Niven, Larry

Tagged: Author

Working name of US writer Laurence van Cott Niven (1938-    ). He was born in California, where he set many of his stories, and gained a BA in mathematics from Washburn University, Kansas. From his first publication, "The Coldest Place" for If in December 1964, he set his mark on the US sf field as a Hard SF writer of remarkable vigour and inventiveness, soon winning four short-fiction Hugos: for "Neutron Star" (October 1966 If), "Inconstant Moon" (in All the Myriad Ways, coll 1971), "The Hole Man" (January 1974 Analog) and "The Borderland of Sol" (January 1975 Analog). He won both Hugo and Nebula in 1971 for Ringworld (1970), the capstone title in his seminal Tales of Known Space sequence, which he began with "The Coldest Place" and has added to ever since, though more recent work – including three weak sequels to Ringworld and the Worlds prequel subseries with Edward M Lerner – is very much less intense. In the novels and stories of this sequence, and in some of his other work, he was seen for some time as the last best hope for the kind of sf in which worlds are made to work right in the hands of a proper fixer; and there can be no doubt that hard-sf writers dominant in the 1980s, like Greg Bear, and some of those who were reaching for eminence in the 1990s, like Paul J McAuley and Roger MacBride Allen, owe much to the scope of Niven's early inventiveness, the sense he conveys of technological ingenuity as being ultimately beneficial, and his cognitive exuberance.

The Tales of Known Space, a title Niven himself selected for the sequence, is a wide-ranging, complex, unusually well integrated Future History which, within an essentially optimistic and technophilic frame, provides an explanatory structure for the expansion of humanity into space, one notable from the first for the complexity of the Universe into which it introduces the burgeoning human race. Alien races – not normally found in the first generation of future histories, which is to say those created in Astounding under the influence of the homocentric John W Campbell Jr – have dominated Known Space for aeons, beginning with the Forerunner Thrintun, mind-controlling "Slavers" (> Psi Powers) extinct for a billion years with the exception of a single Thrint held in a Stasis Field and released to threatening effect in Niven's first novel, World of Ptavvs (March 1965 Worlds of Tomorrow; exp 1966). Millions of years closer to the present, humanity's ancestors, the Pak, spread their seed through the local arm of the Galaxy. Protectors are the "adult" form of Homo sapiens (> Arrested Development), the yam necessary to transform humans from neotenous potential metamorphs into rigid full-grown Paks not being available on Earth; the Pak protagonist of Protector (June 1967 Galaxy as "The Adults"; exp 1973), which is set in human times, has travelled from afar at terribly slow sublight speeds to take care of us and protect us against other Protectors who find our slightly evolved species loathsome. The novel spans many years; its complex, casually-alluded-to background demonstrates the value of a coherent sequence in buttressing Space-Opera conventions, though at the same time, as Niven himself once admitted, the Universe-changing plot of Protector made it difficult to maintain internal consistency within Known Space stories set after the Pak incursion. Less dangerously, A Gift From Earth (February-April 1968 If as "Slowboat Cargo"; 1968) sticks to less transformative material, being set on a planet colonized from Earth whose inhabitants, descended from the ship's lowly passengers, rebel against the ruling caste descended from its crew; the story is interfused with arguments for personal and entrepreneurial liberty whose connection, as in much US sf, is taken as axiomatic. Centuries of relative peace follow, until the start of the Man-Kzin Wars, a period of strife with the catlike alien Kzinti which is treated by Niven as a sort of sideshow; the relevant stories were delegated mainly to others in several Shared-World anthologies, beginning with The Man-Kzin Wars (anth 1988) edited by Niven, Poul Anderson and Dean Ing [for remaining titles see Checklist below].

Finally, the tales and novels of Known Space culminated in the Ringworld subseries – comprising Ringworld, Ringworld Engineers (July 1979-January 1980 Galileo; 1979), The Ringworld Throne (1996) and Ringworld's Children (2004) – which focuses on the ancient eponymous Macrostructure now being explored by humans at the behest of the Alien Puppeteers, who are fleeing the explosion at the Galaxy's core which will within some millennia make space uninhabitable. The Ringworld, a million miles wide, 600 million miles around, comprising in effect a narrow strip cut from the equator of a hypothetical Dyson Sphere, is in Engineers revealed to have been created by the Pak, a long-absent race with some Forerunner credentials, but now again active; it houses much Mutant life and serves as a final home for Teela Brown, whose genetically programmed good luck (> Psi Powers) is the culmination of a long and secret Puppeteer breeding programme. The inevitability of her good fortune might have significantly reduced the chance of Niven's writing any successful Known Space stories set after her maturity, which is perhaps why she is killed off (unlike the similarly overdetermining Paks) in the sequel. The final two volumes seem to have been at least partially inspired by the response of many readers to the meta-engineering challenge of actually building a ringworld as Niven describes it (> Big Dumb Objects); the books themselves treated the 600 trillion square miles of theoretically available terrain more as a Libertarian dream than as anything more complex, and suffered as fiction.

