscoop ships, and any worlds with signs of intelligence or technology--potential threats--are destroyed.
And they're headed straight for the Puppeteer world fleet, as well as New Terra and the home of the Gw'oth. Sigmund leads the effort to find an answer to the Pak incursion with the aid of New Terrans, Puppeteers, and Gw'oth. The effort is complicated by a Pak prisoner, a Protector, who is almost as fast at figuring out human and Puppeteer technology as the Gw'oth. But he isn't quite fast enough to see that Puppeteer Baedeker is modifying planetary drive technology to make the most colossal bombs the cosmos has ever seen. It is only with great good fortune that he survives to resume his scheming to protect his kin among the Pak fleet, in the process reconstructing all the technology he did figure out.
In due time, the Gw'oth also depart, using the technology they have figured out from watching Puppeteers and humans. Like the Pak Protector, they come from a culture of all against all, and they must protect their kin against the potential threats posed by everyone else. Only humans--spoken for by a professional paranoid--seem to know what cooperation truly means, that kin can in the longer run best be protected by protecting larger entities.
This point has not yet been learned by the Puppeteers, despite the fact that their history is millennia longer than that of humans. Nor do the Paks get it. The Gw'oth seem on the verge; they leave only when there seems to be no quid pro quo that will benefit them.
The next volume? This is supposedly third of three, but Juggler of Worlds offered a Puppeteer villain, Achilles, as a traditional I-shall-return! villain. The Pak prisoner is another. There is a hint that Beowulf Sheaffer and Carlos Wu, genius extraordinaire, will be brought into the story. There has to be another volume--or perhaps another whole trilogy!
In it, perhaps, everyone will learn to cooperate.