Too many unlikeable characters all of them , too dated especially when it comes to the female characters , lots of uninteresting subplots pretty much anything involving the Soviets , I just could not do it. I have mixed emotions about this book. I am a fan of Larry Niven because of his use of hard science with outlandish characters and situations. I have never read a book strictly by Pournelle so I don't

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I'm not referring to the collaborators, both of whom are science fiction writers whose previous books have attracted a substantial readership. Their latest novel is a structural hybrid that shouldn't work but does. On the one hand, it is a big, fat ''crossover'' novel clearly aimed at an audience more familiar with the formulas of mass-market fiction, such as pop psychology and boudoir athleticism, than the conventions of science fiction.

On the other hand, its science fiction elements are handled with a skill found only in the best of the genre. The premise of ''Footfall'' is alien invasion. The intelligent creatures from outer space who come to conquer Earth, and almost succeed, look like small elephants with bifurcated, prehensile trunks. Though capable of independent action up to a point, they are essentially members of a herd whose allegiance to their peers and superiors goes far beyond the concept of loyalty.

The strengths and weaknesses of this form of social organization are worked out in great detail by Mr. Niven and Mr. Pournelle, who succeed in conveying the aliens' point of view while leaving no doubt in the reader's mind about where the authors themselves stand -firmly in the anticollective camp. The heroes and heroines of Earth's resistance to the alien invasion are self-sufficient military types, civilian survivalists who have been preparing for a nuclear holocaust, and a group of science fiction writers who conduct an impromptu seminar on alien psychology for the beleaguered United States Government.

None of these people, including the writers, are sufficiently fleshed out to engage our interest; they exist only to advance the plot and to allow the authors to score some points against fuzzy-minded liberals and for two-fisted libertarians whose ethical outlook can be summed up in a simple slogan: ''Harry was a firm believer in natural selection.

The principal love story is complicated by the time-distortions of faster-than-light travel, which radically alter age differences between those who go and those who stay: ''When he had left it was he who was the elder by six years. Now it was she who was older by almost fifteen years.

Every time Mrs. Felice seems about to explore this intriguing situation in depth, she interrupts herself with bulletins about interplanetary politics and wars that I found less than compelling.

At the center of all the conflict is a natural substance called ''elixir'' which keeps people alive and healthy beyond their normal life spans. Whoever controls elixir controls the galaxy, and presumably gets to live happily ever after with his or her beloved.

Felice allows the major events - the clash of starship fleets, the couplings of starry-eyed lovers - to take place offstage. The book promises more than it delivers, but at its best it offers quirky scenes full of nervous energy that stake out new ground in the all-too-neglected territory of the science fiction love story.

It is a far-future, far-flung universe of dazzling scientific and artistic achievements, held together by faster-than-light ''Jump ships.

In his new book, Mr. Spinrad follows the adventures of a young girl of good family who, like most of her contemporaries, journeys from planet to planet in search of her true calling. Imagine a civilization wealthy and wise enough to encourage its youth to sample all of life's possibilities - sexual, esthetic, occupational - before making choices. Spinrad's heroine has just the right combination of spunk, self-awareness and naivete to benefit from this experience.

The book is big pages - and it needs to be; to place the heroine's final choice in proper context, we have to know what she rejected. Unfortunately, the opening chapters are the least interesting. Instead of enthralling us with a universe of marvels seen from the heroine's perspective, Mr. Spinrad offers list after list of guidebook wonders that fail to stir the imagination. Perhaps readers unfamiliar with the earlier novel will feel differently, but I had the impression that the author was dutifully laying the foundation for what was to follow, and I became impatient.

Then, with no warning, the real story begins - and it is marvelous. The heroine and her lover of the moment come to a planet where a vast forest has evolved with giant blooms and fruits that rely on mammal-like creatures for pollination. Through an array of individually tailored psychotropic perfumes, the alien flowers offer a lifetime of mindless pleasure in exchange for services performed on Earth by bees and birds. As experienced by the human lovers, this is by no means an unattractive choice.

How the heroine regains her freedom - and discovers her true calling - by wielding the peculiarly human weapon of speech - is the core of the story. To convey his vision, Mr. Spinrad has concocted a patchwork language studded with phrases from many different Earth tongues and neologisms like ''ruespieler'' and ''ruegelt. Sherred and Lloyd Biggle Jr. It is content to tell the kind of simple ''puzzle'' story that was popular during the 's - the so-called Golden Age of pulp-magazine science fiction.

Representatives of a galactic trading federation return to Earth to try to make amends for a disaster that their predecessors may have inadvertently triggered years earlier - the near destruction of all life on the planet in a nuclear holocaust.

Most of the human survivors have reverted to a hunting-and-gathering existence; without help, the entire species may soon become extinct. But the pattern of survival is puzzling. Why, for example, do the scattered human tribes, which have no contact with one another, all venerate the same protective goddess, and why do they all possess the same mechanical icon that they believe the goddess will one day use to announce her second coming?

The more the federation representatives learn, the deeper the puzzle grows until. I wouldn't dream of giving away the plot, which has the pleasant blend of surprise and predictability found in a good ''Star Trek'' episode. Nor would I cavil about certain inconsistencies and implausibilities that the authors have taken care to paper over with a calm, serviceable prose that knows its limits and never oversteps them.

You can't eat cake all the time. Books such as this are the nourishing bread and butter of science fiction. View on timesmachine. TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

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Footfall by Larry Niven, First Edition

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Footfall (1985) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

To misquote the Duke of Gloucester: "Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr Niven? The dubious duo have written blockbusters before — but none as blockbusting as this wide-screen tale of alien invasion. It's , and a huge something is decelerating Earthwards. Most characters expect the visitors to be nice, but we know better — in a prologue, the elephant-like alien "fithp" refer to humanity as the prey. Sure enough, when the starship Message Bearer Thuktun-Flishithy arrives, our orbital welcoming party gets wasted. Earth's satellite systems are polished off with dismaying efficiency.

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