There used to be a time when Larry Niven’s name on a cover meant an exciting novel, these days it’s more likely to mean another collection of short stories wrapped up in hard cover form, which is pretty much what The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven is. The idea of the bar or tavern where everyone comes, including the wild and the furry, the freaky and the extremely alien is nothing new but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of elbow room there in Science Fiction for telling stories set in multispecies bars, Mike Resnick proved it could be done not so long ago. The Draco Tavern though is more of an argument in the other direction.
The biggest problem with The Draco Tavern stories is how tame and undeveloped the world is. From the start in the introduction Larry Niven states that he’s out to produce vignettes but the twists and logical problems in them read like second hand Asimov and the aliens of the Draco Tavern universe are poor cousins compared to Niven’s Known Space bestiary aliens like the Kzin or the Puppeteers and the one skit that contains the two, reminds you of just how lacking the Draco Tavern’s aliens are.
The humans in The Draco Tavern are little better, beginning with Rick himself, little more than foils for the aliens and the aliens themselves are occasionally strange but lack any real ambition or scope, instead they’re mainly there to present a problem and then wait for the story to wrap it all up.
The best story in The Draco Tavern comes at the beginning with The Question is Settled, because it takes place at least narratively in deep space and involves the death of a civilization and probably also because it goes unresolved. The remaining stories dip down from there and Niven’s awkward attempt to integrate the War on Terror in The Ones Who Stay Home and the War in Iraq by giving Rick an Iraqi girlfriend only makes things worse. This is the type of writing that some authors do well but Niven was never really one of them.