A Gift from Earth

By Larry Niven
Macdonald & Jane's Publishers 1969/Orbit 1978
ISBN 0 7088 8012 6

One of Larry Niven’s ‘Tales of Known Space’, ‘A Gift from Earth’ is a story of societal change on the colony world of Mount Lookatthat.

Exploring one of Niven’s themes from the late sixties/early seventies – that transplant technology would eventually outstrip the population’s will to voluntarily supply raw material – Mount Lookatthat is ruled by an oligarchy descended from the original slowboat’s crew. ‘Crew’ lord it over the majority of the inhabitants of the plateaux of Mount Lookatthat (the only inhabitable part of the planet) and benefit from organs forcibly transplanted from ‘criminals’ – i.e. anyone who opposes the regime.

Matt Keller, nephew of a rebel who defied the Crew’s authority and threw himself off the plateau rather than end up in the organ banks, has a special ability. People tend not to notice him. This ability, or social curse, finally becomes something in Matt’s favour when he is contacted by the rebels. Just as Matt feels he has found something to give direction to his life, a ramship arrives from Earth with a gift that will fundamentally alter the society of Mount Lookatthat.

I really enjoyed re-reading this book again. Niven sketches a believable and interesting portrait of how a human society might adapt to life on a resource-poor world. Where advanced medical technology has to be husbanded to prevent a population explosion and what might happen when the balances that keep a fragile society together are suddenly overturned.

There’s a more extensive review on Wikipedia with links to other elements of Niven’s Known Space universe.

Other books by Larry Niven: Protector     

Other books by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle: The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye     The Mote in God's Eye


Thanks to Berka at The Zhodani Base for the background nebula on this page.