I much prefer Niven’s shorter, earlier, and solo efforts, and his first short story collection demonstrates why. This is a wonderful collection of short stories from Niven’s Known Space universe, with stories ranging from the readable to the superb. There is an astonishing breadth of imagination displayed here, with not one but several alien races who are *alien*, in appearance, psychology and culture. And it’s not just the aliens; Niven shows how human cultures have diverged during periods of colonial isolation, developing different moral codes.
They’re all hard sf, but Niven is one of the authors who can populate his hard sf setting with plausible characters who feel like real people. There’s also some thoughtful discussion of moral problems in a couple of the stories.
This collection is nearly forty years old as I write this, and it shows–there have been advances in technology that Niven didn’t forsee, making for some oddly backwards technology in the stories. But science fiction isn’t about predicting the future; it’s speculation about possible futures and the people living in them. Good sf lasts even when it’s overtaken by events in real life, and these stories haven’t been harmed by the passage of time since they were written.
All in all, a well-rounded collection that shows what can be achieved with the short form in science fiction.