In the interstices of this elaborately complicated galactic structure, humanity enters space, solves problems in Biology and Genetic Engineering, benefits from local Teleportation and the discovery of a Faster-than-Light hyperdrive for interstellar travel, copes with Corpsicles, Organlegging, the implications of Stasis Fields and a myriad other new challenges, and by the beginning of the fourth millennium has reached a mature plateau. Further titles in which Known Space activities are dramatized in short-story form include: Neutron Star (coll 1968); The Shape of Space (coll 1969), much of which is re-assembled in Convergent Series (coll 1979); All the Myriad Ways (coll 1971); Inconstant Moon (coll 1973; cut 1974); and Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (coll 1975), which includes explanatory charts. The Gil Hamilton subseries – comprising The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton (coll of linked stories 1976), The Patchwork Girl (1980), both assembled with additional material as Flatlander (omni 1995), plus Crashlander (fixup 1994) – are a series of mystery and crime tales featuring Gil Hamilton – a detective whose limited Psi Powers provide him with an imaginary, intangible but functional third arm – and other detectives.

Most of Niven's first decade as a writer was occupied with Known Space, with the exception of the tales assembled in The Flight of the Horse (coll 1973) – including the five stories of the Svetz series of Time-Paradox comedies – A Hole in Space (coll 1974) and, with David Gerrold, The Flying Sorcerers (May/June-July/August 1970 If as "The Misspelled Magician"; 1971), a tale of a low-tech people who think that high technology is Magic. His next – and commercially his most successful move – was to collaborate with Jerry Pournelle in the Moties sequence beginning with The Mote in God's Eye (1974), a giant, spectacular Space-Opera epic with all the trappings – interstellar shenanigans, First Contact with aliens having unhealthy proclivities they must keep hidden (> Xenobiology), galactic aristocracies, intricate solutions to hard-sf problems. The book is essentially a development of Pournelle's CoDominium series, and may fruitfully be read in that context. Several critics have taken the book to task for what they regard as its human chauvinism, the discrepancy between its imaginative plot and its old-fashioned characterization, and its conservative political stance; but the combination of Pournelle's ability to shape novel-length plots (an ability his partner has always lacked) and Niven's conceptual ingenuity make for an enticing book. The sequel, The Gripping Hand (1993; vt The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye 1993), lacks the drive of the original, concentrating on heavy-handed Space Opera shenanigans which have been fatally overtaken by events, as the central problem of the Moties' breeding pattern is solved before any of the battles actually occur.

Further collaborations with Pournelle ensued. Inferno (August-October 1975 Galaxy; 1976) reworks Dante Alighieri's Inferno, an act notable for its apparently conscious vulgarity, interesting in its theological explanation of evil as part of a project in theological engineering – that God's "sadism" is in fact designed to encourage self-help among the damned – and amusing in its placing of anti-Nuclear-Energy propagandists in Hell; the sequel, Escape from Hell (2009) with Pournelle, is weakly uplifting. Lucifer's Hammer (1977) is a long, ambitious Disaster novel about a Comet's impact on Earth, which sophisticatedly marries sf techniques with the bestseller idiom familiar from the many disaster films of the early 1970s. In Oath of Fealty (1981) a Los Angeles (> California) arcology (> Keep) – spurning the aid of an ineffective, bureaucratic government (> Politics) – defends its wealthy inhabitants from Ecology freaks and terrorists. The internal government of this arcology being an infallible hierarchy headed by one brilliant man in constant communication with a great Computer, no significant dissent is necessary, or heard. Footfall (1985), about an alien Invasion of Earth, became an example of Recursive SF through its enlisting of a readily identifiable group of sf writers to brainstorm solutions to the threat from space. The Heorot sequence – comprising The Legacy of Heorot (1987), with Pournelle and Steven Barnes; The Dragons of Heorot (1995 UK vt Beowulf's Children 1995), also with Pournelle and Barnes; plus Destiny's Road (1995) solo – replay a loose version of the Beowulf saga on a colony planet, the natives of the planet being forced to play the Monster (> Colonization of Other Worlds); the solo tale Destiny's Road (1995), set on another planet in the same universe, may have been intended as an apology for the clumsy excesses of the first two volumes. Fallen Angels (1991), with Pournelle and Michael Flynn – in which the US Government betrays its own astronauts – once again treats environmentalists concerned with Climate Change as villains in a planetary drama of the Near Future. In Building Harlequin's Moon (2005) with Brenda Cooper, the crew of an interstellar Starship flees a Nanotechnology-congested Earth but are trapped in a system low in the Antimatter necessary for refueling, and must Terraform a moon in order eventually to escape.

