What I’ve been reading lately – Flatlander


I’ve been trying to read more, ever since getting back from Kansas. Unfortunately, other things to do keep trying to crowd out reading time.

One book that I’ve managed to make headway is a collection of short stories from Larry Niven: “Flatlander” – not to be confused with the single short story of the same title and author, which is one from the Beowulf Shaeffer sequence.

But the short stories in this collection are set several hundred years earlier, at least – and center around a cop with a past as an asteroid belt miner – Gil Hamilton the Arm. That last bit is a play on words – Gil is part of the ARM, or Amalgamation of Regional Militia – an organization which serves as the worldwide police force on Earth in the future of Larry Niven’s books. But Gil also has a phantom psychic arm, partly because he lost his arm in a mining accident. (He later got a transplanted replacement arm too.) His psychic arm isn’t strong enough to lift anything heavy, but it can do things that a physical arm can’t, like reach through walls – or TV screens.

The stories all have some kind of mystery element, set against a future where the mining Belters have achieved independence from Earth and lunar settlers are caught between the two groups. There are a few references to Lucas Garner, Gil’s aging but sharp boss, and this is presumably the same character who appears in the first half of Niven’s novel ‘Protector’, thus linking the Gil stories into the known space universe, long before humanity met Kzinti or puppeteers or any extant alien species.

I’ve actually read one of these stories years ago. “Arm” was one of the Larry Niven stories that I was able to download from fictionwise.com, and I enjoyed reading it on my palmpilot, though I didn’t really follow the references to the psychic hand, as the backstory wasn’t given in detail.

Ever since I was in Kansas, ‘Flatlander’ has been my go-to for reading when I happened to have my iPhone around, as it’s cued up in the iPhone’s kindle app. I’m still in the middle of a novella-length mystery taking place on the moon’s surface, with an old flame of Gil’s taking the fall for a laser shooting that he knows she couldn’t have committed.

I’d recommend it to any lover of science fiction mysteries.

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