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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Larry Niven

Larry Niven at Stanford University in May 2006
Born Laurence van Cott Niven
April 30, 1938 (1938-04-30) (age 71)
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 an American 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.



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.


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 after Niven received payment for the story, but before it was published).

In addition to the Nebula award in 1970 [1] and the Hugo and Locus awards in 1971 [2] for Ringworld, 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 or Steven Barnes.


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.

The original release of Magic: The Gathering paid homage to Larry Niven on a card called "Nevinyrral's Disk," with Nevinyrral quite obviously "Larry Niven" spelled backwards. Subsequent sets have featured no new cards featuring Nevinyrral, although the character is sporadically quoted on the flavor text of various cards.

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.[3]

Niven was an adviser to Ronald Reagan on the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") anti missile policy, as covered in the BBC documentary Pandora's Box by Adam Curtis.[4]

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 life cycle 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.

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.


Known Space


  1. Ringworld (1970)— Nebula Award, 1970 [6] Hugo and Locus SF Awards winner, 1971 [7]
  2. The Ringworld Engineers (1980)—Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1981 [8]
    • Guide to Larry Niven's Ringworld (1994) (with Kevin Stein)
  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)

With Jerry Pournelle

  • Moties
  1. The Mote in God's Eye (1974)—Hugo, Nebula and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1975 [12]
  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)
  3. Burning Mountain (in progress)
  • 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 precisely a continuation of the Heorot series. Located in the same universe—events from the first two novels are briefly mentioned.)

Dream Park (with Steven Barnes)

  1. Dream Park (1981)—Locus SF Award nominee, 1982 [13]
  2. The Barsoom Project (1989)
  3. The California Voodoo Game aka The Voodoo Game (1992)

The State

  1. A World Out of Time (1976)—Locus SF Award nominee, 1977[14]
  2. The Integral Trees (1984)—Nebula Award nominee, 1984[15]; Locus SF Award winner, and Hugo nominee, 1985 [16]
  3. The Smoke Ring (1987)

Magic Goes Away

  1. Not Long Before The End (1969)
  2. What Good is a Glass Dagger? (1972)
  3. The Magic Goes Away (1978)
  4. The Magic May Return (1981)
  5. More Magic (1984)
  6. The Time of the Warlock (Greendragon Press)(1984)
    • The Magic Goes Away Collection (omnibus) (2005)

Graphic novels and comics

Short story collections

Other novels


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools.

Laurence van Cott Niven (born 30 April 1938) is an American science fiction author, most famous as the author of Ringworld (1970), his "Known Space" stories, and Niven's laws.



Everything starts as somebody's daydream.
The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!
The Unexpected always comes at the most awkward times.
  • Anything you don't understand is dangerous until you do understand it.
    • "Flatlander" (1967), first published in If (March 1967)
  • That's the thing about people who think they hate computers ... What they really hate are lousy programmers.
  • Think of it as evolution in action.
  • Everything starts as somebody's daydream.
    • As quoted in Reader's Digest Quotable Quotes : Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions from America's Most Popular Magazine (1997) by Reader's Digest Association, p. 27
  • The Unexpected always comes at the most awkward times.
    • Scatterbrain (2003), p. 26

A Gift From Earth (1968)