Niven has increasingly made use of other collaborators as well as Pournelle; in fact, in later years he has written only four solo novels outside the Known Space canon: A World Out of Time (fixup 1976), a complexly contemplative look through one protagonist's eyes at millions of years of human history, and which directly connects to the Sharls Davis Kendy sequence comprising The Integral Trees (October 1983-January 1984 Analog; 1984) and The Smoke Ring (January-April 1987 Analog; 1987), both assembled as The Integral Trees (omni 2003); and The Magic Goes Away (1977), a fantasy in which Magic is treated as a non-renewable resource. The Dream Park sequence – Dream Park (1981), The Barsoom Project (1989) and Dream Park: The Voodoo Game (1991; vt The California Voodoo Game 1992), all with Barnes – is set in a Game-World environment (see also Virtual Reality) in the twenty-first century, with the eponymous corporation involved in running complex Role Playing Games as well as enterprises in the real world and a planned colonization of Mars. Other collaborations include The Descent of Anansi (1982) and Achilles' Choice (1991), both with Barnes; and The Goliath Stone (2013) with Matthew Joseph Harrington (for details see his co-author). The Bowl of Heaven sequence comprising Bowl of Heaven (2012) and Shipstar (2014), both with Gregory Benford, returns to the Macrostructure sublime of Ringworld and similar tales, and features a bisected Dyson Sphere seemingly built by a Forerunner species, a kind of super World Ship which travels through the galaxy powered by the energy from its trapped sun, the explanatory Physics for which was supplied by Benford; the authors distinguish Niven's Ringworld, which they describe as a Big Dumb Object, from its dynamically more complex successor.

Niven's late collections – like Niven's Laws (coll 1984) (> Laws), Limits (coll 1985), N-Space (coll 1990), Playgrounds of the Mind (coll 1991) – have tended increasingly to re-sort earlier stories; but Scatterbrain (coll 2003) presents more recent material, and The Best of Larry Niven (coll 2010) is a persuasive sorting of his oeuvre. It cannot be denied that the fresh inventive gaiety characteristic of Niven's early work has not survived the passing of the years, nor that the political agendas exposed in the collaborations have become more rancorous over the same period. He will perhaps be best remembered for the Tales of Known Space, the most energetic Future History ever written, for his bright and profligate technophilia, for his astonishingly well conceived aliens, and for his early joy. [JC]

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Laurence van Cott Niven

born Los Angeles, California: 30 April 1938

died

works

series

Tales of Known Space

Tales of Known Space: Ringworld

  • Ringworld (New York: Ballantine Books, 1970) [Tales of Known Space: Ringworld: pb/Dean Ellis]
  • Ringworld Engineers (Huntington Woods, Michigan: Phantasia Press, 1979) [first appeared July 1979-January 1980 Galileo: Tales of Known Space: Ringworld: hb/Dale Gustafson]
  • The Ringworld Throne (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1996) [Tales of Known Space: Ringworld: hb/Barclay Shaw]
  • Ringworld's Children (New York: Tor, 2004) [Tales of Known Space: Ringworld: hb/Stephan Martinière]

Tales of Known Space: Gil Hamilton

  • The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton (New York: Ballantine Books, 1976) [coll of linked stories: Tales of Known Space: Gil Hamilton: pb/Jim Spanfeller]
  • The Patchwork Girl (New York: Ace Books, 1980) [Tales of Known Space: Gil Hamilton: pb/Fernando]
    • Flatlander (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1995) [omni of the above two, with additional story: Tales of Known Space: Gil Hamilton: pb/Chris Moore]
  • Crashlander (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1994) [fixup: Tales of Known Space: Gil Hamilton: pb/Don Dixon]

