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Ask Larry Niven

Roblimo posted more than 11 years ago | from the hanging-out-at-the-Draco-Tavern dept.

Space 546

If you read science fiction at all, you're familiar with Larry Niven. (If you don't, his work is a great place to start.) Anyway, this is a golden opportunity to learn more about a truly innovative author. (Thanks go to Chris DiBona for arranging this interview; he met Larry during one of his TechTV appearances.) One question per post, please. We'll post Larry's answers to 10 of the highest-moderated questions shortly after he gets them back to us.

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Halo (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397012)

What do you think of halo's "ringworld"?

MODERATORS: This is a valid question (3, Interesting)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397377)

The AC has a valid question. The Halo game for the XBox has a story line that revolves around a ring-like structure around a giant gas planet. The first time I saw the game's cutscenes I immediately thought about the Ringworld.

I think this is a good question - does Larry Niven feel ripped off or flattered that the game designers used this idea? And has he played the game or seen the graphics? They're quite good, BTW. Without going into much detail (spill mountains, etc.) they sort of "capture" the mental image I first had when I read the RW books.

Mods on drugs? (0)

RatBastard (949) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397466)

Obviously the mods don't read Jerry Pournell's (sp?) collumn.

Sincere question (0, Offtopic)

billybob2001 (234675) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397016)

Hi Larry, I'd really like to know,

Do you like Donuts?

If so, what's your favorite type?

Re:Sincere question (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397064)

I predict the answer will be one of the types with a hole in, rather than jelly or other filled/solid varieties.

Kinda like a "ring".

Crossing my fingers (5, Interesting)

Demona (7994) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397022)

Was your cease-and-desist regarding Elf Sternberg's The Only Fair Game [] motivated more by a personal aversion to the content, or a desire to retain control over "your universe"? How does this jibe with your statement in Ringworld Engineers that "If you want more Known Space stories, you'll have to write them yourself"?


Subject Line Troll (581198) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397381)

Re:Crossing my fingers (1)

Galvatron (115029) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397393)

Actually, he makes a reference to this in the back of the latest edition of "Three Books of Known Space." He said that what he meant was, imagine the stories, maybe even write and share them with friends. But DON'T attempt to publish them, online or otherwise. And yes, it's out of a desire for control.

Why everything ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397025)

fp (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397026)


Fans (5, Interesting)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397031)

In the prologue to one of the Ringworld Engineers editions you talk about how some students went to a convention with banners and were chanting "THE RINGWORLD IS UNSTABLE!". I thought that was cute. What's the weirdest thing a fan of your work has ever done? Something like sending you detailed calculations on how to figure out the density of scrith?

Re:Fans (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397313)

If you read Ringworld Engineers and read the prologue, you must have also read that someone DID send him detailed calculations about the required tensile strength of Scrith [this is from memory -- I don't feeling like digging up my copy :) ]

frist spot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397033)

frost spit

ALL YOU MODZ SUCK KNOBZ 1st post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397038)

All you Slashdot fuckers out there Have some of my goatse. []

Do you name your computers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397045)

If so, what, and more importantly, why?

Unstable (2, Interesting)

buggieboy (557764) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397050)

Is the RingWorld really unstable?

Re:Unstable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397207)

(a) It doesn't exist.
(b) It would be dynamically unstable if it did exist BUT it was described as having stabilising engines on its rim in the next book, fixing that problem...

Re:Unstable (0)

s10god (409764) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397324)

Half of which are missing because the habitants removed them to make ships and leave.

Re:Unstable (1)

hughk (248126) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397413)

It needs attitude jets as in "The Ringworld Engineers" because if slighlty nudged, the instabilities would increase much more than with an orbiting body. A nudge could occur just from something like a solar flare or even over time, solar wind.

New trends? (5, Interesting)

voice of unreason (231784) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397055)

In your works you tend to try to pick out trends that'll continue into the future, i.e. organ transplants leading to increased capital punishment and organ thieves, or the role playing game's transformation into "Dream Park" style VR environments. What do you see as the next series of advancements and trends that will affect us in the future?

Hi Larry. (5, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397071)

The first time I read the Ring World many years ago in Russian, I still have this book, it travelled with me around the world :)

Here is the question for you:

What do you think about the Columbia accident and what do you think about the general direction that Nasa should be taking in order for us to actually make some progress in space exploration.
What do you think about the space elevator?

