Several Slashdot staff people are major Larry Niven fans, so we feel he needs no introduction. You asked. He answered. Enough said. Read and enjoy.
1) Fallen Angels, Baen Free Library, and RMS
Your collaborative novel Fallen Angels is available in the Baen Free Library. What prompted you to make it available there?
Have its paper sales picked up since you posted it there? (Assuming it's still in print to be sold.) Might you consider making some of your other works available that way?
Also, Fallen Angels features a couple of references to one of the ultimate ubergeeks of the Linux world, Richard M. Stallman. Who was responsible for that? (I'm guessing it would have been Pournelle.) Are there any amusing stories associated with those appearances?
Jim Baen's theory is that putting a work on the net will sell more paper copies. Paper books are easier to read and carry around. I thought it worth testing. So did my collaborators.
I don't have figures on whether it worked: raised the sales of Fallen Angels. I'll have to ask Jim Baen. If the theory holds, sure I'll make more stuff available. Long ago I gave away Net rights to certain short works, "Man of Steel/Woman of Kleenex" and "Down in Flames".
Richard Stallman must have ben put in by Jerry or Mike, not by me. We all did some research into science fiction fans; I introduced Mike Flynn to several on the West Coast, and he found his own in the East. Most of the characters in the book are real people suitably altered.
2) Is Science Fiction healthy?
Lots of folks love SF: Today there's a cable network and a nauseating volume of Star Trek reruns. Computer graphics makes it feasible to put a movie into any imaginable setting. Technology is being deployed so quickly that Vernor Vinge's singularity comes to mind. Technological progress is moving so fast it is hard to anticipate it.
NASA is dinking around in LEO: Boldly going where John Glenn has gone four decades before. I don't know who said it: The future just ain't what it used to be.
The Sputnik generation is graying: When I was a lad, I watched moon shots. It captured my imagination. I read any book that had a rocket on its cover. I'm late forties and will be dead of cancer soon.
Writers are moving out of SF: William Gibson's latest novel has high geek content, but none of the science isn't already deployed. Same for Neal Stephenson's _Cryptonomicon_: good story with high geek content, but nothing beyond the current state of the art. And I've seen guys who once wrote Hard Science Fiction branching out to Fantasy.
Publishing is corporatized: The huge bookstores I haunt have SF sections that are overcrowded with Fantasy and StarTrek, StarWars, Babylon5 & (insert corporate franchise here) serials.
It looks to me as if Science Fiction is in trouble, or it may be sick, or it may be dead and doesn't know it yet.
What is your assessment of SF's health and which of these considerations do you think most significant?
We were a tiny, despised cluster of the socially inept when I first found other science fiction fans. Today we have a hell of a lot more respect, success, and money. The field is healthy.
Yes, good SF writers veer into fantasy and mainstream. I do it too. It's a break, a vacation. Don't let it disturb you.
As for the rest--do you see the media invading the science fiction field? It's the other way around. We've fully corrupted them; it only remains to educate them too.
But we ourselves are not moving into space.
Note: we're learning about the universe at an amazing rate. We're exploring the planets. We've got everything we hoped for, except that human beings aren't going and aliens don't seem to be waiting. I don't know what to do about that, except to show the dream to as many minds as I can reach.
Most of my friends are convinced that NASA is the great roadblock. I have my doubts. We persuaded Goldin that all he had to do was fire two levels of NASA bureaucrats and...he managed it, and magic didn't happen. Maybe what we're up against is the universe.
3) Intersection of SciFi and Gaming
by Shadow Wrought
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?
I love it. Any new market (such as video games) opens more options for creativity, and more money. Games and movie/tv and books will feed into each other. Mind you, that's hard on the novices: competition is going to get fiercer yet.
4) Cautionary tales?
by J. Random Software
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?
Sure, they're all intended as warnings. Nevertheless--what I've been serving up through most of my career are the dark sides of bright futures.
Organlegging, including State executions for organs, is the dark side of longevity, advanced medical techniques.
Disarmed populace and suppression of dangerous technology seem inevitable. Be warned.
War with aliens seems less likely, except that an enemy is always alien to some extent.
Plateau was fairyland with a single flaw.
5) Favorite book?
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?
What book you give depends on who you're giving it to. To a mundane, give LUCIFER'S HAMMER. To a scientist, give THE INTEGRAL TREES. To someone who already wants to write, or to know about Niven, give N-SPACE or PLAYGROUNDS OF THE MIND or the forthcoming SCATTERBRAIN. Fantasy fans and Angelinos get THE BURNING CITY. If I had to bet my reputation it would be on RINGWORLD.
