Scatterbrain by Larry Niven
Sci-fi legend Larry Niven has written on countless subjects during his long career. In his latest anthology, Scatterbrain, he showcases short stories, essays and some pieces of writing that completely defy description.
Right off the top, the fiction entries are the strongest. Along with the aforementioned short stories, the collection includes excerpts from the novels “Destiny’s Road” and “The Ringworld Throne,” both of which provide glimpses into Niven’s worlds. Readers also will find some collaborations with authors such as Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes.
Several pieces count as essays, although usually in an unconventional format. Two of the most amusing and interesting of these are “Autograph Etiquette,” in which Niven explains the rules by which authors and their fans should live;, and “Collaboration,” which studies a healthy working relationship between authors.
Some pieces don’t fit readily into any category. “Discussion with Brenda Cooper re: ‘Ice and Mirrors’ ” is a transcribed e-mail conversation between Niven and Cooper, as they created the short story under discussion (also included in this volume).
You’ll also find two pieces of semi-reference material for “The Man-Kzin Wars” series, consisting of background information and some correspondence between Niven and various publishing entities.
The volume has one large drawback: Many of the essays truly live up to the volume’s name, in that they’re disorganized and rambling. These are in stark contrast to the many fiction pieces that demonstrate Niven’s narrative prowess. I often lost patience with the essays, because they lack coherency. And the last thing a writer should do is annoy the reader.
As a whole, the volume lacks balance among Niven’s many voices, and readers likely will skim several pieces.
Scatterbrain is a good showcase of the author’s talents, but the collection has its problems.