Tales of Known Space: Man-Kzin Wars

  • The Man-Kzin Wars (New York: Baen Books, 1988) edited by Niven, Poul Anderson and Dean Ing [anth: comprising stories by the named editors: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars II (New York: Baen Books, 1989) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars III (New York: Baen Books, 1990) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars IV (New York: Baen Books, 1991) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: contains a full-length novel, "The Survivor", by Donald Kingsbury, and other material: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars V (New York: Baen Books, 1992) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars VI (New York: Baen Books, 1994) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars VII (New York: Baen Books, 1995) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars VIII: Choosing Names (New York: Baen Books, 1998) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars: The Best of All Possible Wars (New York: Baen Books, 1998) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars IX (New York: Baen Books, 2002) edited by Niven [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: hb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars X: The Wunder War (New York: Baen Books, 2005) edited by Niven [anth: in essence a coll written by Hal Colebatch: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: hb/Steve Hickman]
  • The Houses of the Kzinti (New York: Baen Books, 2005) [anth: tied to Tales of Known Space: selected stories from volumes I to III above: including The Children's Hour (1991) by Jerry Pournelle and S M Stirling: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: pb/Larry Elmore]
  • Man-Kzin Wars XI (New York: Baen Books, 2009) edited by Niven, Matthew Joseph Harrington, Paul Chafe and Hal Colebatch [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: hb/Steve Hickman]
  • Man-Kzin Wars XII (New York: Baen Books, 2012) edited by Niven, Matthew Joseph Harrington, Paul Chafe and Hal Colebatch [anth: loosely tied to Tales of Known Space: comprising the Man-Kzin Wars subseries: hb/Steve Hickman]

Tales of Known Space: Worlds

Moties

Sharls Davis Kendy

  • A World Out of Time (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976) [fixup: first appeared as "Rammer" (November 1971 Galaxy), "Down and Out" (February 1976 Galaxy) and "The Children of the State" (September-November 1976 Galaxy): set in the Sharls Davis Kendy universe: hb/Rick Sternbach]
  • The Integral Trees (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1984) [first appeared October 1983-January 1984 Analog: Sharls Davis Kendy: hb/Michael Whelan]
  • The Smoke Ring (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1987) [first appeared January-April 1987 Analog: Sharls Davis Kendy: hb/Michael Whelan]
    • The Integral Trees (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2003) [omni of the above two: Sharls Davis Kendy: hb/Michael Whelan]

Inferno

Mana

Mana: Burning City

Dream Park

Heorot

Bowl of Heaven

individual novels

individual collections

  • All the Myriad Ways (New York: Ballantine Books, 1971) [coll: includes some Tales of Known Space and Magic Goes Away material: pb/Dean Ellis]
  • Inconstant Moon (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1973) [coll: includes some Tales of Known Space and Magic Goes Away material: hb/nonpictorial]
    • Inconstant Moon (London: Sphere Books, 1974) [cut version of the above: includes some Tales of Known Space material: pb/Eddie Jones]
  • The Flight of the Horse (New York: Ballantine Books, 1973) [coll: mostly Svetz: pb/Dean Ellis]
    • Rainbow Mars (London: Orbit, 1999) [coll: exp vt of the above with title novel added: Svetz: hb/Bob Eggleton]
  • A Hole in Space (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974) [coll: pb/Dean Ellis]
  • Convergent Series (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1979) [coll: includes some Draco Tavern material: pb/Eric Ladd]
  • Niven's Laws (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Owlswick Press, 1984) [coll: Laws: hb/uncredited]
  • Limits (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1985) [coll: includes some Draco Tavern material: pb/Barclay Shaw]
  • N-Space (New York: Tor, 1990) [coll: hb/Dave Archer]
  • Playgrounds of the Mind (New York: Tor, 1991) [coll: hb/Dave Archer]
  • Bridging the Galaxies (San Francisco, California: San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, 1993) [coll: hb/Alicia Austin]
  • Scatterbrain (New York: Tor, 2003) [coll: hb/Getty Images]
  • The Draco Tavern (New York: Tor, 2006) [coll: stories set in the Draco Tavern: hb/Stephan Martinière]
  • Stars and Gods (New York: Tor, 2010) [coll: hb/Getty Images]
  • Strange Light (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Dreamhaven Books, 2010) [coll: chap: stories based on illustrations: illus/pb/Lisa Snellings-Clark]
  • The Best of Larry Niven (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2010) [coll: includes material from several series: hb/Edward Miller]

works as editor

For Man-Kzin Wars anthologies see above, under Tales of Known Space; for anthologies in The Magic Goes Away sequence, see above under that heading.

about the author

links

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