Thank you for your books!


uh..but... (-1, Offtopic)

nomadic (141991) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397074)

If you read science fiction at all, you're familiar with Larry Niven. (If you don't, his work is a great place to start.)

If you don't know Larry Niven's work, his work is a great place to start? My head hurts.

2 questions (5, Interesting)

jasperc (90539) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397077)

Mr. Niven,

Any plans to do a movie (or better yet!) an animated version of any of the Man-Kzin Wars stories? These are, I think, the most accessible stories of Known Space (Ringworld might go over the heads of quite a few folks out there).

Also, why not raise attention about how Wing Commander--both the computer game and the attrocious movie--is almost a direct "borrow" of Man-Kzin Wars?

Re:2 questions (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397382)

Already done on one of the animated Star Trek shows from the 70's.

Technical Anachronism (5, Interesting)

cindik (650476) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397081)

How difficult is it to prevent technical anachronism? Early science fiction movies had people being shot to the moon with guns, 2001 would have had us with manned spaceflights to Jupiter, and Star Trek is currently dealing with how to show Starship technology more advanced than year 2003 tech while not being as advanced as the original series' audio intercoms and Motorola cellphone communicators.

Do you have a means of avoiding anachronism? What suggestions do you have for other budding authors regarding this problem?

Re:Technical Anachronism (2, Interesting)

Cheetahfeathers (93473) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397508)

Heh. If I recall correctly, Niven's first published story was a technical anacronism. It was technically accurate when he wrote it, but new discoveries blew it away between when it was accepted to be published and before it hit paper. It hit paper anyway because it was a good story and accurate so far as anyone knew when it was written.

I don't remember where I saw the side story to this, but the story was 'The Coldest Place'.

As stolen from Monty Python (-1, Funny)

paulhar (652995) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397084)

3. What is your favourate colour?

Ringworld, The Movie? (5, Interesting)

dduck (10970) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397104)

Are the plans for a Ringworld movie (or indeed, any LN filmatizations - Gill the ARM would be great) totaly dead, or can we still hope to see Louis Wu and Speaker on the silver screen?

An Appeal to Moderators... not a question (4, Insightful)

Jerf (17166) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397106)

Moderators: These interviews are probably the neatest thing Slashdot does. Please only moderate up actually interesting questions that can't be answered with a quick Google search, a read through his (excellent) work, a few moments thought, or a handful of words ("Yes, I do like to write.").

I particularly recall the Dave Barry interview where it seemed like half the questions were pathetic attempts to toss him a straight line, rather then really interesting questions.

I think these are the most "importent" moderations you can do on Slashdot, as they are the only ones that have any real effect on the world. Please consider them carefully.

Again, this is not a question so should this happen to get modded highly please do not forward ;-)

Re:An Appeal to Moderators... not a question (-1, Offtopic)

Amsterdam Vallon (639622) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397269)

Please only moderate up actually interesting questions that can't be answered with a quick Google search

And in the process of speaking out against over-rated comments, you yourself become a victim ;-)

I think these are the most "importent" moderations you can do on Slashdot

Using the words "important" and "Slashdot" in the same sentence makes baby Jesus cry ;-)

Will We Make it Out of Here (4, Interesting)

perdu (549634) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397109)

Will we ever establish and sustain a colony off of the Earth? If so, where, when and how do you think we'll make it?

When and how will the tech arms race tip? (5, Interesting)

jamie (78724) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397121)

Mr. Niven,

In The Ones Who Stay Home, in a recent issue of Analog, you raise some pretty serious issues about terrorism and retaliation.

The technology of violence is an arms race which in my lifetime seems to have been pretty well balanced, attacker vs. defender. Lately, the worst the bad guys have done to the U.S. is take down a few buildings: no nuclear weapons yet in the hands of honest-to-goodness madmen, no "gray goo" against which there is no defense except going offplanet, no asteroids being dropped from the moon.

How long do you think this balance will hold? And what do you think the first weapon will be against which it is infeasible -- because of economics, technology, politics, or otherwise -- to mount a successful defense?

Re:When and how will the tech arms race tip? (4, Interesting)

Demona (7994) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397332)

Apply the Orwell Test:

"It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found to be generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will be ages of despotism, wereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon -- so long as there is no answer to it -- gives claws to the weak."

