Larry Niven
Protector (1973)
Reviewed: 1996-08-10

Another Known Space work of Niven, this book unexpectedly turns out to be a grand space opera. The novel is evenly split into two parts separated by a gap of 200 years. In the first part, which is set some 15 years after the events in The World of Ptavvs, and where we meet again the now retired ARM Luke Garner, contact is made with the first alien ever to arrive from outside the Solar System, a traveller of 32,000 years whose history leads to unexpected revelations concerning the origin of the human race. Brennan, the Belter who first came face to face with the alien Pak, and as a result of the encounter has been changed forever in more than a metaphorical sense, appears again in the second part of the book, where it is up to him to save humanity from an impending invasion of the genocidal Pak.

Niven crams many ideas and familiar plot elements into this novel. There's first contact, a rewrite of human origins which is both intriguing and absurdly implausible, there's a transhuman component, and the climactic battle between ramscoop ships at relativistic speeds is an instant classic. I found Protector a compulsive read, but beware: this book is not driven by its characters. A Pak makes an inherently boring protagonist by himself and the humans are only exciting as far as they represent all of humanity. The large scale of the distances involved, both in time and space, the sheer outlandishness of Pak biology, and a succeeding contrast of entirely fictional super-engineering and established physics combine to create a stunning if flawed novel, fast-paced and compactly written.

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