With help from from FuzzyBoots and Alexei Panshin himself, the review was located:
It appeared in Nyarlathotep, the Unspeakable Fanzine, edited by Ben Solon; Issue No. 5, May 1967, in Panshin's column "Kasha", pp. 47–56.
Steve (alittleblackegg on Flickr) was kind enough to provide photos of the article.
Here's an Imgur album of all 10 pages. I've embedded the three pages dealing with World of Ptavvs below.
WORLD OF PTAVVS, by Larry Niven; Ballantine, 1966, $.50
In a recent issue of Riverside Quarterly, I was accused of writing
purely technical criticism. I say "accused" because the letter writer,
an Austrian, held this to be a flaw, feeling that I, like most
American critics, avoided the real heart of literary criticism—moral
judgment. I personally think that moral judgment, if it must be
brought up at all in conjunction with literary works, is something for
the reader to haul out in the privacy of his own closet. If I start
endorsing one writer's vision of God or condemning another's
particular brand of sadism, all I do is reveal my own hang-ups. All
I'm required to do is point out that the vision of God or the whips
and boots are present, if I feel they have any importance. As a matter
of fact, I took the comment as more of a compliment than anything
else, because pure technical criticism is both what I want to write
and what I try to write.
My own definition of technical criticism would be that it is the
critic's answer to the questions "What has the writer tried to do?",
"What has he actually done?" and "Was it all worth doing?", framed in
terms of what the critic knows about writing, literary tradition, and
the world at large.
There is one place where technical criticism may go askew, however,
and that is misplaced emphasis. In discussions The Judgment of Eve,
I may say that I feel the book is ultimately unsuccessful and then
argue the point at length. The point has to be argued at length. The
virtues of the book, on the other hand, are obvious and don't require
extended argument. The final impression that the review leaves may be
that the book is a bad one.
I feel quite strongly that The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is an
unsatisfactory book, and I attempted to show this at some length.
However, it quite definitely has some things to recommend it. The
trouble is, that in discussing a book like World of Ptavvs, I may
sound as though I am making the same sort of case that I was with The
Judgment of Eve and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. I am not. World
of Ptavvs is nothing so respect-worthy, because unlike these it does
not attempt a great deal and fail to bring it off. World of Ptavvs
attempts next to nothing and fails flatly. I want the distinction
World of Ptavvs is as close to being a totally amateurish failure as any professionally published book I have ever read. The writing is
bad, the thinking is superficial, and the story is pointless. I
haven't read enough of Niven's work to pass judgment on his talent,
but a number of people have told me that other stories by him,
including the shorter version of this book, have shown genuine merit.
Out of charity, let me guess that this novel was written relatively
early in Niven's career, that the magazine version was an abridgement
more successful than the original, and that Niven made the error of
resurrecting his original manuscript when he was presented with a book
It is an elementary rule in writing that one ought to avoid giving
characters in a story similar names lest they be confused with each
other. Recently, I started a job where some six people have last names
beginning with "K" or hard "C", and after three weeks I still haven't
gotten them completely straight in my mind. Our acquaintance with
characters in a book is only a matter of a few hours—which means there
is all the more reason for keeping them completely separate. Niven,
however, has characters named Lit, Luke, Lew, and Larry—if I haven't
missed a couple—two or three of whom may turn up in any one paragraph.
Since we lack anything on the order of distinct and consistent
characterization, the story population is a blur.
Niven's writing is clumsy and overblown. A character might
legitimately say, "He was a burly man who walked like he had bad
feet," if he were given as stupid or uneducated or speaking
colloquially. Niven writes a sentence, and a hundred more as bad, in
direct exposition, which leads me to believe he doesn't know any
Here are three consecutive sentences from a single paragraph:
"Judy thought he looked like the oldest man in the world. His face was
as wrinkled as Satan's. He rode a ground-effect travel chair as
powerful as a personal tank."
Niven's short simile-laden sentences total to nothing, but do give an
impression of movement. He never stops to explain or elaborate, but
merely throws out more similes, his sentences rushing on. We never
know what things are, merely what they are like, and by the time
we stop to question them, they are half a page behind us. The result
is fast-paced and foggy.
The thinking is superficial:
An alien is about to be released from a stasis field. One would think
it would be sensible to take precautions in case the alien proved to
be hostile. None are taken. As a result, a human telepath brought
along to communicate with the alien gets a mental overprint from the
alien so that he has all the alien's memories and believes himself to
be the alien. The man runs amuck and eventually is caught in Topeka.
Knowing this, one would think the characters would put the alien under
restraint. Instead, it is dragged off to Topeka where it conveniently
can have the opportunity to escape and grab a spaceship. Our deluded
hero, the one who thinks he is the alien, gets the chance to escape
and grab a spaceship, too.
Our hero speaks English and, one assumes, thinks in English. The
alien, quite naturally, speaks only its own native language. Somehow,
however, when our hero gets that mental blast he is able not only to
communicate with the alien, but also has all its memories including
the ability to read and write its language. This is an awfully
convenient sort of transfer—I'd like to see Niven try to provide a
penny's worth of justification for it. It might lead to an
instantaneous elimination of illiteracy in the world.
In the Russian press last winter criticism was made of a story in
which a spaceship window got obscured with cosmic dust and a cosmonaut
had to go out into space with a vacuum cleaner to get the dust off. I
actually laughed then...but Niven is every bit as incredible. His
spaceships are a weird bunch: some of them are single-seaters
(monoplanes, no doubt), and all of them can apparently turn on a dime
and putt-putt off in a new direction. The worst point comes when our
hero has made some mystical passes so that a number of pursuing ships
have clouded windshields—a pretty good equivalent of the situation in
the Russian story mentioned above. The pursuers are completely
bollixed, of course, because they can no longer see where they are
going. (No, I'm not kidding.) So we get this: "'First, we let the
instruments carry us for a while. Second, we're eventually going to
break our windshields so we can see out...'" American ingenuity, I'd
call it—an altogether more direct and efficient solution than the
Russian. The reference to "windshields," by the way, increases my
suspicion that we are really dealing with a monoplane—I'd guess about
a 1927 Lockheed Vega.
Even the climax of the story falls completely flat on its face. The
hero, his own personality recovered, and freed from a mental command
not to move by some means Niven doesn't think important enough to
explain, locates the alien on Pluto, walks up to it, punches a button
on its chest and turns it off. It would have been interesting to know
that this was possible beforehand. Unfortunately, Niven can't say that
it is. If he does, he must explain why at any prior moment the alien
might not trip over its own feet, fall on its chest, and turn itself
off. He says the alien is stupid—he almost has to—but if he gives us
the full truth we can only know the alien to be so really stupid
that we cannot possibly accept it as a menace. So Niven cheats a
little bit. He tells us on the one hand that the alien is a terrible
threat to the world that must be stopped at all costs, and on the
other makes the alien so stupid that he wears on Off button on his
chest for the hero to punch. And a Kick Me sign on his behind.
If this story had a single striking character, insight or point, it
might still be worthwhile, but it has none. It is 188 pages of bad
writing, incredible stupidities, and typing exercises. It is about
nothing. Stories as a rule make more sense than life, but this novel,
without really meaning to, makes less, and that is why it is a
If Larry Niven does have talent, Ballantine did him no service in
publishing this book. They've given him no incentive to learn his
craft. If Larry Niven lacks talent, Ballantine did him no service in
publishing this book. They've misled him into thinking that this sort
of material is acceptable. In any case, in publishing this book,
Ballantine did Ballantine no service.