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Playgrounds of the Mind Mass Market Paperback – July 15, 1992


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 696 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (July 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812516958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812516951
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,183,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A followup to last year's N-Space , this large and varied collection from hard science fiction master Niven displays the strengths and the weaknesses of that subgenre. With stories such as "The Soft Weapon," in which the hero must solve the mystery of an alien artifact to save himself and his companions, and "Becalmed in Hell," where two explorers on Venus find themselves in peril, Niven provides the old-fashioned SF pleasures of intellectual problem-solving and rigorously depicted astronomical wonders. The "Draco's Tavern" series of brief thought-pieces, set in a multispecies spaceport bar, explore larger philosophical questions. But in focusing his attention on accurate scientific detail and describing the marvels of space, Niven often neglects matters of characterization and literary style, and his marginalization of female characters is unfortunate. Excerpts from Niven's novels are included, but they aren't long enough to convey the feel of the larger works, and the self-congratulatory, repetitive snippets of autobiography and science fiction convention memories add very little. Readers should stick to the short stories, many of which are exemplary hard science fiction; "Ramer" and "Wait It Out," for instance, are especially rewarding.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A retrospective look at the author's short science fiction.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

LARRY NIVEN is the multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces. He lives in Chatsworth, California. JERRY POURNELLE is an essayist, journalist, and science fiction author. He has advanced degrees in psychology, statistics, engineering, and political science. Together Niven and Pournelle are the authors of many New York Times bestsellers including Inferno, The Mote in God's Eye, Footfall, and Lucifer's Hammer.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Hartley on December 20, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
As a collection of his works, this is by definition typical Niven. His work is often an intellectual exploration of the practical implications of playing with some stock science-fiction concepts. Sometimes these are technological innovations, sometimes they are quirky but realistic aspects of physics. Always they are presented in intelligent and engaging ways, and always with a sense of fun.
It's amazing how well this style crosses over into the few works of fantasy he has created, some of which are included here. Again, we see the meticulous but effortless presentation of a very firm set of rules by which magic is allowed to operate, and then he has a ball exploring the dynamics of the system he has put in place.
There are no pretentious profundities in Niven's work. His writing concentrates on what he loves the most - the intellectual game of playing with an idea. As with some other good science fiction, this implies that characters sometimes take a back seat. This is particularly the case in his older and shorter works, obviously, and this collection perforce contains a preponderance of those.
An intelligent author who clearly loves science and astrophysics, and is educated enough to use them to his advantage in surprising but entirely believable ways.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jim Luebke on November 10, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Larry Niven is one of the most inventive Scifi writers ever to live. His work is always brimming with ideas, from Ringworld --a million mile wide habitable ring around a star (a poor man's Dyson sphere) to Moties, a physiologically asymmetrical species made up of biological castes who each represent an aspect of intelligence (communicators, tool-users, decision-makers) or society. It is difficult if not impossible to find authors with more ingenious premises.
Unfortunately, the narrative matrix these gems are embedded in, while often very good, is too-frequently merely average scifi. Plotlines and characters are often clunky, and clearly there simply to provide a setting for his brilliant ideas. Ideas that fit twenty pages are stretched to two hundred, or at best, patched together with other equally bright ideas that are not a perfect fit.
The solution? A book of short stories and clips like Playgrounds of the Mind. This is a collection of the jewels, cut and polished. The selections are short very sweet. Long narratives, instead of being sacrificed for the purity of the premise, are dispensed with entirely. The ideas shine out on their own.
Other recommendations: N-Space (another book of shorts), The Mote in God's Eye (with Pournelle; probably his best novel), Inferno (with Pournelle; personal favorite, but that's just me).
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Most people who are reading this probably read N-Space and want to know if it's more of the same (which can be good or bad depending on what you thought of the last book) . . . basically it is more of the same, though the book "feels" different, don't ask me why. It's still the same mix of already seen short stories, rare short stories, excerpts from both longer works and works in progress and a bunch of essays on various topics. So a reader's reaction to it probably will be fairly personal depending on how well read one is with Niven. I've read a good majority of his novels and short story collections so the key point for me was the essays and the introductions to the stories themselves. Don't get me wrong, Niven is probably best with the short story and just about all of the stories here are worth reading again (there's also a bunch of stories set within the "Magic Goes Away" setting, all of which are great fun) . . . the excerpts aren't that interesting since most of them don't really give a good impression of the book but the notes about the writing of the novels make it more worthwhile. Niven is a lively writer when it comes to essays and the like, he often comes across as best fun and rather smug at the same time, like he's proud of himself and doesn't mind letting you know that. However, I can't blame him, if I was as successful as he has been in the SF field I'd probably toot my own horn more than could be considered healthy. He can afford it. Basically new readers will like this and the preceeding volume as a taste of what Niven can do, getting a glimpse of a lot of the high points that are lurking in his books (admittedly sometimes you have to look hard) while older readers can enjoy some longtime favorites and amuse ourselves with the many anecdotes and asides. A worthy purchase for any category of Niven fandom.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
As with any collection of material both new and previously released the reader's satisfaction with this book will vary depending on their experience with the writer. For those not experienced with Niven this book in addition to N-Space will put you into the right frame of mind to explore the rest of Niven's Known Space.

In addition to Known Space, stories set in other Niven arenas such as the worlds of the Draco Tavern and The Magic Goes Away are included. I find these are some of Niven's best pieces of writing and they continue in good stead here. I did not realize until recently that Niven and Pournelle's The Burning City (and sequels) is set in the world of The Magic Goes Away.

I also enjoy Niven's anecdotes and tidbits about conventioning and collaborating with Pournelle and Barnes. I'm not a big drinker so his Irish coffee recipe doesn't do anything for me, but my wife will enjoy having something new to try out when we entertain.

Outside the norm, Niven's Green Lantern bible is an interesting read for a fan of the comic and another good reason to pick this up.

Though I skipped over a fair amount of the material in Playgrounds, having read it already in other books, I still find this a worthwhile addition to my Niven collection.
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