George Orwell (1903-1950), "You and the Atom Bomb, essay for the TRIBUNE, October 19, 1945

Or, as James Donald put it:

"The evil of Digital Rights Management, like the evils of guns, depends on who has the gun and who has not.

"If only certain privileged people have guns, and the rest of us are disarmed, then guns are evil indeed.

"If trusted computing means that certain special people have ring -1 access to my computer, and I do not, and those certain special people are people I do not trust..."

Certainly not everyone will be able to financially afford technology. But as long as there is democratic access to it -- no privileged, favored class of people who are given special license to do what the majority are forbidden to do -- that will remain the most efficient and moral method of containing the violent impulses of the socially maladjusted.

Why is there no religion in Known Space (5, Interesting)

Adam Rightmann (609216) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397131)

I know most SF writers aren't big on religion, but religion occupies a very large space in your collaboration with Pournelle, "The Mote in God's Eye", yet is conspicously lacking in Known Space. Is the religion in "Mote" all Jerry's doing?

Re:Why is there no religion in Known Space (0, Troll)

cetan (61150) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397270)

Right, because the Dune series never made any mention of religion...

WTF???? not big on religion? (1, Informative)

mandrake*rpgdx (650221) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397275)

How much bloody SF have you read? Almost all the greats had tons of weird religous subtexts....Vonnegut, Heinlien, PK Dick, Assimov, Carl Sagan, the list goes on and one. Any SF author worth reading talks about things greater than sceince future speculation.

BTW, this isn't a question, so don't foreward it if it gets modd'd up.

Have you read no Niven? (-1, Troll)

Adam Rightmann (609216) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397407)

Have you read none of his Known Space stories? Here's a few, name a religious idea in them:
  • Protector Nope, the Pak are prisoners of pheronomes.
  • Ringworld Nope, unless being Lucky counts.
  • World of Ptaaavs Hmm, an unstoppable beast is running amok, no need to pray there.
  • Neutron Star Hmm, I'm about to be ripped apart by tidal forces, nothing to do but hold on.
  • The Handicapped Gosh, what theological ideas a sessile intelligent east might have.

Compare this with the Moties religions, the Russian Orthodox religion and others in Mote, a huge world of difference.

I suspect you are the one with an insufficient grounding in Sci-Fi.

Is there... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397156)

Is there, in your opinion not that of your characters, any justice?

What Does Larry Like? (5, Interesting)

Spencerian (465343) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397161)


What 3 or 4 TV SF programs have you found most to your liking over the years (if any), and what significance do you think those shows brought to the overall quality of TV SF?

For instance, if I were to ask myself this question, "Star Trek", the original show, remains a classic, but all the sequelized spinoffs (except portions of TNG, and almost all of "Enterprise", which seems to "get it" again) have driven this show into the state of a repeatedly bludgened, very deceased equine.

What do you read? (5, Interesting)

caesar-auf-nihil (513828) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397163)

Mr. Niven,

I'm always curious about what authors read for either inspiration, or what they find to be good literature. What books (science fiction or otherwise) have influenced your work, or do you find to be delightful reads. Any favorite authors?

Thank you for your time.

Re:What do you read? (1, Interesting)

crow (16139) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397499)

In particular, of books and authors that have influenced you, are there any that stand out from new or underrated authors?

Breaking In? (5, Interesting)

Kent Brewster (324037) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397165)

Where do you see the future of written science fiction going, given the decline of readership in the top markets such as Analog, Asimov's, and F&SF, and the rise of franchised universes like Star Trek and Star Wars? Online? Still in print? Or somewhere else?

Rip-off? (2, Interesting)

the bluebrain (443451) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397177)

Dear Larry Niven - I regard this /.-item as a real opportunity.
A question I have had in my mind for a couple of years now: have you read Terry Pratchett's novel "Strata"?
If no, you might find it interesting ... if yes, what is your opinion? Blatant rip-off of your ringworld universe, or homage? And, what is you opinion of how it compares to your ringworld series?

Re:Rip-off? (1)

odaiwai (31983) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397383)

Strata is a very clear homage to Niven's Ringworld, with many original elements of it's own. It's one of the earlier examples of pTerry taking a similar millieu and turning it up to 11 to see what breaks.


Your Response to 9/11 (0, Interesting)

Amsterdam Vallon (639622) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397178)

You talk about what happened after a terrorist attack in a recent Draco Tavern story. Although the story is fictional, it's been said to be your response to the Arab attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th.

