Like Fleet of Worlds, Juggler of Worlds is a strong Science Fiction novel, but both books are flawed. Fleet of Worlds had a great plot and few characters to care about besides Nessus. Juggler of Worlds has two strong characters in Nessus, and Sigmund Ausfaller, the paranoid ARM dedicated to protecting earth, but its plot suffers from a tangle of asides as the novel recaps half a dozen of Niven’s existing Known Space stories.
The dualism between Nessus and Sigmund Ausfaller, both sent out to protect societies that they can never belong to, because their abilities are considered to be a form of mental illness, is compelling; but Niven and Lerner dive into too much of the backstory involving Ausfaller, Nessus, Beowulf Shaeffer, Carlos Wu, sidelining the character development into constant asides and making Juggler of Worlds feel more like meta-fiction, than fiction. Juggler of Worlds isn’t the first time Niven has tried to fix up his Known Space concordance, but this time it’s in the middle of a strong novel that would have been better off without it.
Juggler of Worlds is still a formidable novel, and it’s some of the best stuff out under Niven’s name in quite a while. It helps lift Known Space out of a fannish ghetto, where it had leaked into Star Trek and fannish created memes, before they were called that. When Sigmund Ausfaller uses his paranoid brain, it’s as fun to watch as seeing any detective solve a crime. The ending that gives both Sigmund Ausfaller and Nessus a chance to have children and belong somewhere is a nice touch, even if it comes after a clumsy last minute showdown with the Outsiders. It could have been better, but it is good for what it is.