Rainbow Mars 

1999-03Svetz CollectionA Tor Book, published by Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., March 1999

1-85723-844-3Larry Niven

hardcover, Orbit (British);
paper, Little Brown/Orbit
New Svetz story and collection. Contents:
Rainbow Mars
Get a Horse!
Bird in the Hand
There's a Wolf in My Time Machine
Death in a Cage
Svetz and the Beanstalk


See also the Republibot 3.0 review.

*** Warning - contains spoilers ***

It is good to see that Niven can still write in the old style - the plot of this story allows a prime opportunity for him to "play tourist" again. Many of this other recent stories, sadly haven't offered him this opportunity.

The premise of the story is back to the Institue of Temporal Research to gain yet another prize exibit for Waldemar the Eleventh. This time the Secretary General wants a captive Percival Lowell Martian who created the Canals on Mars that mysteriously disappeared before the space age probes visited the planet. An exploratory mission is sent via a series of extension cages and landers and roving rovers. This mission detects a flourishing civilisation made up of many sentient species. Also discovered is a huge orbit-spanning tree or beanstalk.

On seeing this woody wonder Waldemar the Eleventh immediately orders a manned mission to Mars to collect seeds from this tree to enable a space elevator to be grown on Earth. Svetz and two female astronauts from the Space Bureau accompany him. (for Rishathra fans the fist instance of sex occurs on page 29! Though it is not overt through the rest of the novel). The overwhelming success of their mission has dire consequences for the future of Earth.

My favourite parts of this story were the fantastic technologies from the Space Bureau (I wonder if they are working in conjunction with the Outsiders?), and also the humor - while it did not leave this reviewer rolling in the isles - it did make me smirk from time to time.

This book is undoubtedly Niven's best release for several years. I would recommend that the reader re-reads (or reads if they have not yet done so) "The Flight of the Horse" (conveniently recently re-released) beforehand as this is very much a sequel to those short stories. The hard-science fiction seeker might be presently amused by this story, I know I was but as Niven writes in the Afterward "....time travel is fantasy", after all.

Pertinent to the above paragraph, readers should be aware that the Tor (American) edition of the book contains all the Svetz stories from "The Flight of the Horse", but they are at the end of "Rainbow Mars". The Orbit (British) edition, however, does not contain any material other than the novel; they are re-issuing "The Flight of the Horse" to coincide with the release of "Rainbow Mars" so, to get what the Americans get in one book, those with access to the British edition will need to buy two books (unless, like many of us, you already have "The Flight of the Horse"). To fully enjoy the novel, I recommend you read the Svetz stories first.