The novel “The Legacy of Heorot” by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes was published for the first time in 1987. It’s the first book of the Heorot series.
When some of the colony’s animals are found dead of violent causes along with damage to some fences, security officer Cadmann Weyland thinks there’s a predator on the island that hasn’t yet been identified. Almost everyone else looks for alternative explanations and some even suspect that Cadmann created the incidents to prove his usefulness.
Given the situation, Cadmann decides to go in search of the possible predator and only Ernst helps him, but he suffered brain damage as a side effect of the hibernation in which he spent the interstellar journey. The two of them discover an animal native to the planet but Ernst is killed and Cadmann can barely survive. When he returns to the colony, he discovers that a woman has been killed along with her child and some colonists accuse him of the crime.
“The Legacy of Heorot” is inspired by the stories of planetary colonization that were already a classic theme in the 1980s. In this case, it’s a planet in the Tau Ceti star system where conditions seem ideal for establishing a colony. One difficulty is that the hibernation system had problems in various cases, which resulted in the deaths of some of the travelers and brain damage of varying degrees to some others.
Reading the opening part of the novel, the impression is that almost all the colonists suffered some brain damage because their attitude after the killing of some animals in the colony and the damage of some fences is really obtuse. Cadmann Weyland, a former military officer and the colony’s security officer, seems the only one who can recognize a potential threat but gets almost nothing but hostile reactions.
In a story that contains many references to the epic Beowulf, the authors show from the beginning that there really is a native animal on the planet that can easily kill a human. The development is predictable, as the encounter between the native predator and the immigrant predator leads to a clash that can leave only one top predator on the planet.
Despite the references to the epic and the cultured quotations at the beginning of the chapters, “The Legacy of Heorot” is a rather basic planetary adventure novel. Interpersonal relationships, even on a sexual level, have no real depth and only some important characters have a decent characterization but often just embody some clichés.
The life cycle of the Grendels, as the native predators are called by the colonists, is one of the few notable elements. To develop it, Jack Cohen, a biologist who has worked with various writers and television producers to create credible aliens, worked as a consultant for the authors. In the end, in my opinion, the Grendels are by far the best element of a novel that from other points of view left me cold.
The fast pace, which tends to accelerate as the story progresses, is also used to cover up the novel’s flaws. However, if you stop to think about the various plot developments, you can get puzzled. There are three authors and some interesting basic concepts but exactly for this reason, in my opinion, the development is too often trivial.
In the end, in my opinion, “The Legacy of Heorot” has more flaws than merits. The limitations in the development, which lead among other things to characters I didn’t care about at all, definitely dampened any possible excitement for the parts that are supposed to be very intense. If you appreciate very classic colonization stories in which humans have to fight hard to conquer an alien environment, you might like it.