Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of fleet Fleets and Known Space

(Updated August 21, 2012, to reflect the release of Fate of Worlds)

Readers often email me to discuss fine points of Known Space lore, including how the Fleet of Worlds series of collaborative novels relates to other books and stories within Larry Niven's Known Space future history.

Behold: the Fleet!
(No spoilers herein. In this post I'll say little or nothing about plots. For per-book descriptions click embedded links to go to the book-specific Amazon pages. For books in the Fleet series, you can also click the book covers on the right-hand side of this post page for more description.)

Erroneous web references abound that Fleet/Juggler/Destroyer of Worlds are a trilogy (they're not), and that Betrayer of Worlds is the first of a series (a new sub-series is more accurate, in that Betrayer introduces a new main character), and wondering if the series is complete (as of today's update, with the release of Fate of Worlds, #5, it is).

Other online articles -- from mainstream reviews to fan sites to blog posts -- offer conflicting opinions as to whether and how individual Fleet of Worlds series books relate to earlier-written Known Space stories -- and even to each other.

You know what? I thought I'd offer an opinion.  Being a coauthor imparts some qualifications, right?
First things first: Larry & I write the Fleet of Worlds books to be standalone.  We wrote Fleet of Worlds itself without plans for a second book.  Each time that our publisher expressed interested in another book, we undertook it with the same standalone philosophy.

Did we ever think about what might go into another book? Of course. Did we ever leave anything unresolved with the expectation of picking it up in a later book? No. When we left something unresolved at the end of a book that was simply art imitating life: some issues get settled and others -- not even necessarily recognized by anyone at the time -- emerge later.

As one measure of the intended separateness of the novels, consider this: each focuses on a different alien species: 

Fleet of Worlds -- Puppeteers 
Juggler of Worlds -- Outsiders 
Destroyer of Worlds -- Pak 
Betrayer of Worlds -- Gw'oth
Fate of Worlds -- AIs

(That's not to suggest there is but a single alien species per book. Puppeteers, for example, are in every book. The Gw'oth are in every book but Juggler.)

At the same time, these books are a series. Characters recur (sometimes). Settings recur (sometimes). Technologies, societies, and astropolitical (not a word, perhaps, but it should be) situations evolve from book to book. If you read the books of the series in publication order, you'll see subtle connections.

So: the simplest reading order for the set is:

Fleet of Worlds (published 2007)
Juggler of Worlds (published 2008)
Destroyer of Worlds (published 2009)
Betrayer of Worlds (published 2010)
Fate of Worlds (published 2012)

What about chronological order?  That's almost the same.

Fleet of Worlds (after the prologue, Earth dates: 2650-52)
Juggler of Worlds (Earth dates: 2637-2660)
Destroyer of Worlds (Earth date: 2675 [except the epilogue])
Betrayer of Worlds (Earth dates: 2780-81)
Fate of Worlds (Earth dates: 2893-2894)

Fleet and Juggler overlap chronologically.  Astronomically, they start -- literally -- light-years apart, and don't converge for quite a while.  So which goes best first? I'll say Fleet, but that either order works.

Speaking of chronological overlap ... Fleet of Worlds and Juggler of Worlds are contemporaneous with some early short fiction of Known Space, primarily the stories involving intrepid starship pilot Beowulf Shaeffer (best source: the collection Crashlander, spanning 2641-2655). Also germane: the novelette "The Soft Weapon" (2656).

The fun here is in exploring different points of view. So, for example, what Shaeffer experiences in Crashlander as a series of physical (and physics) challenges, paranoid-but-charming secret agent Sigmund Ausfaller sees as ever more devious alien plots. The thing of it is: both men are correct. So: read Juggler of Worlds and Crashlander in either order.

Each of the Fleet of Worlds series books -- till Fate of Worlds -- bears a "before Ringworld" subtitle of some sort. Some readers wonder whether to read Ringworld (and/or its sequels) before Fleet of Worlds and its sequels. If you're going to read only one book of Known Space, read Ringworld -- it's my favorite, and the inspiration for Fleet of Worlds came from Ringworld.

