Larry Niven

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Larry Niven

Larry Niven at Stanford University in May 2006
Born Laurence van Cott Niven
April 30, 1938 (1938-04-30) (age 70)
Los Angeles, California
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Genres hard science fiction
Notable work(s) Ringworld (1970)
Official website

Laurence van Cott Niven (born April 30, 1938 Los Angeles, California) is a US science fiction author. Perhaps his best-known work is Ringworld (1970), which received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, and Nebula awards. His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics. It also often includes elements of detective fiction and adventure stories. His fantasy includes The Magic Goes Away series, rational fantasy dealing with magic as a non-renewable resource. Niven also writes humorous stories; one series is collected in The Flight of the Horse.


[edit] Biography

Niven is a great-grandson of oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, an important figure in the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s. He briefly attended the California Institute of Technology and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics (with a minor in psychology) from Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, in 1962. He did a year of graduate work in mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has since lived in Los Angeles suburbs, including Chatsworth and Tarzana, as a full-time writer. He married Marilyn Joyce "Fuzzy Pink" Wisowaty, herself a well-known Science Fiction and Regency literature fan, on September 6, 1969.

[edit] Work

Niven is the author of numerous science fiction short stories and novels, beginning with his 1964 story "The Coldest Place". In this story, the coldest place concerned is the dark side of Mercury, which at the time the story was written was thought to be tidally locked with the Sun (it was found to rotate in a 2:3 resonance just months before the story was published).

In addition to the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards in 1971 for Ringworld, [1], Niven won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Neutron Star" in 1967. He won the same award in 1972, for "Inconstant Moon", and in 1975 for "The Hole Man". In 1976, he won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for "The Borderland of Sol".

Niven has written scripts for various science fiction television shows, including the original Land of the Lost series and Star Trek: The Animated Series, for which he adapted his early story "The Slaver Weapon." He adapted his story "Inconstant Moon" for an episode of the television series The Outer Limits in 1996.

He has also written for the DC Comics character Green Lantern including in his stories hard science fiction concepts such as universal entropy and the redshift effect, which are unusual in comic books. The "Bible" for Green Lantern was written by Niven.

Many of Niven's stories take place in his Known Space universe, in which humanity shares the several habitable solar systems nearest to the Sun with over a dozen alien species, including aggressive feline Kzinti and very intelligent but cowardly Pierson's Puppeteers, which are frequently central characters. The Ringworld series is set in the Known Space universe.

The creation of thoroughly worked-out alien species, which are very different from humans both physically and mentally, is recognized as one of Niven's main strengths.

Niven has also written a logical fantasy series The Magic Goes Away, which utilizes an exhaustible resource, called Mana, to power a rule-based "technological" magic.

The Draco Tavern series of short stories take place in a more whimsical science fiction universe, told from the point of view of the proprietor of a multi-species bar.

The whimsical Svetz series consists of a collection of short stories, The Flight of the Horse, and a novel, Rainbow Mars, which involve a nominal time machine sent back to retrieve long-extinct animals, but which goes, in fact, into alternate realities and brings back mythical creatures such as a Roc and a Unicorn.

Much of his writing since the 1970s has been in collaboration with Jerry Pournelle and/or Steven Barnes.

[edit] Influence

Niven's most famous contribution to the SF genre is his concept of the Ringworld, a band of approximately the same diameter as Earth's orbit rotating around a star. The idea's genesis came from Niven's attempts to imagine a more efficient version of a Dyson Sphere, which could produce the illusion of surface gravity through rotation. Given that spinning a Dyson Sphere would result in the atmosphere pooling around the equator, the Ringworld removes all the extraneous parts of the structure, leaving a spinning band landscaped on the sun-facing side, with the atmosphere and inhabitants kept in place through centrifugal force and 1000 mile high perimeter walls (rim walls). When it was pointed out to Niven that the Ringworld was dynamically unstable, in that once the center of rotation drifted away from the central sun, gravity would pull the ring into contact with the star, he used this as a plot element in the sequel novel, The Ringworld Engineers.

This idea proved influential, serving as an alternative to a full Dyson Sphere that required fewer assumptions (such as artificial gravity) and allowed a day/night cycle to be introduced (through the use of a smaller ring of "shadow squares", rotating between the ring and its sun). This was further developed by Iain M. Banks in his Culture series, which features about 1/100th ringworld–size megastructures called Orbitals that orbit a star rather than encircling it entirely. Alastair Reynolds also uses ringworlds in his 2008 novel House of Suns. The Ringworld-like namesake of the Halo video game series is the eponymous Halo megastructure/superweapon. It is one of the most visible influences of the Ringworld concept on popular culture.