6) Intelligence and Wisdom
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 effects of old age that I have ever read :-)
My father and stepmother got us into a night class in hominid development. From what I learned, and one initial assumption, I extrapolated protectors. The assumption was, every symptom of aging is a stunted version of something intended to make us better able to defend our descendants.
Fans have pointed out developments even I missed. Thus: We breeders have a stunted sense of smell because our protector forms would otherwise be obeying their noses, rejecting outsider mates for their breeders, causing inbreeding.
The original (Pak) protectors are still too reflexive: they've got intelligence but not wisdom.
Intelligence is a tool or tool set. Wisdom is what you do with that. I've met people who specialized their intelligence, who never developed a life. I know yoga students like that too.
I've written at length about wisdom and intelligence because I didn't have a short answer.
7) What do you read?
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.
THE WIZARD OF OZ seems to have inspired me as a child.
Today I read a lot of science fiction, and I take friends' advice for what else pops up. I loved CRYPTONOMICON. I read everything by Tim Powers and Terry Pratchett and a lot of Connie Willis. Some really good hard SF writers have popped up, and I read them: John Barnes, Bruce Sterling, Stephen Baxter. Barbara Hambly's detective fiction. Patrick O'Brian's sea stories, courtesy of John Hertz.
8) Why is there no religion in Known Space
by Adam Rightmann
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?
Yes, it is. I'm not comfortable speculating on the development of new and established religions. The Kdaptist heresy was a joke. INFERNO was a compulsion: I'd read Dante's INFERNO and my mind wouldn't let go of it, and I sucked Jerry into it too. My motives weren't religious, they were a storyteller's.
9) Crossing my fingers
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"?
I couldn't remember "The Only Fair Game", so I used your link.
I don't buy its premise. An older species won't have human versatility in sex: sexual responses will be all hard wired. Kzinti females won't be soft and unresponsive, either. You die if you make that mistake.
I probably issued a cease-and-desist when the story was described to me as violating my copyright. It does that, of course, and I notice the "desist" had no effect.
Once upon a time there was a gaming article that blew away the punch lines of several Man-Kzin War stories. I asked that it not be published. In that case too, I acted to protect my copyrights and my authors.
More generally--"If you want more Known Space stories" was intended as an invitation to daydream, not to violate my copyrights and steal my ideas. Turning such dreams into stories is only done under restricted circumstances and with permission.
But these dreams can make my morning. I love it when someone sees an implication I missed. (I get these via email, usually, or as Man-Kzin War stories.) And after all, there are things I can't copyright or patent or trademark. "Halo" looks like a poor man's Ringworld, but I didn't invent spin gravity.
10) Movie Jealousy?
David Brin has been forthright concerning his jealousy over bad SF being made into movies while his work is not. With the exception of 'Forbidden Planet' I have yet to see a science fiction movie that draws me in the way a good Sci-Fi book does.
I also think that your works would make excellent movies. Brin's work would probably play well in Europe, where people seem to prefer a little more ambiguity in their movies. It probably wouldn't do well here. Now, I'm not saying your writing isn't of the same caliber as Brin's work, but it is a little more accesible to the common man, and therefore seems well suited to be made into a blockbuster that would do well in the states. My questions: 1.) Are you at all jealous that lesser talents get to have their work seen by millions on the silver screen? 2.) Have you been approached by any producers regarding screenplays of your work? 3.) Would you even want to have your works made into movies?
That said, I just have to say thank you for providing me with so much quality entertainment! I grew up reading your stories from the time I was ten. In my esteem, you are one of the best well rounded Sci Fi authors out there. Your work has great characters, fantastic settings, believable science, and lots of action. Thanks again.
Sure I'm jealous, and angry. I've waited too long to take my family to a movie made from my works, and now my mother's gotten to old to go. I'm glad to see Brin's "The Postman" on the big screen. I like his message. But I'd like to see Harry the Mailman, from "Lucifer's Hammer", up there too.
And sure I've sold rights and options, and written a Star Trek cartoon and sold an Outer Limits episode, but it's not the same as walking into a theater. Movies cost a lot more than options do.
Yes, I would like to see my works made into movies. All of them. Short stories as well as novels. Why not? A movie doesn't ruin a book; the book is still there, unchanged, and may even see a larger audience. See Vince Gerardis of Created By, my agent, if you've just won a lottery.