The Flight of the Horse

By Larry Niven

Rating: 3 stars

This collection of short stories mostly describes the exploits of Hanville Svetz and his attempts to retrieve extinct animals to please the childlike ruler of this future world. Except nobody really knows what these animals look like, so nobody questions it when the Horse has a horn and likes young women; or when the Snake has wings and breathes fire.

These stories are mostly quite amusing as Svetz blunders about in time trying to retrieve whatever has taken the whimsy of the Secretary-General of the UN (hereditary absolute ruler of the world) this week, not quite realising that he has also gone somewhat sideways into fantasy lands. The future world is somewhat grim: a polluted planet swept clean of almost all non-human animals, but Svetz’s adventures into the past (and sometimes weirder places than that) help balance that. These stories form a prequel to Niven’s book Rainbow Mars, which is set in the same world.

There are two other stories in the book. Flash Crowd seems to be set in the early days of Niven’s Known Space universe in which teleporters have become the everyday means of transport but a young reporter discovers a darker side to them, when he witnesses an ugly incident in a mall, precipitating a riot in which people from all over the world can join in. What Good is a Glass Dagger? is one of Niven’s few attempts at epic fantasy, set in a past where Atlantis still sits above the waves and magicians duel. A magician known only as The Warlock has created a device that can entirely suck magic from an area and this story explores the consequences of that.

If I’m honest, I enjoyed the last two stories more than Svetz’s time travel exploits, but this is still a fun collection of shorts and worth a read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780860078494
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1973

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