The Draco Tavern, by Larry Niven, is a themed anthology of short stories and vignettes set in or about an inn on the edge of an alien space port built in remote Siberia. Using a single setting and/or central narrator of the stories, Niven creates a loose story arc across the tales that adds to the fun of the collection. The stand alone nature of the stories makes this a great vacation read for Science Fiction Fans.
The vast bulk of the story is set in and around the 2030s, at the Draco Tavern, an inn for interstellar travelers built as an alien spaceport in Siberia.
This is a fun series of related short stories published from 1984 up to the date of publication. It’s not high literature nor does it try to be, but it is a great and easy distraction for a busy mind. The premise of this collection is very straight forward: When star faring aliens arrive on near-future Earth and build a spaceport, Rick Schumann sets up a Tavern to house and serve them, the aliens tourists they bring, and any human who wants to swing by and talk to them. The stories are all told from Rick’s point of view, with a few bits thrown in to give the collection a very loose character and/or event arc that ties the collection together quite nicely.
Do not be mistaken, however, this is a series of short stories, not a novel. Descriptions and ideas are repeated through each tale, as if the reader hadn’t read the previous ones, and continuity is not always primary in the author’s mind. But it’s a story about an interstellar bar, and while there are some more serious stories in it, the collection as a whole is intended to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s good fun and, for the most part, hits the nail on the head.
There are a few bits here and there which managed to hit a sour note in my reading. In a few of the stories, there are comments about Iraqis, clearly written some time ago, that sound a bit racist to my ears. Mind you, this is the case in most circles; one must be politically correct and respect all cultures — except the Arabs. This instance, however, consists of one or two throw away lines and that is all; not exactly excusable, but considering world events at the time of writing, perhaps understandable. In fact, there is even a bit of an attempt to backtrack a little at one point. Indeed, the last stories in the book even shows a bit of self-reflection about Western Culture and how it would react to certain key events.
Outside that one complaint, this collection fits well into the long established canon of Bar Tales that no doubt predate the invention of the mead hall. Niven wrote these stories with that in mind, and plays with the concept very very well. He also uses these stories to drop huge ideas as throw away lines: very well done.
In short: if you want some enjoyable Sci-Fi mind candy that tells some fun self-contained stories but still keeps you turning pages from one tale to the next, this is a great read.
Notes about the Audio Edition:
Tom Wiener did a great job of narrating this book. He gave life to Rick Schumann and helped bring out Niven’s vivid ideas and imagery. Of course, First Person narratives really do lend themselves to audiobook format, but that doesn’t stop some voice talents from totally ruining a book (see comments on David Kelly’s reading of Kenneth Opel’s, Airborn). What is more, one can often do a fine job of narrating without giving the character personality. To that end, Tom Wiener did a marvelous job of acting without in anyway interfering with the telling of the tale.
Similarly, as ever, Blackstone Audio did a wonderful job of production and let the story and their narrator speak for themselves.
 I believe these were all published previously, but some may be new. There are a number of other Draco Tavern stories published that were not included in this volume.
 “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
 In fact, the degree of anti-Arab sentiment that can be freely expressed throughout American Culture is really a bit shocking, but that is another article all together.
 One would guess that the Bell Beaker culture had similar stories tied to implied reciprocity and the imbibing of intoxicants…
I found this collection to be uneven and difficult to get through, despite my love of the earlier stories. I’ll have to re-read it with your remarks about Iraqis in mind. If you remember, which stories are these remarks in?
I’m afraid I can’t recall. They were throw away lines and sadly I didn’t note their position. I often find it harder to note such thing when listening rather than reading. One was fairly early on and another, less blunt comment came in the last few stories.
For me it was a good light read, and as such hit its mark, but probably not worth a second read.