He was sick of having to be afraid. ... If he stopped being afraid, even for an instant, he could be killed!
  • A ramrobot had been the first to see Mount Lookitthat. Ramrobots had been first visitors to all the settled worlds. The interstellar ramscoop robots, with an unrestricted fuel supply culled from interstellar hydrogen, could travel between stars at speeds approaching that of light.
    • First lines, Ch. 1 : The Ramrobot
  • Matthew Leiah Keller sat beneath a watershed tree and brooded. Other children played all around him, but they ignored Matt. So did two teachers on monitor duty. People usually ignored Matt when he wanted to be alone.
    Uncle Matt was gone. Gone to a fate so horrible that the adults wouldn't even talk about it.
    • Ch. 1 : The Ramrobot
  • The medical revolution that began with the beginning of the twentieth century had warped all human society for five hundred years. America had adjusted to Eli Whitney's cotton gin in less than half that time. As with the gin, the effects would never quite die out. But already society was swinging back to what had once been normal. Slowly; but there was motion. In Brazil a small but growing, alliance agitated for the removal of the death penalty for habitual traffic offenders. They would be opposed, but they would win.
    • Ch. 1 : The Ramrobot
  • From the beginning there had been a revolutionary group. Its name had changed several times, and Matt had no idea what it was now. He had never known a revolutionary. He had no particular desire to be one. They accomplished nothing, except to fill the Hospital's organ banks. How could they, when the crew controlled every weapon and every watt of power on Mount Lookitthat? If this was a nest of rebels, then they had worked out a good cover. Many of the merrymakers had no hearing aids, and these seemed to be the ones who didn't know anyone here. Like Matt himself. In the midst of a reasonably genuine open-house brawl, certain people listened to voices only they could hear.
    • Ch. 2 : The Sons Of Earth
  • "You look like a girl with a secret," Matt said. "I think it must be the smile."
    She moved closer to him, which was very close, and lowered her voice. "Can you keep a secret?"
    Matt smiled with one side of his mouth to show that he knew what was coming. She said it anyway. "So can I."
    • Ch. 2 : The Sons Of Earth
  • The organ banks would be supplied for years. Not only would the crew have a full supply, which they always did anyway, but there would be spare parts for exceptional servants of the regime; i.e., for civil servants such as Jesus Pietro and his men. Even the colonists would benefit. It was not at all unusual for the Hospital to treat a sick but deserving colonist if the medical supplies were sufficient. The Hospital treated everyone they could. It reminded the colonists that the crew ruled in their name and had their interests at heart. And the Sons of Earth was dead. All but one man, and from his picture he wasn't old enough to be dangerous. Nonetheless Jesus Pietro had his picture tacked to the Hospital bulletin boards and sent a copy to the newscast station with the warning that he was wanted for questioning. It was not until dawn, when he was settling down to sleep, that he remembered who belonged to that face. Matthew Keller's nephew...
    • Ch. 3 : The Car
  • Any citizen, with the help of the organ banks, can live as long as it takes his central nervous system to wear out. This can be a very long time if his circulatory system is kept functioning. ... But the citizen, cannot take more out of the organ banks than goes into them. He must do his utmost to see that they are supplied. ... The only feasible method of supplying the organ banks is through execution of criminals. ... A criminal's pirated body can save a dozen lives. There is now no valid argument against capital punishment for any given crime; for all such argument seeks to prove that killing a man does society no good.
    Hence the citizen, who wants to live as long and as healthily as possible, will vote any crime into a capital crime if the organ banks are short of material. ... Cite Earth's capital punishment for false advertising, income tax evasion, air pollution, having children without a license.
    The wonder was that it had taken so long to pass these laws.
    • Millard Parlette's notes, in Ch. 7 : The Bleeding Heart
  • There were organ banks all over the world, inadequately supplied by people kind enough to will their bodies to medical science.
    How useful is the body of a man who dies of old age? How fast can you reach a car accident? And in 2043, Arkansas, which had never rescinded the death penalty, made the organ banks the official state method of execution.
    The idea had spread like wildfire .... like a moral plague, as one critic of the time had put it.
    • Ch. 7 : The Bleeding Heart
  • Jesus Pietro wasn't used to dealing with ghosts.
    It would require brand new techniques.
    Grimly he set out to evolve them.
    • Ch. 8 : Polly's Eyes
  • Jesus Pietro was worried. The Sons of Earth, if they got this far, would go straight to the vivarium to free their compatriots. But if Matthew Keller was his own agent... If the ghost of Alpha Plateau was not a rebel, but a thing with its own unpredictable purpose...
    Jesus Pietro worried.
    • Ch. 10 : Parlette's Hand
  • "I'm no historian," said Harry. "But morals are morals. What's unethical here and now is unethical anywhere, anytime."
    "Kane, you're wrong. It is ethical to execute a man for theft?"
    "Of course."
    "Did you know that there was once a vastly detailed science of rehabilitation for criminals? It was a branch of psychology, naturally, but it was by far the largest such branch. By the middle of century twenty-one, nearly two-thirds of all criminals could eventually be released as cured."
    "That's silly. Why go to all that trouble when the organ banks must have been crying for — Oh. I see. No organ banks."
    • Ch. 10 : Parlette's Hand
  • Parlette spoke slowly and evenly. "I am trying to prevent a bloodbath. Is that clear enough for you? I'm trying to prevent a civil war that could kill half the people in this world."
    • Ch. 10 : Parlette's Hand
  • Someone or something was in this room, something or someone with the power to make people forget. ... He was reaching for the stunner on his desk when something caught his eye. It was the dossier for Matthew Keller, senior. A crude drawing defaced its yellow cover.
    Two open arcs, joined, in black ink. Three small closed loops beneath.
    The bleeding heart. It certainly hadn't been there before.
    Jesus Pietro opened the folder. He could smell his own fear, and feel it, in the cool perspiration that soaked his shirt. As if he'd been afraid for hours.
    • Ch. 11 : Interview with the Head
  • The bleeding-heart symbol does not represent any known revolutionary organization. ... Yes, the bleeding heart was something else again. A gruesome symbol on a vivarium floor. Fingers that broke without their owner noticing. An ink drawing appearing from nowhere on a dossier cover, like a signature. A signature.
    • Ch. 12 : The Slowboat
  • He was sick of having to be afraid. It was a situation to drive a man right out of his skull. If he stopped being afraid, even for an instant, he could be killed! But now, at least for the moment, he could stop listening for footsteps, stop trying to look in all directions at once. A sonic stunner was a surer bet than a hypothetical, undependable psi power. It was real, cold and hard in his hand.
    • Ch. 12 : The Slowboat
  • I have a kind of psychic invisibility. As long as I can stay scared, I can keep people from seeing me. That's what we have to count on.
    • Matt to Polly in Ch. 12 : The Slowboat
  • Millard Parlette was near exhaustion. ... Sometimes it seemed to him, that he was at the end of his life, that he'd waited just long enough to meet this — the crisis he'd foreseen a hundred years ago. ... Known rebels moved freely through the Hospital, and no one could touch them. Their attitude toward the police was rude and contemptuous. Rumor had it that Millard Parlette was drafting new laws to further restrict police power. It didn't help that the rumors were true.
    • Ch. 14 : Balance Of Power

