night. I enjoyed the book, though I wasn't blown away by it.
Considering that the pull quotes on the back cover had no less of an
authority as Robert Heinlein
hailing it as one of the greatest science fiction books ever written, I
guess merely enjoying the book would qualify as a letdown. I found the
pacing of the book a little indulgent, and the characters varying
between stilted and downright unlikeable. The one guy I really did
like—sailing master Kevin Renner—was very obviously the character
everyone was supposed to disliked. I realize this book was written over
30 years ago and that it was set in a post-apocalyptic quasi-Roman
Empire, but the undercurrents of male chauvanism and alcoholism were a
little hard to get past.
Now, as to the science—it
was magnificent. Niven and Pournelle basically pegged exactly how a PDA
should look and work, and the book came out in 1974. I would also
consider this piece of fiction a textbook on how to depict hard-science
space combat, right down to the consequences of high-g acceleration and
zero-g ship design and procedures. Even the deus ex machina
Langston Field is easily the most grounded and consistent attempt I've
ever read for dealing with the energy and radiation hazards of space
travel and combat. And as far as the aliens are concerned, they may not
be the most terrifying or even fully realized antagonists in science
fiction history, but they are among the most intriguing and memorable.
In short, it was a fun book, but it didn't grab me enough to seek out the sequel, Niven and Pournelle's The Gripping Hand. But then, I constitute a pretty tough crowd.