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General Information

Title: Flatlander

Author: Larry Niven

Original Publication Date: This collection is
copyright 1995, but some
of the stories are almost 30 years older than

ISBN: 0-345-39480-1

Cover Price: $5.99 US, $6.99 Can at first printing;
it’s likely higher
by now.

Buy from:

Past fiction reviews can be found here.


Gil “The ARM” Hamilton is a member of the United
Nations peacekeeping
force about a century into the future. In this
collection of five
short stories (at least one of which is probably long
enough to be
called a novella) he faces off against organleggers,
mad scientists,
and cultural differences that lead to odd motives.

The first three stories, “Death by Ecstasy,” “The
Defenseless Dead,”
and “ARM” were previously collected in The Long
ARM of Gil
That was very hard to track down, and
contains nothing
that isn’t in here. I’d suggest getting this
collection instead, as
it includes all of The Long ARM of Gil
as well as
“Patchwork Girl” and “The Woman in Del Rey
Crater.” (I’d have only
picked up this one myself, had I known that before I
bought both.)

High Point

“ARM” is a pretty good one. The tech is pretty
interesting too.

Low Point

The cover art is entirely wrong. First of all,
the imaginary arm
is the wrong one. Second, the arm that he lost had
been replaced, so
he’d still have an arm there. Third, he explicitly
states the
imaginary arm isn’t strong enough to hold a weapon.
Don’t they make
the cover artists actually read enough of the books
to get a decent

My low point in the content would probably be from
“Patchwork Girl.”
It works, but I’ve read that story twice now, and
I’ve missed some of
the crucial evidence both times. This usually
doesn’t happen to me
with mysteries, and since it happened twice, I’d say
it’s either being
given insufficient attention in early descriptions,
or just that the
descriptions are presented in a way that makes me
think they’re
irrelevant. A couple of adjectives wouldn’t have
gone astray later in
the story. This could well be my own fault in not
reading carefully
enough, so I won’t hold it against Niven too much.

The Scores

This gets loads of originality credit. Not
only are the
motives and devices new, but these are quality
mysteries in a sci-fi
setting, which is hard to do. (I’d say that even if
it isn’t in the
afterword, too.) To top it off, we have a detective
with an imaginary
arm. I give it 6 out of 6.

The imagery only seems to have the single
failing point I
mentioned above. I give it 4 out of 6.

The stories are very well constructed, which
is very
important for mysteries. There only seems to be one
stumbling block,
as mentioned above, and I’m still not convinced that
wasn’t just me.
I give it 5 out of 6.

The characterizations of Gil and his close
companions are
pretty clear. Some of the suspects are pretty one
though. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response is pretty good. I
like the fact that
I usually figure things out at the same time Gil
does. The evidence
is coming in at a good pace, but to support one
theory, and to reject
others. I give it 5 out of 6.

The editing was well done. None of them
seemed dragged out,
and the evidence provided is relevant to determining
the true culprit
while still providing suspects.

I give it 5 out
of 6.

Overall, it’s a highly recommended
collection. Very good for
fans of mysteries and/or science fiction to get
pulled into the other
genre. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Flatlander receives 35 out of 42.