[edit] Policy involvement

In 2007, Niven, in conjunction with a group of science fiction writers known as SIGMA, led by Pournelle, began advising the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as to future trends affecting terror policy and other topics.[2]

[edit] Other works

One of Niven's most humorous works is Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, in which he uses real-world physics to underline the difficulties of Superman and a human woman (Lois Lane or Lana Lang) mating.

Larry Niven's novels frequently make use of the stasis field concept, which he also popularized.

In several titles and elsewhere Niven employs terms that are double entendre in that they are apparently metaphorical, but are in fact, meant to be taken literally, or sometimes vice versa. A few examples of this are:

  • The novel Destiny's Road is in fact about a road on a planet called Destiny.
  • In the Ringworld's past there was an event known as "The Fall of the Cities", in which floating cities literally fell out of the sky and crashed to the ground.
  • In his short story, "At The Core," his albino hero Beowulf Shaeffer begins a trip to the Galactic core, but eventually has to turn back because the galactic center is in fact exploding, and sending a deadly wave of hard radiation before it, which prompts some ruminations on cowardice, and yields the revelation at the end of story that the phrase in the title had been meant metaphorically after all.
  • The short story "There is a Tide" begins by speaking of a metaphorical tide of fate which guides one's destiny. But the existence of literal tides on a planet in the story is a key to the plot.
  • The novel The Integral Trees features long straight floating trees which are curved at each end in opposite directions, giving them the shape of the mathematical integral sign, but are themselves integral to the lifecycle of the inhabitants.
  • The novel Footfall at first seems to refer to the elephantine Fithp invaders striding across the Earth, but is actually revealed to be the aliens dropping an asteroid nicknamed the Foot onto the Earth.
  • The title of the short story Locusts continues this theme.

[edit] Niven's Law

Larry Niven is also known in science fiction fandom for "Niven's Law": There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it. Over the course of his career Niven has added to this first law a list of Niven's Laws which he describes as "how the Universe works" as far as he can tell.

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] Known Space


  1. Ringworld (1970) -- Hugo, Nebula and Locus SF Awards winner, 1971 [4]
  2. The Ringworld Engineers (1980) -- Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1981 [5]
  3. The Ringworld Throne (1996)
  4. Ringworld's Children (2004)

Man-Kzin anthologies

  1. Man-Kzin Wars (1988)
  2. Man-Kzin Wars II (1989)
  3. Man-Kzin Wars III (1990)
  4. Man-Kzin Wars IV (1991)
  5. Man-Kzin Wars V (1992)
  6. Man-Kzin Wars VI (1994)
  7. Man-Kzin Wars VII (1995)
  8. Man Kzin Wars VIII: Choosing Names (1998)
  9. Man-Kzin Wars IX (2002)
  10. Man-Kzin Wars X: The Wunder War (2003)
  11. Man-Kzin Wars XI (2005)
  12. Destiny's Forge (2007)
  13. Man-Kzin Wars XII (2009)

[edit] With Jerry Pournelle

  • Moties
  1. The Mote in God's Eye (1974) -- Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1975 [10]; Nebula Award nominee, 1976 [11]
  2. The Gripping Hand aka The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye (1993)
  • Golden Road (set in the same fantasy world as The Magic Goes Away)
  1. The Burning City (2000)
  2. Burning Tower (2005)
  • Heorot (with Steven Barnes and Jerry Pournelle)
  1. The Legacy of Heorot (1987)
  2. Beowulf's Children (1995 UK as The Dragons of Heorot)
  3. Destiny's Road (1997) (Written alone by Niven, not really a continuation of the Heorot series. Located in the same universe and some events from the first two novels are briefly mentioned.)

[edit] Dream Park (with Steven Barnes)

  1. Dream Park (1981) -- Locus SF Award nominee, 1982 [12]
  2. The Barsoom Project (1989)
  3. The California Voodoo Game aka The Voodoo Game (1992)

[edit] The State

  1. A World Out of Time (1976) -- Locus SF Award nominee, 1977 [13]
  2. The Integral Trees (1984) -- Locus SF Award winner, Hugo and Nebula nominee, 1985 [14]
  3. The Smoke Ring (1987)

[edit] Magic Goes Away

  1. The Magic Goes Away (1978)
  2. The Magic May Return (1981)
  3. More Magic (1984)
  4. The Time of the Warlock (Greendragon Press)(1984)

[edit] Graphic novels and comics

[edit] Short story collections

[edit] Novels

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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