Beowulf’s Children, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Steven Barnes

Tor, 1995, 382 pages, C$32.00 hc, ISBN 0-312-85522-2

Sequels. Everyone think they suck, yet people are still buying (and writing) them in quantities. The Legacy of Heorot was a great stand-alone book that didn’t really need a follow-up. But we got one anyway, thanks to the tryptatic trio of Niven, Pournelle and Barnes. (What’s tryptatic? Don’t ask me.)

In TLoH, a bunch of colonists had to unite to defend themselves against a mean bunch of alien critters. It was a novel of ecological balance, of fast-paced action and of clear prose.

But story-wise, it’s now twenty years later. The colonists have given birth to many children, and the first serious troubles are beginning to brew between the two generations. Most of the Seconds want to establish a permanent colony on the mainland, and deride the cautious aspect of the Firsts. After all, it’s well known that most of them were brain-damaged to an extent or another by the hibernation process necessary to cross the ten light-years to Tau Ceti…

And so it goes. The Grendel menace is there, but kept under control. We get to discover new deadly aspects of Avalon’s ecology. Strife between the two generations; new characters, and the death of some old friends…

There could have been powerful stuff here, and the novel does succeed more than it fails. But it’s still a disappointment. On several level.

At the technical level, I had the impression that the style could have used at least another revision. It’s not anything precise (although there are a fair amount of typos), but some dialogue was barely coherent, and a few parts are too quickly glossed over.

It’s also a book that’s too long for the action it contains. It’s a good hundred pages bigger than the first tome, yet less happens. There could have been a good tightening of the action.

Then there are plot threads that are ominously raised, yet abandoned in thin air. Whether this sets up later sequels, or is just lack of attention from the author’s part remains to be seen.

Finally, we run into the “commonly known alien” problem: The Grendels in TLoH were formidable, and ruthless. Those in Beowulf’s Children are more complex, but arguable more boring, because less ferocious. And the ending… well, I found it goofy.

Overall, this is a less focused work that its predecessor. We get a fascinating tour of a brand-new ecology, an easily-guessable murder mystery, and some conflict that goes nowhere. But not a mean, lean narrative like the first volume. There’s also quite a lot of sex, (not all of it meaningful) but that has become somewhat of a staple in the works of those authors.

This being said, Beowulf’s Children is a good sequel. Not in the same vein, but I could buy that the first book’s finale could give rise to the situation described in this novel.

Fans of the first one should at least borrow this from the library. Others… definitely should read the first one beforehand.

Anyone wants to bet that the third book involves more colonist from Earth?

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