What do you feel are the major risks of transport and criminal punishment for the "vandals"?

yeppers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397189)

i read a couple of Larry Niven's books...

Footfall is good...

also Inferno is a colaboration Niven did with Jerry Pournelle about That Italian dictator (Mussoleni?) that dies and ends up in hell and has to find his way out...

ARM, Gil Hamilton, and Dystopian Futures (5, Interesting)

brennanw (5761) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397197)

My favorite stories of yours are the series of short stories you wrote about Gil Hamilton, the ARM agent with "invisible hand." Aside from the interesting character, what fascinated me was the strange, nearly dystopian world where a good thing (amazing advances in the science of organ transplants) led to a world so desperate for organs that you could get the death penalty for almost every crime in the books.

In an essay, you mentioned you'd written those stories at a time when you were very concerned about the possibility of that future actually coming to pass -- that the convenience of a technology would make the general population so rabid for it that they would become more tolerant of things we would find excessive and cruel in today's world. You also mentioned that you were less concerned about that specific future coming to pass.

If you were to write the Gil Hamilton stories today, what would be the technology you would be concerned about *instead* of organ transplants? What convenience would you see as the basis and rationalization for receiving the death penalty for breaking the speed limit more than three times?

Will we see more of Known Space? (0)

Snaller (147050) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397208)

I mean, we don't wanna write it ourselves, we want you to do it :)

A question about your universe (5, Interesting)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397220)

Mr. Niven,

First, thanks for the awesome books that you have written-- I am a big fan.

My biggest question about the universe in which many of the stories take place is about the "Outsiders." They seem to be extremely technologically advanced; they jump in whenever something impossible needs to be done, such as the Puppeteers moving their worlds around. How come the Outsiders didn't end up competing with Protectors, or do something on the scale of building a ringworld?

Re:A question about your universe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397419)

These and any other personal questions will be answered for 1 trillion stars apiece.

Non-SF question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397230)

Does she still wear fuzzy pink sweaters?

Larry: (4, Interesting)

Maeryk (87865) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397232)

Having been an avid reader of the "chaos manor" site for a while now, I have to wonder. Are you as tech savvy as Jerry, and (more importantly) with you guys having done SO much together, do you find you "share a brain" occasionally, and is it difficult to write with/without him (and/or Steven) after so much work together?
(pick any one or all to answer, as you choose!)
Thanks for the great work!


A question I always want to ask .. (5, Interesting)

Khalidz0r (607171) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397236)

Well, being a successful and already well known author, when you write something, do you write it just to write something, keep your name known, get money .. etc, or do you write because you feel there is something in your head that needs to be put down in paper and read by others?

In other words, what is the "motive" you are writing for?

Thanks, Khalid

Carl Sagan vs. Larry Niven (2, Insightful)

shanmonster (602589) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397241)

Although Carl Sagan purported to be a fan of fiction based on scientific possibilities, he didn't appear to have much of a use for more fantastic works. You write pretty hard science fiction, so what on earth was Carl Sagan's beef with you?

JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) (2, Interesting)

purplejacket (581360) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397243)

One of the things a lot of fans enjoyed was the technical aspect of your sci-fi. If I recall correctly you had contacts with people at JPL [] and made use of those contacts. What were the most interesting tidbits you gained from this?

Down in Flames (2, Interesting)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397250)

In N-Space, you published a series of notes on the utter downfall of Known Space in the chapter called "Down in Flames". This detailed the tnuctipun takeover of Known Space as the result of billions of years of perseverance, cruelty, and downright cleverness. In that same chapter, you mention that the "Down In Flames" storyline became obsolete when you wrote Ringworld. My question is, what stayed your hand? What made you think to write Ringworld instead of pursuing the end of Known Space as you had planned?

Also, why do the Outsiders chase Starseeds? I didn't have the trillion Stars last time I was on one of their ships...

Re:Down in Flames (1)

OpCode42 (253084) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397480)

In N-Space, you published a series of notes on the utter downfall of Known Space in the chapter called "Down in Flames". This detailed the tnuctipun takeover of Known Space as the result of billions of years of perseverance, cruelty, and downright cleverness. In that same chapter, you mention that the "Down In Flames" storyline became obsolete when you wrote Ringworld. My question is.... do you prefer a nice cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning? :)

Nevinyrral's Disk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397251)

Do you play Magic: The Gathering? Do you put a Nevinyrral's Disk in all of your decks?