That said, Fleet/Juggler/Destroyer/Betrayer are all prequels to Ringworld.  Reading any of them before Ringworld (and/or its sequels) won't expose anyone to major spoilers. Ringworld opens in 2850 -- that's about 70 years after Betrayer of Worlds.  The final Ringworld series book, Ringworld's Children, takes place in 2893.

Fate of Worlds has flashbacks to the Ringworld series era, but rather than spoilers the flashbacks address questions the discerning reader will have about the astropolitics behind the Ringworld series. But the storyline in Fate itself, which opens just as Ringworld's Children closes, can't avoid some reveals.

There's one final Known Space book that figures prominently in the mix, called Protector. Setting aside the prologue, Protector opens in 2124 and closes in 2351 -- before any of the books I've mentioned in this post. (I'm less familiar with these dates.  Here I'm using info from Marc Carlson's excellent The Up To Date Known Space Chronology.) Trust me, Protector is related.

What about the ongoing (dozen or so volumes as I type) Known Space books in the Man-Kzin War series? Those are entirely unrelated to the Fleet of Worlds books. That's by design.

Let's suppose you want to undertake an epic Known Space reading extravaganza.  (There are far worse ways to spend your time.)  What's the best reading order? I'd go more-or-less chronological:

Fleet of Worlds
Juggler of Worlds
Destroyer of Worlds
Betrayer of Worlds
Ringworld Engineers
Ringworld Throne
Ringworld's Children
Fate of Worlds



Erik said...

I've read most of that list except Crashlander.

I have to admire the amount of effort that goes into your (both you and Niven) books. Characters, relationships and politics are delicately connected between titles. Timelines take into account things like relativistic time differences between planets. Betrayer blew me away with some of the connections it had to Protector.

But somehow I feel like 'Fate' is going to be the final book in this series. It seems like the events are reaching a climax before a final resolution. I'm anticipating it like the 7th Harry Potter novel!

So what race will 'Fate' be based on? Maybe the Thrint? I can't think of a worthier challenge for Louis/ Sigmund. Or maybe the humans finally get their own book...

Edward M. Lerner said...

Thanks, Erik.

As you suspected, Larry and I foresee Fate of Worlds being the last of the series. That's not only because we always plan for books to stand alone, but because we think we're reaching something of a climax.

As for hints about the new book -- nope, not going to do that.

- Ed

Anonymous said...

I realize that I'm a latecomer to this post, but I just wanted to ask about something that bothers some of the people I talk with about Known Space. (Though, not me so much.)

In the Fleet series there are small factual inconsistencies that conflict with some of the information found in earlier Known Space stories. Are these minuscule changes merely retcons? Should we consider the newest material to be the most canon where conflicts arise? Thanks in advance, and I am very seriously looking forward to Fate of Worlds! Do you and Larry have a plot worked out yet?

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi Anonymous,

Glad you joined us, and your question is a good one.

Larry & I try not to contradict past details -- but there are so many Known Space stories that some inconsistencies inevitably creep in. Sometimes in newer stories we try to decide between earlier inconsistencies.

A key example: "deep radar." Early stories referred to this technology as being both neutrino-based and hyperwave-based. Both can't be correct, and in Juggler of Worlds we made deep radar neutrino-based.

The Man-Kzin War stories represent a special case. Those stories are not considered canonical unless (a) Larry wrote them or (b) he says they are.

That said, sometimes the new novels give new information about old topics. Juggler of Worlds certainly does that, both about Beowulf Shaeffer stories and about the Outsiders. Shaeffer wasn't lying -- he reported what he saw and thought -- but much was going on regarding which he lacked visibility. As in this universe, technological and geopolitical views of problems differ!

I won't speak for Larry as to whether, in the case of inconsistencies, new stories have any precedence over older portrayals. (I'd have a conflict of interest in answering.)

