The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven, a review

The Draco TavernThe Draco Tavern by Larry Niven
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Draco Tavern is Larry Niven’s version of the “Space Bar” trope of science fiction. The main star is the setting; a nexus where alien species of a startling variety come together to interact and tell stories, and short stories ensue. The Space Bar isn’t startlingly original as a literary idea; Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon and Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, and earlier, Tales From The White Hart could lay claim to exploring the concept before the publication of The Draco Tavern, though Larry Niven has been writing these stories in the Tavern setting for quite a while.

Perhaps the core concept isn’t original, but unlike those other collections, Niven has invested a lot of creativity and thought about the setting and universe surrounding the Draco Tavern, and he really seems to be having fun with the alien species in particular. Almost every one of the short stories centers around the humans (often just the bartender/narrator, Rick Schuman) encountering some nugget of truth about life by interacting with a race of beings that does something entirely differently and is shocked or amused with homo sapiens and their quirky ways. It’s a good theme; and the deeper theme of acceptance and good natured hospitality instead of xenophobia is a timely one these days.

Stories in the Collection:

“The Subject is Closed”
“Grammar Lesson”
“Assimilating Our Culture, That’s What They’re Doing”
“The Schumann Computer”
“The Green Marauder”
“The Real Thing”
“War Movie”
“Table Manners”
“One Night at the Draco Tavern”
“The Heights”
“The Wisdom of Demons”
“Smut Talk”
“Ssoroghod’s People”
“The Missing Mass”
“The Convergence of the Old Mind”
“The Death Addict”
“Storm Front”
“The Slow Ones”
“Cruel and Unusual”
“The Ones Who Stay Home”
“Breeding Maze”
“Losing Mars”
“Playground Earth”

Of these I rather liked The Wisdom of Demons, The Green Marauder (which posits the existence of a predecessor to humanity that lived on the pre-oxygen Earth), and The Schuman Computer (where the narrator builds a super computer that grows so powerful it gets bored with helping humanity…)

In summary, The Draco Tavern isn’t Niven’s greatest work, and maybe not even his best collection of short stories. I liked his milieu quite a bit and found the alien overlords (the bemused, 11 feet tall “Chirpsithra”, which look like kind of like willowy lobsters) very entertainingly written. This collection isn’t Ringworld, or even close, but it is worth a read for Niven fans. I found the stories a bit abrupt and even a little preachy at times. The reader is often left in a position to draw his own conclusions as the story abruptly ends. That can be a little jarring from time to time.

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