(After reading the 5 books of the [b:Ringworld|61179|Ringworld (Ringworld #1)|Larry Niven|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348622769s/61179.jpg|924711], I decided to read the related works in [a:Larry Niven|12534|Larry Niven|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1182720933p2/12534.jpg]'s Known Space universe. Protector figured largely in the unfolding of the Ringworld series and I thought it would be interesting to revisit this book. As such enterprises tend to do, it brought up memories of a youthful life and all the silly things one can get into. Like hitching a ride with the Pak, you never know where you'll wind up.)
So [b:Protector|100344|Protector|Larry Niven|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347876333s/100344.jpg|2576385] is the book, also the race and the spaceship. The race is the Pak, and the protector is the adult stage, smarter, stronger, than the the preceding stage of breeder, yet, for all its superman abilities, remarkably devoid of free will. For a protector lives for one thing and one thing only: insuring its bloodline. The spaceship is a Buzzard ramjet, launched by Jack Brennan (the first human-turned-protector) to stop a fleet of protectors on their way to the human worlds of Known Space. And the book is an entertaining read, written in Niven's inimitable style, highly technological, almost mathematical in its precision, the epitome of the hard SF genre.
The book makes more sense in the context of the Ringworld and Fleet of Worlds series. As a standalone book, I recalled it as episodic with different stories told of different characters and time frames, all tenuously connected. But in the light of the other (later) Niven works, the nature, motivations and actions of the protector make more sense. So I enjoyed it more this time and thus change my rating to 5 stars.
The best parts of this book are: the space battle fought at astronomical distances spanning years, the loneliness of the protector and how it might amuse itself, the protector's haven featuring an Escher staircase, and the old geezers who set out to save the crash landed protector on Mars. The Niven genesis of how humans are descended from the Pak is straight out of pulp serials. If all it takes to become smarter is to get a bigger brain, then the next cosmetic craze might be the extended frontal lobe. I am wondering what to make of my smartphone - is it smart despite being small?
The things we believed in when we were young look silly now no matter how real they seemed then. But there is no denying the valuable lessons gained from making mistakes and taking the wrong path. And in recognizing we are not a s smart as we think.