As for Fate of Worlds -- yes, we have a detailed plot. I'll say nothing about that plot so far in advance, except that it's a Ringworld series sequel (not a prequel, like the earlier Fleet of Worlds books). A fair chunk of Fate is already written in draft form.

- Ed

Anonymous said...

I've read every known space book ever printed. Many of them multiple times.

I had just been thinking that the logical thing would be for Luis and Nessus to come back from Ringworld in the final book. And here I see the subtitle "Return from the Ringworld". Great news!

But it's going to have to be a doorstop, isn't it?

You've got to get Nessus reinstated before Luis even goes to Ringworld; integrate the Pak technology into New Terra ; fit in a second return to Ringworld with the autodock; lever the Gw'oth off the Puppeteer homeworlds (presumably using the Pack technology at New Terra) - and all this and more while orchestrating and integrating the Return of Luis and Nessus to known space.

How many pages are you planning? :-)


Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi Anonymous,

(Are you the Anonymous who commented earlier on this post? Hard to say ;-) )

ANYway, you have interesting ideas for Fate of Worlds -- of course I'm not about to reveal whether you're on the right track. You might or might not mind spoilers, but I'm sure many readers would.

I'll offer one fine-tuning to your comment: Nessus returned from the Ringworld at the end of Ringworld. The Puppeteer with whom Louis has been stranded for the last three Ringworld series books calls himself Hindmost -- and is most definitely *not* Nessus.

(Who is Hindmost? Is he someone you've met in the Fleet of Worlds series books? All I'll say is that you will find out in Fate of Worlds.)

- Ed

Anonymous said...

Hi. Thanks for responding. No, I'm not the same person you responded to on Feb 22.

Just after boasting about having read every book about Known Space I remembered that it was a different Puppeteer. I now claim to be an idiot.


In fact it inspired me to go back and reread RW engineers to clear up that point.

I most certainly wouldn't want you to give out any spoilers - though it's fun to speculate based on what we "know" and on what the (apparently disgraced?) ex-Hindmost gives out at the start of that novel.

What he says about his relationship with Nessus is also interesting and would at least seem to rule out the most obvious possibility.

Then, as Erik said, if you are going to maintain the theme of the series you've also got to centre it on a particular alien species.

Looking 'round the web it seems as though we've got about a year or so to wait - is that about right?

And is it going to be big? As I said before, you've got so much to tidy up I can't imagine a slim volume would do justice to the thing.

And now I think about it even more it must also be artistically constricting because you've got to fit so much of the story into an existing framework using pre-defined characters, technology and story lines.

You have my respect and my sympathy!! :-)


Edward M. Lerner said...

Thanks Anonymous Bob(!)

A year till Fate? That's probably about right. After the MS is turned in the timing is up to the publisher.

Size of book? Longer than some in the FoW series, but shorter than the OED. At least an *abridged* OED.

Keeping consistent with so many Known Space stories is a challenge (and I mean that in the good sense of the word.)

That said, sometimes -- and I speak only for myself; I don't try to speak for Larry -- the constraints get a bit frustrating. That's much of why I also write solo.

- Ed

Bob said...

The OED is a wonderful piece of work, but the super-dense plot and archaic vocabulary vocabulary mean that I've never been able to get past the first volume.


Anyway, having finished "FOW" I'm going to mosey over to Amazon at some point to get one of your solo works.



Fred Z said...

So, if each new book focuses on a particular species, what species will FATE be about?

* Humans?
* "Lucky" humans? (Teelas ...)
* Ringworld hominins? (I hope not ...)

Edward M. Lerner said...


I'll say only that I think you'll be surprised ...

- Ed

Barr said...

Why dont the puppeteers use long shot for exploring. Also why was it not used against the Pak in the Pak war. What happened to Thyssthfok, do we hear from him again.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi Barr,

All fair questions. I'll take them one at a time.