But really, what do you think of having that card as subtle homage to you?

(for those that don't know, spell the card's name backwards)

Louis Wu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397253)

Louis Wu's goal was to live to break 1000 years. The last we heard of him he was stuck on the Ringworld with no easy way to get off. Does he make his goal?

Non Question (1)

Carme (232239) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397254)

This is a question directed towards Niven fans, and not the man himself:

Can someone please explain the redeeming value of Destiny's Road? It was agony to finish. I've read other work by Mr. Niven, A Hole in Space being my favorite so far. But DR was slow and uninteresting. I have this theory at the back of my mind that there must be some deep underlying allegory I'm missing that would make it interesting, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is.

Intelligence and Wisdom (5, Interesting)

Kostya (1146) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397273)

Could you comment on the difference between intelligence and wisdom? You seem to hint at some ideas in Ringworld Throne when Wu chooses to depose the Vampire Protector because he was not wise enough.

In these Pak Protectors, we have unbelievably intelligent and clever beings, but wisdom does not seem implied. What are your thoughts on wisdom, and what points were you trying to make? Considering the audience for most of your books (geeks, "smart folk"), it's an interesting point to include.

Side question: where did you come up with the idea of the Pak, especially as human ancestors? It has to be one of the more original conjectures about affects of old age that I have ever read :-)

DreamPark and gaming (5, Interesting)

Ndr_Amigo (533266) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397279)

I've generally found that most people recognise RingWorld, but few people have heard of my favorite series - Dream Park (it's very hard to find).

Gaming technology, although holography isn't at the stage yet, is constantly moving towards more realism. And trends in online gaming and MMORPG's are setting the mentality. However what are your opinions on the social feasibility of something like DP ever becoming a reality, given the rapid movement away from traditional GMs and social non-computer RPG'ing? Would people just prefer to stay at home fully virtual rather than participating in an event with other actual physical people?

Mr Rogers Dies.. (-1, Offtopic)

josh crawley (537561) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397293)

I dont know if anybody heard (and /. wont post any good articles on PBS) but Mr. Rogers on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood has died today of stomach cancer. Talk about someone who's influencial. I've watched PBS since the beginning, and when I was a kid, that was one of my favorite shows (age 4-7).

We'll miss ya'.. Google news link []

Re:Mr Rogers Dies.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397486)

WTF does this have to do with Larry Niven? While I do miss Mr. Rogers, it's off topic and those crack smoking mods gave this a 3. Dammit.

The Gripping Hand (1)

odaiwai (31983) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397294)

Joyce's father's name is 'Wang Mei Ling'[1] You then say that Joyce took her father's surname: 'Mei Ling'. Now, this is so stupidly wrong, it's hard to believe. In Chinese, the family name comes first, followed by the family name. Joyce would have been Joyce Wang-Trujillo.

For me, this was a 'these guys have done no research at all' moment in the book. I was gobsmacked that no one had commented on line in any way that I could find. Do you not know anything about Chinese culture at all?

Also, the UK title of 'The Gripping Hand' is 'The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye'. Have you ever felt like meeting that guy who came up with that awful title in a dark alley? Is a baseball bat involved? At the very least, he deserves half his head shaved in a proper asymmetrical beard.


[1] Mei Ling is a girl's name, in fact, it's incredibly girly, meaning something like 'pretty beutiful'. No one in their right mind would name a boy Mei Ling. 'Wong Mei Ling' is the Chinese name of Suzie Wong, from the book and the film of the same name.

Re:The Gripping Hand (2, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397518)

That was a "translation" from english to english.

But I wonder if have problems with translation to other languages. At least in spanish, the same book title was translated to "El tercer brazo" (the third arm) that was not so far from the book content. What was the funniest/weirdest translation you found for one of your books titles?

I always felt that the literal translation of "The end of childhood" of Clarke to spanish ("El fin de la infancia") was better than the original title in english, In spanish "fin" also means for what something is done, and well, I'm not sure if in english I could understand the title in that way.

Favorite book? (5, Interesting)

emarkp (67813) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397302)

Of the work you've written, does one title in particular have a special place in your heart? Douglas Adams once said that his book "Last Chance to See" was the one book he'd hope that people read if they only read one of his books. Is there one book of yours you'd like people to have read?

