This is the sequel to "The Integral Trees" and in many ways is even better because it paints a more complete picture of a really fascinating and unique environment and civilization. Larry Niven usually writes Hard Science Fiction about situations that are very scientifically plausible with lots of "real science" interspersed in the narrative.
"The Smoke Ring" is no exception -- while no doubt extremely rare and perhaps unique, Niven makes this world seem completely real. As he often does, he explores how societies react and adapt to unusual environments, and the result is captivating.
However, you really have to be able to ignore the horrible reading of the book to be able to enjoy it. If you like hard SF, the book is worth the effort, but it is an effort.
I first read this book many years ago when it was first published. As is typical for Larry Niven, the world he created was both fascinating and scientifically plausible. I've been meaning to re-read "The Integral Trees" but never had the time. Thanks to Audible and a long commute, I finally got the chance. The book is still very interesting, perhaps even more so the second time around -- Niven includes so many subtle details, it usually takes several readings to fully appreciate them.
BUT it was an effort to get fully immersed in the book because the reader is absolutely terrible. MONOTONE with universally bad voice interpretations of the different characters. I forced myself to ignore the presentation and focus on the story, but it was an effort and I often had to rewind and re-listen to passages to make sense of them because of butchered inflections by the reader. However, if you like hard science fiction, I think the book is worth the effort. It's fascinating to see how a small group of stranded humans adapts to a unique free-fall environment.
If you haven't already become hooked on Larry Niven, I strongly recommend you start with one of the other Niven offering on Audible which have much better readers, except unfortunately for the sequel to "The Integral Trees", "The Smoke Ring".
Where book one of this series (The Precipice)is a fairly entertaining space opera, The Rock Rats get uncomfortably close to soap opera. I generally prefer hard science fiction where the technology is a logical or at least a plausible extrapolation of current knowledge. On this, Ben Bova generally succeeds, but instead of allowing the science to create most of the dramatic tension, the author relies on the hormonal response of the supposedly hard-headed businessman Humphries to fuel the conflict. Pretty silly really.
There are lots of interesting and unique problems that would be faced by anyone attempting to open up a new frontier such as the asteroid belt. A great example is the rudimentary beginnings of space battle techniques and tactics briefly touched on by the author. Instead, too much of the book is "powerful man wants beautiful woman and is willing to do anything to get her". You don't need science fiction for that theme.
Even so, the book isn't terrible - merely average and a disappointment compared to the first book in the series. Still worth reading though just to see how things turn out. I do hope there is more about Pancho Barnes in the third book. She was a far more interesting character.
One additional note: the voice talent is a bit disappointing as well. At least part of the appeal of book one was the fact that 80-90% of the book was read by Scott Brick and Amanda Karr - both absolutely superb. But even the first book had some short segments with different readers so noticeably inferior that is was disconcerting.
Here the female reader(s)is again outstanding. I can't even tell if there is more than one reader or if Amanda Karr is just so good that she can sound like several different people. Unfortunately, the men (except for Stefan Rudnicki) suffer by comparison. Barely average. I could get used to them, but every time the narration switches back to a female, you get reminded of the mediocrity of most of the male readers.
I wish I had read the previous review before I had downloaded this book. Unfortunately, I had short notice on a road trip and wanted something entertaining to pass the time while driving. I've listened to several of the other Berserker novels read by Barrett Whitener and always enjoyed them.
But, while Whitener's reading enhances the story, Edward Lewis's "screeching" of the book completely detracts from the experience. If I hadn't been on a long night time drive with nothing else to "read" on my ipod, I could never have finished the story.
Besides the ridiculously long pauses between paragraphs and the absolutely awful voice characterizations for the different characters,Lewis frequently butchers the book by completely screwing up the inflection and timing of the clauses in any mildly complicated compound sentence.
Although it is difficult to judge the merits of the book without being influenced by the poor reading, I thought that this was the least interesting of the half dozen of so Berserker books I have read or listened to. It seemed that every time a character or situation would start to get interesting, 10 or 15 pages of pointless dialog would follow which usually turned out to have little or no significance for the rest of the book. Even the ending was unsatisfying.
All in all, probably the worst experience I have had in over four years of being an enthusiastic Audible listener. About the only good thing I can say is that I had absolutely no trouble staying awake all night while I was driving - but it was the adrenaline flow caused by anger and frustration instead of the pleasant anticipation of the resolution of an interesting and entertaining story.
I found the ideas and concepts fascinating (if scary) but I had to force myself to continue listening because the reader was so bad. Would have been better if the author had read the whole thing instead of just an introduction. The person reading the book apparently got paid a bonus for reading as fast as possible, with extra points for butchered inflections. As a result, it was very tough to follow the reasoning of the author sometimes.
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