The Long Shot terrifies Puppeteers. Its Type II hyperdrive is one of a kind, and so considered less trustworthy (read: scarier) than normal hyperdrive. As it happens, you'll learn much more about Long Shot in the upcoming Fate of Worlds.

It's not obvious to me how the Long Shot would be any more valuable against the Pak than a regular hyperdrive ship. In fact, because Long Shot is crammed with its prototype drive (and so, unable to carry cargo), it might be less useful than a typical ship.

Thssthfok, when we left him, was in stasis, drifting toward a far-off alien world that -- if he survived -- he might be able to conquer. AFAIK, he's still drifting.

- Ed

Barr said...

Barr Here again
The puppeteers need not use the long shot themselves as the colonists could have been trained to use it.
In Ringworlds Children we are reliably informed by Mr Niven that the Kzinti have found that a lot of the gunk packed into Long shot is misdirection and data collection instruments (P80) so theres plenty of room for other stuff like planet busters etc.Sigmund would not have taken months to get from a to b and could have basically done the same job much more quickly.
Sorry I dont know what AFAIK means.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Hi again, Barr.

Easy item first: AFAIK stands for "as far as I know." It's a texting & twitter shorthand.

I'm familiar with the decoy equipment and instrumentation packed into Long Shot (that exact factor comes into play in Fate of Worlds). But extra room is a relative thing -- in Ringworld's Children, the ship remains mostly packed after humans and Kzinti have had years to take out what they could ...

SPOILER ALERT for Ringworld's Children

... and so, after escaping the Ringworld aboard Long Pass, Louis Wu makes his way through its crowded, twisty access tunnels.

Of course, whether Sigmund might have used Long Shot against the Pak is a moot point. Destroyer of Worlds is published and we know he didn't use Long Shot. If my reasons don't convince you, I'll have to accept that.

(You're free to suppose that the Puppeteers were using Long Shot for some as yet unrevealed other crisis.)


- Ed

Phil said...

Can I just say how much I had doubts about the Fleet of Worlds series (much like the Man Kzin Wars series), and found my doubts silenced - eventually, as I wasn't at all sure about the first - but it grew on me. The rest of them just got better and better. Very keen on the "Fate" book.
Man Kzin Worlds were good too, but ranged from excellent to merely OK-ish. This series has been impressive though.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Thanks, Phil.

- Ed

Unknown said...

this series was futzing brilliant. just read them all in the last three weeks. tried to keep it slow but read the last two in as many days. i ha d protector laying on my living room floor before i even started. i didn't really think i'd ever see another known space book again. thanks ever so much to you and larry. didn't realize before how similar the pak were to the moties. i'm going to check out your books now. hopefully it will be as rewarding as when neil gaiman's collaboration turned me onto terry pratchett. it was great to see friends i've known since the 70s again. thank you again. i hope i'm not a robot!

Edward M. Lerner said...

(Blushing.) Thanks, Tom, for those very kind words.

And if you are a robot, I hope you use your powers for good :-)

- Ed

Unknown said...

i will definitely follow the three laws:)

alexb said...

I just read Fleet of Worlds (yes I know, where have you been for the last 17 years?)
I enjoyed every word and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
But… could it be that the number mentioned for the neutronium density is 3 orders of magnitude off?
I compute it at 10^11 kg/cm^3 while your figure is 10^14.

Edward M. Lerner said...

Better late than never ;-)

It's been so long since Larry and I wrote this book that I don't remember how (or from where) we came to that density value. That said, the difference you cite might be explained simply by geography. In the US, a billion is 1000 million: 10^9. In the UK, a billion is a 1000 milliards: 10^12. Larry and I are American, so we'd go with the lower meaning.

alexb said...

Right. The book says “one hundred billion metric tons which in US is 10^14 kg.
I submit the correct answer is 10^11 kg
Could be you wrote tons instead of kilograms.
Just my pedantry.
But of course it detracts nothing from the pleasure of reading your book.

Edward M. Lerner said...