The Legacy of Heorot was published back in 1989. Written by powerhouse duo Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (with a bit of help from Steven Barnes), it tells the tale of a group of humans who endure a ten-year frozen trip out to a new planet to start a human colony.
The Legacy of Heorot is an unashamedly masculine book. The main character, Cadmann Weyland, is a macho soldier with a chip on his shoulder. He’s surrounded by big heads and soft bodies, and being the simple army grunt that he is, he feels out of place.
Enter the big bad: the grendels. They are the apex predator of this brave new world, and they’re hungry for some meat — be it animal or human.
At first, the book seems like it’s setting up to be an Alien (the movie) type story, in which the colonists slowly get picked off one by one — until only the last remaining few escape to safety. However, the story is more about how the colonists rise in resistance to the grendel attack.
There are some vagueish themes about the value of conservation: in killing off the adult grendels, they then realise that the “samlon” fishies are, in fact, baby grendels, and they’ve accidentally unleashed a wave of blood-crazed adolescence grendels, now that their only natural predator has been voted off the island.
Early in the story, farm animals in the colony wind up getting eaten in the dead of night, and Cadmann is the only one who seems concerned. He explains that they need to up their defences, but the colonists disagree. It’s only when the grendels come for the humans that they realise he was right.
The story evolves into a heady mix of scientific intrigue, romance and good old fashioned monster hunting
The Legacy of Heorot isn’t exactly an in-depth character study, but the cast of characters is pleasantly suited to this B-style sci-fi story. There is Sylvia, Cadmann’s love interest, who is married to another man. Carlos, Cadmann’s bestie, who is there to quip and occasionally ignite grendels with a flame thrower. And Mary Ann, who is in love with Cadmann. Thus, we end up with something of a love square — Cadmann loves Sylvia, who is married to Terry, and Mary Ann loves Cadmann.
There is a lot to like about The Legacy of Heorot. The hard science edge adds a nice sense of realism, although the story is firmly in the pulpy B-grade variety. The issues they face are ecological, so it’s up to the boffins to figure it out… Except, after being frozen in space for ten light-years, many of them suffer from hibernation instability and are not quite firing on all cylinders.
The story evolves into a heady mix of scientific intrigue, romance and good old fashioned monster hunting. It’s well-paced, simply written and very accessible. Those seeking strong female representation need not apply though — as with many Niven/Pournelle books, strong, independent female characters are not exactly front and centre. Nearly every character (male and female) is defined by their relationship to the main character, Cadmann Weyland.
One last note: the book is, apparently, very loosely based on Beowulf. I have not read or studied the famous poem, so I cannot say how similar it is.
Overall, The Legacy of Heorot was a fun read that did not shy away from its pulpy B-grade sensibilities. If you have a hankering for macho, monster-hunting space opera with a bit of hard science thrown in for fun, it’s hard to go past this one.