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Betrayer of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

Cover art by Stephan Martuniere

Published by Tor Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This volume of the prelude to Ringworld series begins with a character by the name of Nathan Graynor who's making a covert delivery to rebels in the Wunderland civil war. However, evading the other side and successfully being recognized by his contacts are only part of his worries. He's also an addict, craving the painkillers that were used to deal with a previous injury, and this monkey on his back is compromising his ability to function in such a sensitive capacity.

However, if you've read Juggler of Worlds, you'll recognize the name as belonging to the same character known elsewhere as Louis Wu, son of genius scientist and inventor Carlos Wu. And that fact makes him of utmost interest to Nessus the Puppeteer.

The next thing Louis knows, he's aboard Nessus' ship and on his way to a most interesting mission. He's also had his memories selectively edited to remove certain problematic information that must not be learned by the humans of New Terra.

New Terra may have successfully averted the threat of an enormous fleet of Pak Protectors and their associated Breeders and children that were fleeing the explosion in the galactic core. However, in doing so or heroes exposed their Gw'oth allies to evidence of all manner of scientific and technological phenomena. Everyone thought they were being careful not to reveal their most important advanced technologies, but they underestimated the skill of the Gw'oth in putting together relatively small amounts of data to draw very important conclusions. At the end of their journey, the Gw'oth gave their hosts a dramatic demonstration of how much they've learned and put to practical use.

However, this demonstration has disrupted the fragile balance of relations with the Concordance, the polity of the Puppeteers. Cowards by nature, they regard a species that learns so rapidly to be a deadly threat. Who knows when their interests and that of the Gw'oth might collide in such a way that the Gw'oth would decide it to thir advantage to do the Concordance harm? There can be only one acceptable response -- the threat must be neutralized.

Worse, a demogogue has arisen among the Puppeteers and is playing upon their fears to become the Hindmost, the leader of the Concordance. By definition any Puppeteer who can bear to leave Hearth and its attendant nature preserve worlds to travel through hyperspace to other systems is insane. However, Achilles is danerously so, full of grandiose notions and thoroughally unconcerned of the consequences upon others of carrying them out. This isn't jut the short-sightedness of a species who sees personhood a being defined by membership in their own species -- Achilles doesn't even care about the consequences to his own conspecifics.

Furthermore, we learn that the situation among the Gw'oth is not so simple as they may have looked from our introduction to Ol't'ro, the 16-ensemble who traveled alongside the human scouts who were investigating the Pak exodus. Although these ensembles are leaders of technological development, they are neither numerous nor popular among the majority of the Gw'oth population. Far from it, they are a despised and suspect minority who are tolerated only for the technological wonders they have produced, and in many Gw'oth nations they are treated as monsters and slaves.

As a result Ol't'ro and a number of other Gw'oth ensembles have left their native world of Jm'ho to found Kl'mo, a colony world around a gas-giant planet of another star. There they hope to attain independence and create a polity where they are free to be themselves and continue to develop the computational possibility of a group mind.

However, the food plants and animals they'd brought with them from Jm'ho aren't quite compatible with the ecology of Kl'mo. Food organisms seem to thrive when first introduced, but soon sicken and begin to die. And getting replacement stocks means having to use tenuous links with like-minded individuals and ensembles on the homeworld, links that run the risk of exposing these sympathizers to the very government that would like to bring them to heel or, failing that, destroy them.

Thus Nessus brings Louis Wu into a complex tangle of interlocking loyalties, where Simund Ausfaller is also growing increasingly desperate for clues to the location of Earth. Somehow Louis has to thread his way through them and figure out who he can trust, not to mention whose side he ought to be.

After having been happily surprised by how well Destroyer of Worlds worked for me, I was intensely disappointed by Betrayer of Worlds. It seemed to embody so much of what can go wrong with a prequel. Instead of feeling like it had always been lurking there unseen in the background of Known Space, it feels wedged in as an afterthought. Worse, the use of that super-advanced autodoc to edit Louis Wu's memories feels just too convenient to resolve contradictions with established facts of previous work, particularly Ringworld, in which it was pretty clearly esablished that Louis Wu had never met Nessus before that encounter.

Quite honestly, I have very mixed feelings about any future volumes in this sub-series of the Known Space universe. I'd like to hope that they'll keep revealing new and interesting stories in the interstices of what's been established in prior art -- especially since I want to find out what happens to the humans of New Terra, whether they ever rediscover Earth or remain forever the Lost Colony -- but I'd really rather not get another big disappointment like this one.

Review posted July 21, 2011.

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