Niven is well known for his ability to write funny, interesting, complicated future histories, and this collection is no exception. The 27 stories in this volume cover topics ranging from the existence of God to feminism, war and politics, relationships, species survival, reproduction and commerce. And a whole bunch of other stuff. There are all kinds of weird aliens, including a rock that barely moves over hundreds of years, but is wired into the internet, technology that is sometimes more than it seems, bubbling green drinks made from radioactive isotopes, atmosphere screens and environment suits. There are even sentient fish living in transparent water filled balls that transport them around on dry land.
This is not a particularly heavy read, because it doesn't take itself too seriously, but it does raise some challenging questions, and in many cases attempts to answer them. All of the stories are told from the perspective of Rick Schumann, in the context of him telling a tale, very much like you would expect. Very "barman with a moral tale" tropish. And it totally works.
I gave this book to Java to read, and he loved it. The lack of 'adult' content makes this a particularly good read for younger sf readers who are beyond the idiotic crap that is often sold as YASF. I wish more writers would do this, because graphic sex often means that I can't (won't) give it to my kid to read. He doesn't need to be exposed to that just yet, and it is frustrating when a fantastic novel has just two or three paragraphs that make it unsuitable for kids. Especially when it does nothing for the story. Sigh. Cory Doctorow could learn a thing or two from this. IE Makers.
Good stories, good collection. I wouldn't buy it, but I will probably get it from the library again. three stars out of five.