Fallen Angels at 20

On Saturday, Loscon 38 celebrated the 20th anniversary of Fallen Angels, Niven, Pournelle and Flynn’s novel starring over a hundred Tuckerized science fiction fans out to save two downed astronauts from a tech-hostile government.  

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and facilitator John Hertz discussed the novel’s enduring appeal with a standing-room-only audience.

Baen synopsizes the story:

One minute the two space Hab astronauts were scoop-diving the atmosphere, the next they’d been shot down over the North Dakota Glacier and were the object of a massive manhunt by the United States government.

That government, dedicated to saving the environment from the evils of technology, had been voted into power because everybody knew that the Green House Effect had to be controlled, whatever the cost. But who would have thought that the cost of ending pollution would include not only total government control of day-to-day life, but the onset of a new Ice Age

Stranded in the anti-technological heartland of America, paralyzed by Earth’s gravity, the “Angels” had no way back to the Space Habs, the last bastions of high technology and intellectual freedom on or over the Earth. But help was on its way, help from the most unlikely sources ….

Pournelle said the book is still selling about 30 copies a week, which is especially gratifying because a Baen Free Library edition has been available for years. He theorized these sales were driven by referrals from Amazon’s “customer’s who bought this also bought that”robot.

The characters in the novel were based on fans the authors knew – but Mike Flynn lived on the East Coast and hadn’t met many of the people Niven and Pournelle incorporated in the story. Larry Niven said one thing he was proud of is that Mike Flynn was able to recognize a particular person based on his description of her in the book.

8 thoughts on “Fallen Angels at 20

  1. Minneapolis fans love ragging on this book.

    First, water does NOT freeze at 50F, and really, SF authors ought to know that. Even SF authors who live in California.

    Second, although it’s largely set in Minneapolis, and features SF fans, they’re all imported from the coasts (many of them people I recognize). Despite the fact that Niven, at least, had been GoH at Minicon twice by the time this came out. (Yeah, I know, the last name on the list of authors is usually the one that did all the work.)

  2. Besides, as Petréa notes, getting its columns wrong, the character identification list is seriously incomplete. I particularly note that it omits “the Oregon Ghost”, who seemed to me to be one of the more easily identifiable people.

  3. I was curious about the idea that Niven, Pournelle and Flynn got the freezing temperature of water wrong, so I looked in the book a bit. From the beginning of the second chapter I found:

    “It was warm in bed, buried beneath the down comforter. The thermostat was turned down to 55, as the law required, and the last thing she wanted was to get out into the chilly air. ”

    and a few paragraphs later

    “She brushed her teeth to get the nighttime fuzzies out. The water in the
    basin wasn’t quite frozen, but it shocked her teeth when she rinsed.”

    I think that it’s an exaggeration to describe this as implying that water
    freezes at 55 degrees – I think it just means that the character doesn’t
    like the cold, and isn’t in the mood to distinguish water that’s much colder than she likes from water that’s actually frozen.

    P.S. Sorry if this post gets duplicated – a previous attempt to post failed.

  4. I’m not the Andrew above.

    Scientific facts aside—”Hey, I loved the Bible, but there’s a scientific impossibility on page 374!”—the book holds up wonderfully, and the fans in it are clearly identifiable. Great writing.

    All of the Niven/Pournelle collaborations hold up well. I went through LUCIFER’S HAMMER, FOOTFALL, and other works by Niven in recent months, and though the science is dated, the writing is still scintillating.

  5. Hey, Mike!

    Speaking as one of the contributors to the Known Space website , I thank you for highlighting one of our web pages!

    We’ve corrected the Mike Glider / Mike Glyer listing. If anyone can provide names we’ve missed, like “the Oregon Ghost”, then I’ll be glad to see those are added.

    And thanks to “Andrew” for alerting us to this article.

    As long as I’m here, I’ll shamelessly plug my own Niven fandom website:

    Visit the Incompleat Known Space Concordance at

  6. Mr. Sooby:

    I don’t recall any you’ve missed off the top of my head, but I can tell you that the Chuck Umber/Charlie Brown (Charles N. Brown) and Bruce Hyde/Bruce Pelz pairs are backwards too.

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