Monday, April 30, 2012

My Library: The Barsoom Project

By Larry Niven and Steven Barnes

Larry Niven really never lit my pilot. I read a few Ringworld books in addition to this one and I only ever found them to be okay.

I haven't read this one in a while and I have only the faintest desire to reread it. I probably haven't cracked it since I first got it a decade ago. I know when I got it because it still has the sticker from the used book store I found it at. I probably picked it up because I recognized "Barsoom" in the title from Tad Williams's Otherland series. I'll be getting to that when I reach the W's.

So, The Barsoom Project is about LARPing back before LARPing was a thing. Only instead of being something geeks do in the woods, it's big business theme park stuff (it turns out this is the second book in a trilogy). In this case, the LARPers are pretending to be on the Mars of pulp novels of the forties (hence Barsoom) and they're doing so to help raise awareness/funding for a project to colonize Mars. And the daughter of the Ambassador from Space (a space colonist) is there and she's in danger. From, like, terrorists who are seriously anti-space. Oh, and one lady went totally crazy and thought it was real. And had sex.

The book flips back and forth between the LARPers and the folks maintaining the illusion at the park. This makes it a little amusing because it was written in 1989 and, as often happens to speculative fiction, Science Marches On. We have developed way beyond what Niven and Barnes thought would be possible by 2051, and in very different ways.

One of the few things I remember with clarity is that the guy the crazy lady has sex with was a professional wrestler. Not a real wrestler like Neil deGrasse Tyson, a fake one. And he fought with the baculum of an extinct walrus. That's a penis bone.

The Ringworld series was interesting. It's a compromise Dyson sphere. Take the mass of Jupiter and construct a ring of one AU radius and one million miles wide, rotating for artificial gravity. This gives it a surface area three million times that of earth. And, with the addition of a few rockets to keep it from drifting, is metastable. Large blocks orbited closer to the sun to provide shade and divide day into night.

The series is considered a classic of sci-fi and I can see the appeal. With three million earths, you have an unlimited supply of stuff to explore, especially if you limit your people to foot travel. Hell, even if you limit them to 20th century technology any single protagonist will only ever be able to explore a small fraction of the surface and communication would be fairly limited. Niven limited the natives to 18th or 19th century tech and gave his explorers 22nd century tech (hence they whip out the God Guise as soon as they encounter some natives). Still, it's basically a travelogue of strange foreign peoples. After all, with three million earths, you can't expect the native human population to remain one species, can you?

Now that I think back on it, Ringworld actually does sound more interesting than I recall; perhaps I should give Niven another chance. It has been a decade, after all.

Next up: The Constants of Nature by John D Barrow.
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