Similarly, if I were to introduce someone to your books, which one would you suggest I give him first?

Amateur Rocketeers (2, Interesting)

AAron the Weird (409891) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397309)

What is your view of ametuer rocketry and the teams going for the X-Prize?

The Ringworld is Stable! (1)

addaon (41825) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397314)

(Note: All of this is preliminary, I haven't done all the calculations yet. By coincidence, I actually started this project two days ago, so take what I say with a grain of salt.) We all know the story of the ringworld's instability, but it seems to me you may have been too hasty in introducing a plot device to fix the problem. It is possible that a material (no more magical than scrith) that selectively absorbs neutrinos could passively stablize a ringworld structure, as recent experiments have suggested that the flux of specific types of neutrinos is not a simple inverse square law. How do you feel about the necessity of defending your artistic works about scientific attack (even if the defense is another, quite successful book), and does the possibility that the physics of the attack were incomplete change your view at all?

Luck (1)

sfled (231432) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397317)

In "Ringworld" you placed an emphasis on the Luck of Teela Brown. Would you like to take a stab at what percentage of acts, actions and outcomes occur principally based on luck?

Guidelines for world building? (4, Interesting)

mfarah (231411) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397320)

I came up with an interesting (and, dare I say, slightly original) concept for an alien world. I'm toying with different ideas for short stories within it. So far, my two biggest problems are

1) Finding a good enough story, and

2) Worldbuilding.

The latter problem is the one I actually care the most - I don't want all of my aliens to be "disguised humans", so I've done big efforts into figuring out how do they behave, what their culture is like, how their physical differences affect their way of thinking AND language, and all that. However, I can't shake the feeling I am missing aspects I shouldn't. This process is tedious and takes long, but I consider it very important.

Are there any guidelines you'd suggest to do it properly?

Collaboration (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397327)

I'm a big fan and have read most of your works. I (and I'm sure many of your other fans) think that some of your best books are the result of collaboration with others, particularly Jerry Pournelle. When working with Jerry and others, how is the work divided? Are there particular aspects of the story that each author contributes? What do you think are your strongest contributions to such a partnership?

Star Wars (3, Interesting)

odaiwai (31983) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397346)

So, there's this rumour that you and Jerry Pournelle used the 'Star Wars' SDI to bankrupt the USSR. Specifically, given that the USSR had to maintain equality in military hardware with the USA, you, and several other advisors who had the ears of infulential people in Government, proposed a hugely expensive series of projects which, if the USSR was to match, would break their economy and cause a collapse of their economy.

Is this true? Is it classified?

dave "and did Bjo Trimble take the minutes?"

Question (0, Troll)

Zeebs (577100) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397347)

I are tinkin aboot becuming a righter, and i donout know where to start. I got many great ideas about robots and cat people and stuffs, and i gots a verry gud vocbaularly. Wuld you red som of my storyies?

Re:Question (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397514)

You'd make a great edittor! Pleas forwad me ur resumay

-Rob Malda

Interspecies Sex (4, Interesting)

Randolpho (628485) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397349)


In Ringworld Engineers, you spend an great deal of time surrounding the concept of inter-species sex and copulation. Luis Wu engages in it frequently, it's even mentioned that it has evolved into a means to seal a bargain.

Why the fascination?

The Science in Science Fiction (5, Interesting)

geeber (520231) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397352)

Mr. Niven,

As a young adult, I was a huge fan of science fiction. As an adult, and a scientist, these days I find I can no longer read much of it, because of the ignorance many authors display towards our current scientific understanding of the physical universe.

You at one point in your past went to Cal Tech, and also have a degree in math, so you are clearly technically minded. So I am very curious about your opinion on the science in science fiction. What do you do these days to keep abreast of current science or is that important to you now? Also, what do you think of science fiction such as Star Trek that uses crutches like Warp Drives and Transporters that ignore science as we know it?

Critical Commentary? (4, Interesting)

anzha (138288) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397355)

Hey Larry,

I've been a fan since, well, I was knee high to a grasshopper. _The Mote In God's Eye_ was my first introduction to you, and JP, via my father when I was 11. Some of your earlier work has been amazing and fun, re _Ringworld_, _the Magic Goes Away_, etc. So please don't take this wrong.

