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Destroyer of Worlds    by Larry Niven & Edward M. Lerner order for
Destroyer of Worlds
by Larry Niven
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Destroyer of Worlds follows Fleet of Worlds and Juggler of Worlds as a third Ringworld prequel by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner. The story begins in 2670, ten years after the end of Juggler of Worlds, which told the story of extreme paranoid Sigmund Ausfaller's attempts to protect Earth from the machinations of Puppeteers - especially those of Nessus, perpetually caught between his strong desire to mate with Nike and the odd empathy he feels for some humans.

When Juggler of Worlds ended, Nessus had saved Sigmund's life, wiped his memories of Earth's location and deposited him on New Terra, one of the Puppeteers' Fleet of Worlds. Now he is happily married to Penny, 'his wife, best friend and anchor', and they have two beloved children. Sigmund will do whatever is needed to protect them and his new world. He is determined to find Earth, for New Terra's long-term security. Also 'in voluntary exile' on New Terra is Puppeteer Baedeker, a brilliant engineer and expert on Outsider drives.

The story follows several alien societies other than the Puppeteers. Readers are introduced to the Pak early on, through a main character, protector Thssthfok who seeks a safe place to shelter his clan Rilchuk's 'children and breeders', a need that drives all his actions. His people have just learned about the supernovae that will destroy their own and countless other worlds and soon a ramscoop armada flees Pakhome, using planet-killers to obliterate what's in its path.

As the Pak fleet erupts from the galactic center towards the Fleet of Worlds, New Terra receives a distress call from something that looks like 'a cross between an octopus and a starfish'. Sigmund enlists Baedeker in a mission on the Don Quixote to the world of the Gw'oth, whose leaps and bounds in technological advances are achieved by joining in Ol't'ro, 'the group mind'. After the Gw'oth warn of the oncoming Pak armada, Er'o and those who form a group mind with him, board the Don Quixote to assist.

They find Thssthfok, abandoned on the Drar world plundered by his folk, and make him a prisoner. Sigmund Ausfaller recognizes the link between Pak and humans, and remembers a past encounter between once human Brennan-monster and a Pak protector. Thssthfok makes repeated, unexpected escape attempts. Sigmund desperately seeks a means to save the Fleet of Worlds from the planet-busters heading its way, even proposing a Concordance war fleet to Nike. Baedeker fears the Gw'oth as much as the Pak, and is determined to do something about them.

Niven and Lerner tie these plot threads - and others (including a Belter carrying Brennan's bloodline) - together in a series of attempts by Sigmund to persuade the Pak to diverge from their current route. When Thssthfok and Ol't'ro pursue their own agendas - each after a cursory 'I'm sorry' - Sigmund loses even more of his nine lives, but like Aeneas he does eventually make it home to his Penelope. This episode, the best in the prequel series so far, ends with a zinger that sets the scene nicely for more. I'm looking forward to it.

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