Ringworld (1970)

Quotes from the Del Rey mass market paperback

  • Louis knew a few xenophobes, and regarded them as dolts. p. 9
  • Fear is the brother of hate. p. 72
  • The Gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools. p. 96
  • To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal. p. 133
  • The perversity of the universe tends towards a maximum. The universe is hostile. p. 142
  • One mark of a good officer, he remembered, was the ability to make quick decisions. If they happen to be right, so much the better. p. 152
  • Seen through the glow of a building orgasm, a woman seems to blaze with angelic glory. p. 165
  • The majority is always sane. p. 177
  • Tell them the universe is too complicated a toy for a sensibly cautious being to play with. p. 314

The Ringworld Engineers (1980)

Quotes from the Del Rey mass market paperback

  • We learn only to ask more questions. p. 59
  • Forget the infinities: Concentrate on detail. p. 68
  • There is never no hope left. Remember. p. 280
  • Sometimes there’s no point in giving up. p. 282

N-Space (1989)

Stupidity is always a capital crime.
  • I knew it long ago: I'm a compulsive teacher, but I can't teach. The godawful state of today's education system isn't what's stopping me. I lack at least two of the essential qualifications.
    I cannot "suffer fools gladly." The smartest of my pupils would get all my attention, and the rest would have to fend for themselves. And I can't handle being interrupted.
    Writing is the answer. Whatever I have to teach, my students will select themselves by buying the book. And nobody interrupts a printed page.
    • Foreword: Playgrounds for the mind
  • Stupidity is always a capital crime.
    • The Fourth Profession interview (2000)

An Interview with Larry Niven by S. James Blackman (10 February 2000)
The wealth of the universe is all over your head...
  • We follow the scientists around and look over their shoulders. They're watching their feet: provable mistakes are bad for them. We're looking as far ahead as we can, and we don't get penalized for mistakes.
    • On the relationship between science and science-fiction.
  • The wealth of the universe is all over your head. We need to take command of the solar system to gain that wealth, and to escape the sea of paper our government is becoming, and for some decent chance of stopping a Dinosaur Killer asteroid.
  • We've fallen way behind. Building one space station for everyone was and is insane: we should have built a dozen.
  • Cheap superconductors imply maglev trains everywhere. Computers could get big again, with RAM/ROM rising by powers of forty and fifty, if superconductors shed the heat.
    Laser handguns against superconducting armor. I'm not predicting; I just love playing with superconductors.
  • Here is where the predictions failed: We didn't take Cargo Cult mentality into account: "if somebody has something I don't, he must have stolen it."
    We didn't understand how good we could get at communication — when you have something that someone else doesn't, the whole damn planet knows it.

Niven's Laws

Original version, and the latest revision, of "how the Universe works" written 29 January 2002, published in Analog Magazine (November 2002)
It is easier to destroy than create.
History never repeats itself.
Stories to end all stories on a given topic, don't.
  • 1a) Never throw shit at an armed man.
    1b) Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.
  • 2) Never fire a laser at a mirror.
  • 3) Mother Nature doesn't care if you're having fun.
  • 4) Giving up freedom for security has begun to look naive.
    Even to me. Many of you were ahead of me on this — Three out of four hijacked airplanes destroyed the World Trade Center and a piece of the Pentagon in 2001. How is it possible that those planes were taken using only five perps armed with knives? It was possible because all those hundreds of passengers had been carefully stripped of every possible weapon. We may want to reconsider this approach. It doesn't work in high schools either.
    • Earlier version: 4) F x S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.
  • 5) Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.
  • 6) It is easier to destroy than create.
    Bin Laden tore down the World Trade Center? Let's see him build one. If human beings didn't have a strong preference for creation, nothing would get built, ever.
  • 7) Any damn fool can predict the past.
    • Unsourced variant: Any damned fool can predict the past. And most do.
  • 8) History never repeats itself.
  • 9) Ethics change with technology.
  • 10) Anarchy is the least stable of social structures.
  • 11) There is a time and place for tact.
    And there are times when tact is entirely misplaced.
  • 16) There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
    To prove a point, one may seek out a foolish Socialist, thirteenth century Liberal, Scientologist, High Frontier advocate, Mensa member, science fiction fan, Jim Bakker acolyte, Christian, witch, or fanatical devotee of Special Interest Lib. It doesn't really reflect on the cause itself. Ad hominem argument saves time, but it's still a fallacy.
  • 17) No technique works if it isn't used.
  • 19) Think before you make the coward's choice. Old age is not for sissies.

Niven's Laws For Writers

  • 3) Stories to end all stories on a given topic, don't.
  • 4) It is a sin to waste the reader's time.
  • 5) If you've nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exoticor genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault.

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