I have been seeing something that has been, well, frankly, disturbing as of late in some of the books that have been coming out with you in colloration. While the first Renner and Bury chunk of _The Gripping Hand_ was quite good, the rest felt, uh, unworthy of the original. There were a lot of inconsistancies with the previous book. Ditto for _Beowulf's Children_ vs _Legacy of Heorot_.

What's the reason for this, if I may ask? Is this a side effect of just working up a sequel (already difficult) compounded with the added difficulty of working in collaboration? Or is that the collective you felt pressured into writing the books and just wanted to get them over with? Or was it due to the fact that they didn't get the scrutiny of previous works before going out the door (re Heinlein's famous critique of _The Mote in God's Eye_)?

You did note in one of your delightful mental dumps (_Playgrounds of the Mind or _N Space_, more please! Perhaps call it the _N Body Problem_? ;)) that inconsistancies do tend to pile up (re Known Space). However, in both the cases I'm noting above, it's just single stories and their sequels (discounting JP's shared _War World_ books for the moment...)

So is this the case of an overly zealous fan (re trek[ies/ers] ;))?

Thanx and have fun playing! The rest of us thoroughly enjoy it when you do!

Future Plans for Comics? (5, Interesting)

CowboyNeal (4) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397363)

I've recently read and enjoyed Ganthet's Tale, your collaboration with John Byrne about the origins of the Green Lantern Corps as well as the DC Universe. With all the attention comic books have been getting in Hollywood lately, with movies from Road to Perdition to Daredevil being produced from comic stories, and screenwriters such as Kevin Smith writing comics, do you have any plans to return to this media?

Animation? (2, Interesting)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397368)

I vaugely remember your being involved in writing for the old animated "Star Trek" series. Which, by the way, rocked!

We've been hearing rumors about various stories of yours, particularly "Ringworld" being given the Hollywood treatment for ages.

Have you gotten proposals to do any stories for good animated science fiction?

Halo and Organ Banks (-1, Offtopic)

RatBastard (949) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397375)

Mr. Niven,
I'll dispence with the mindless fawning and dreadful toading and get righ to my questions:

1: Are organ banks still a concern for Mankind, or will the ability of cloning individual organs make them a moot point?

And on a lighter note:

2: What did you think about Halo, the game?

Oath of Fealty (1)

macguiguru (608453) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397379)

Did you enjoy writing Oath of Fealty and Dreampark? Any chance either of those will become films? I enjoyed both and have reread them a number of times. Very believable characters and good storyline in both! PS - I really wasn't the *least* disappointed to meet in Boulder, CO with Steve Barnes!! Hoping to meet you again!

Cautionary tales? (5, Interesting)

J. Random Software (11097) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397385)

You've built worlds with uncommonly dystopian elements, such as Plateau's long tyranny over a disarmed populace, organlegging, all-out war with ruthless aliens, and suppression of dangerous technology. Have you intended any of these to be cautions about likely (or even inevitable) events, or just interesting to think about?

Evolving as an author? (1)

Broofa (541944) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397386)

First, Mr. Niven, I owe you a heartfelt thanks for the many years of wonderful reading you've provided. As a long time fan, I've seen the style and subject matter of your work evolve over the years. I've appreciated some of the changes, been disappointed by others, but in the end my eyes still light up whenever I see your name on a new publication. So, thanks. My question(s) ... How have you seen yourself grow as an author through the years and what have been the major influences that brought about these changes? Oh, and I have to ask ... first, the Ringworld, then the Smoke Ring, what's the next "Big Thing" you think you'll write about? Thanks!

Dream Park - The Movie? (2, Interesting)

SLot (82781) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397391)

I seem to recall some years ago reading that Dream Park had been optioned for the big screen.

a) Was this true, and if so, what is the status of this project?

b) Do you feel that the current level of technology in todays world would allow an accurate portrayal of the computers/holographs in the book on the big screen?

(thanks for introducing me to Kuru!)

Niven's a fraud (-1, Flamebait)

Amsterdam Vallon (639622) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397392)

After Niven wrote the first book, it received world-wide acclaim. But there was a problem. Although physicists generally liked the book as much as anyone else, Niven was beseige with letters of physics protest. As any advanced physics student could have told him, Ringworld is not stable in the plane of the ring. That is, if the ring is nudged slightly from the exact center, it will fall into the star. Because of this, Niven later wrote one book in the series based upon fixing this very problem. The proof of this instability can be found in Example 5.2 of your text, the 4th edition of Classical Dynamics by Marion and Thorton. The integration is difficult and an approximation is used.
(From 99/Phys311SIP.html [] )

I'm not sure how anyone can read this techno drivel. I glanced through a couple works, like his 9/11 response, but that's about the only good piece of writing he's ever done.

