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Beowulf's Children
by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, & Steven Barnes

Reviewed by Padre Mellyrn

For a long time I thought that Niven didn’t write books without Jerry. It always seemed the two were together, such that it was “Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle”. Together, along with Steven Barnes, this duo - sometimes trio - produce novels of high complexity and abundant layering of character. This provides novels of complexity and depth such that one needs a score card to distinguish the players. Each novel will have two or more protagonists, with which the hero or lead balances against. This gives the hero/heroine a sense of reality and multi-dimensionality which tends to let us get the feel of the real person, rather than present the “cardboard” cut out persona of some other authors. The whole of society is represented, and the complex interplay of the various sub-characters give us something more akin to real life in understanding these people. Rarely does the "absolute Good Vs Evil" ever come into direct conflict with the players. They are to more or less of a degree, part evil part good.

Beowulf's Children, specifically:
In the above respect, we find that this novel is of the type we have come to expect and relish from this trio. The people are "stranded" on a planet of their own free will - sort of. They were to colonize the place, but there was a fly in the ointment. There was a danger here that could cost all of them their lives.

Part of the sub-plot of the book revolves around how certain Morals and Laws are made and enforced, to protect the colony. It involves the young (who wish to flaunt the rules) against the old (who wish the laws to be obeyed to the letter). We see complex interplay between the leader of the old (the hero) and the leader of the young (the protagonists) in which we come to realize that both are right in their views, even though they both conflict. Obviously there is no simple solution as the danger lies outside of the community, thus forcing cooperation while providing rifts and friction.

Technology is not really a factor, that is it is not emphasized as to how the technology changes society by how it works. It is simply a tool, which is common to all, and so does not provide any leveling aspects. The leaders can not rely on technology to keep their positions, only through human interaction and strength of character can one maintain their lead against the others.

The Story opens with the attack twenty years earlier, when the enemy almost overwhelms them, but through human ingenuity, the colony survives. Twenty years later the children are now old enough to have children, and the older generation preaches caution, while the younger craves adventure.

There is a whole world before them. The rest of the ships from earth never arrive, this was the one cargo of humans that arrived, and no knows what happened to the rest that were to follow. After awhile some don’t care, as there is no way back to earth for another couple of hundred years, until the manufacturing reaches the level and sophistication of the old earth. But that doesn’t stop some of the younger from wishing, even to just get off the planet.

The means of orbital flight is there, but not interstellar, and until such time this world is the only one they have. The enemy grows from a state of killing rage, the ultimate killing machines to evolving rudimentary thought and understanding of speech, but never losing the edge that makes them killers. Unfortunately for both parties, there is a third menace, one that threatens not only the settlers, but the Grendel as well. And this is where we get the title of the story. The Grendel are the enemy of mankind and the children are “Beowulf’s Children," because the elders stopped but did not defeat Grendel himself.

NOTE: This novel has an alternate title of "The Dragons of Heorot," and is the second book by these authors in a series that began with The Legacy of Heorot (1987), currently out of print.


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Larry Niven
Jerry Pournelle
Steven Barnes


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