Book review: Heorot Series vol. 1 & 2

I listened to the two books in the Heorot series, The Legacy of Heorot, and Beowulf’s Children on my Audible app. The books were written by the team of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steve Barnes.  The first book was written in 1987, the second in 1995.

Although I go through periods when I read a lot of SF, I am not a fan of any of these authors.  That is, other than the books under review, I haven’t read books by these men before.  I used to read Pournelle’s articles in Byte.

I am not a fan of magic technology in SF.   SF that assumes faster-than-light travel I find unbelievable.  If such technology existed anywhere in the universe, wouldn’t the possessors of such powerful technology have visited us by now?

Luckily, the protagonist of the Heorot series does not possess such magic.  Their journey to the far-off planet Avalon took 100 years and many colonists suffer from the effects of suspended animation.


The stories revolve around the colonists struggle to survive on the alien world.  A seeming Eden, Avalon slowly reveals its darker side.  The colonists, most of whom were selected for their scientific proficiency, are caught flatfooted when Avalon’s monsters, called grendels, attack Camelot–the colonists’ base.  Although the colonists are all skilled in some manner, many if not most of them suffer brain damage due to suspended animation.  This compromises their ability to respond and act together.  Later in the sequel, this ‘ice on the brain’ leads to a serious division between the original, damaged colonists and their children–the natives of Avalon.

The authors are on firm ground when they write about science.  The best part of the series by far is the believable portrayal of the alien species.  The authors construct a gaggle of aliens that are simultaneously believable yet ‘alien.’    The book fails when they write about character motivations.  The worst parts, unfortunately, there are many of them, are when the authors apply pop science to the psychology of the colonists.  These passages also make the books feel dated.

The books also suffer from the written by committee syndrome.  The pacing is all over the place.  This is true for both books.   Although it’s clear the authors worked from a shared plan, it seems at times that they didn’t bother to read what the others wrote.

The best book of the series is the first one.  There are moments of high drama and the story holds together better than the sequel.  The sequel, which deals largely with the children of the original colonists, has pages and pages of dreadful pop psychology.   It was hard for me to like any of the characters.  The story picks up toward the end but then ends abruptly.  I assume a third book was planned but dropped.

After listening to the first book, I hesitated before buying the second.  I regret I did and couldn’t wait for the second one to end.  If there was a third book in the series, I wouldn’t buy it.

Having said that, I did pick up a ‘classic’ by this team, The Mote in Gods Eye.  I do like SF filled with good science, so I’m going to give it a try.  Plus, I am always looking for more audio books.


2.5 out of 5 (3 for the first book; 2 for the second).

The narration by Tom Weiner was excellent, 4 out of 5. He handled a range of character voices well, save for the women.

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