Book Review: Flatlander by David Niven (Three Stars)

Book Review: Flatlander by David Niven

Three Stars

“The thing about poetic justice is that it requires a poet.”

A series of self-contained mysteries involving a man with extra sensory powers a hundred years in the future. Most of the stories involve some sort of locked-room crime which Gil Hamilton must solve, often at personal risk, using his “imaginary arm.” Our hero is clueless about females but, unlike Mike Hammer, sensitive to three sets of ethics confusing lunie morals.

“Having a hole shot through him can make a man think.”

One unique problem of writing science fiction about the future is the pace of technological innovation now. These stories are only twenty years old, but read as if they were written half a century earlier. Niven’s twenty-second century protagonist lacks many abilities you take for granted: cell phones, the internet, for example. Though his “programming” information searches sounds a lot like googling. Data bases are still seen to be separate, restricted with the go-to information source being a 180-year-old man.

“Having babies is basic.”

Also, from the perspective of 1995, Niven foresaw world population of eighteen billion, resulting is a kind of subsistence-level existence for many. “I don’t see how we can avoid the crowding or the rigid dictatorial population control without the blessing of a major war or plague.” Malthus has at least one disciple. In contrast, even China has abandoned its draconian one-child policy. World population has not yet stabilize (and a lot could go wrong even then), but it appears that world population will peak nearer ten billion. Body part transplants play a major role in several tales, as he explores the morality of harvesting parts from unwilling donors. Niven claims, “India has been disassembling condemned criminals for transplants since 1964.”

“Nobody looks like a killer when he’s asleep.”

Side note: Niven assumes believe the great discovers will still be made by brilliant, if eccentric people like Howard Hughes and Albert Einstein.

Quibbles: A lunar landing would not “pass north of the city and curved around.” A high-powered continuous wave laser would explode flesh, not neatly slice it. (Seen Star Wars too many times.)

“Criminals don’t like locked doors.”