So, what's the big deal here? Why not get Sagan to do another interview instead?

Re:Niven's a fraud (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397511)

Sagan is dead, schmuck.

Lucifers Hammer (4, Interesting)

Wierd Willy (161814) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397400)

As a long time reader of your work,(I first read Ringworld in the 6th grade) I would love to see your known space series brought to the Big Screen. Would you be involved in such a project? I would also like to see Lucifers Hammer as a movie, and the only way do do it right is to involve the authors in the project to make sure the original story is kept intact.

Atheism (-1)

ZINGYWINGY (576410) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397435)

Are you an atheist?

How do you feel about fan fiction? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397445)


The other writers who you've allowed to work in the Man-Kzin Wars series have added quite a bit to the health and breadth of your "Known Space" universe. Thank you for opening it up for others to play!

I've heard that you take a dim view of fan fiction -- please, correct me if I'm wrong. One of the better bits of fan fiction that I read invloved gay Kzin [] . The logic was solid and the story was interesteing (if a bit uncomfortable). Where do you draw the line? Who would you allow to publish?


Focus? (1)

splattertrousers (35245) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397454)

With all of your imaginative ideas, do you find it hard to focus on the one story you are currently writing? (Or do you work on multiple stories at once?) What if you are 200 pages into writing a book and a much better idea comes into your head? Do you finish writing the first book, or do you start on the new one? And do you have lots of unfinished books sitting around waiting to get finished? And finally, however you do it seems to work for you, but would you suggest to other people that they do the same thing?

Why no Known Space movies/TV shows? (4, Interesting)

Argyle (25623) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397462)

With all the possiblities for Known Space movies and television programs, especially the Man/Kzin Wars, why have none been made?

The only show episode to incorporate your vision I know of was The Slaver Weapon in the Star Trek Animated Series [] . It was based on your short story, The Soft Weapon.

Have stories been optioned and live in development limbo?

Hard Sci-Fi? (5, Interesting)

docrailgun (653921) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397463)

Mr. Niven, How do you respond to writers such as Greg Bear and Gregory Binford who complain that there is no "hard" science fiction today of the sort that Asmov wrote? Do you explain to them that Asmimov wrote pulp fiction, even if it was pretty good pulp fiction; or do you point out that stories without character development but lots of whiz-bang tech were part of the era they were written in and fans have moved on?

Intersection of SciFi and Gaming (4, Interesting)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397472)

What do you think of video games as a future outlet for original SciFi universes? Do you think that the interactive environments games provide will appeal to writers who would otherwise create movies or shorts?

ringworld and movies (1)

herdingcats (21219) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397479)

given the current state of high tech movie design, and the very visual nature of the ringworld, do we foresee a chance at a movie? certainly, there are many financial questions involved, but it seems a likely artistic candidate, from the unitiated viewer's view.

Did you run out of good stuff? (1)

Fooknut (73366) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397494)

I own many of your books and I greatly enjoyed at least 90% of them, but the most recent books seem thrown together. I'm just wondering if you got bored or had other things going on?

idea-a-second dare-devil excitement (2, Interesting)

eurostar (608330) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397500)

Mr Niven,

First, thanks for the playground and the many happy hours I've spent there.

Can you tell me how you perceive the maturation of your writings ?
Your more recent books seem to have less of the idea-a-second, dare-devil excitement I enjoyed so much.

Thanks for everything,

"Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Commando (6326) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397506)

Having just read Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex [] (recently linked to by BBspot [] ), I have just one question: How often do you contemplate the sex life of fictional comic-book characters?

Follow up question: if you were to write a similar article based on one of the recent or upcoming movie superheroes (Hulk, Daredevil, Spiderman, X-Men, etc.), who would it be?

Character in your own Books (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5397510)

If you could live the life of any of the characters from your books, who would it be?

And then any character from any book?

suck ass (-1)

GetTragic (21640) | more than 11 years ago | (#5397517)

how come lucifer's hammer rules and everything else you have written sucks ass?
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