Laurence van Cott Niven (born April 30, 1938 Los Angeles, California) is a United States science fiction author. Perhaps his best-known work is Ringworld (1970), which received Hugo Award for Best Novel, Locus Award, Ditmar Award, and Nebula Award for Best Novel 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, California and Tarzana, California, 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 just months before the story was published).
In addition to the Hugo and Nebula award for Ringworld, 1967, Niven won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Neutron Star". 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. However, the criticism has been made that once the basic characteristics of Niven's alien species have been defined, all subsequent actions by members of that species seem predictable and predetermined giving them a kind of "pre-programmed" character lacking free will and excusing ruthless actions on their part (for example, the committing of genocide by a Pak Protector).
Niven has also written a logical fantasy series The Magic Goes Away.
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.
Niven's idea of a Space elevator sucking dry a planet (see Rainbow Mars) seems to be copied in the animated movie Kaena: The Prophecy.
Larry Niven introduced the idea of a flash crowd in his story "Flash Crowd" (1973), which evolved in 2003 to the flash mob in which people meet to protest in a creative way at a specific time and place, only to disappear as quickly as they appeared several minutes later. The term Flash Crowd is also used to describe a web site showing little or no response due to excessive amounts of traffic. A Flash Crowd on a web site is synonymous with Slashdotting.
Niven's most famous contribution to the SF genre is his concept of the Ringworld, a rotating band around a star of approximately the same diameter as Earth's orbit. 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.
References in popular culture
Template:Trivia A thinly disguised Niven appears as the character "Lawrence Van Cott" in Greg Bear's novel The Forge of GodTemplate:Fact. A part of the computer game Wing Commander II takes place in the "Niven Sector" (it is believed that the Kilrathi, the feline alien enemy in the Wing Commander series, were based on Niven's Kzinti).
One Magic: The Gathering card is named Nevinyrral's Disk, i. e. "Larry Niven" backwards. When activated, it destroys all creatures, enchantments, and artifact cards in play, including itself. This is a reference to the Warlock's Wheel from The Magic Goes Away series, which drains all magic from a region by using up the "mana" with an open-ended enchantment. As well, the game Netrunner has an artificial intelligence named Nevinyrral and the game Stars! often gives one of its planets the name Nevinyrral in its randomly generated galaxies.
Similarly, the computer game series Halo is set on ringworld-like megastructures, although the Halo is mere ten thousands of km large.
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.
In March of 2008 at a DHS science and technology conference, Niven suggested that "a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants....The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway".
One of Niven's most humorous works is Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, in which he uses real-world physics to underline the difficulties of Superman and a human woman (Lois Lane or Lana Lang) mating.
Larry Niven's novels frequently make use of the stasis field concept, which he also popularized.
In several titles and elsewhere Niven employs terms that are double entendre in that they are apparently metaphorical, but are in fact, meant to be taken literally, or sometimes vice versa. A few examples of this are:
- The novel Destiny's Road is in fact about a road on a planet called Destiny.
- In the Ringworld's past there was an event known as "The Fall of the Cities", in which floating cities literally fell out of the sky and crashed to the ground.
- In his short story, "At The Core," his albino hero Beowulf Shaeffer begins a trip to the Galactic core, but eventually has to turn back because the galactic center is in fact exploding, and sending a deadly wave of hard radiation before it, which prompts some ruminations on cowardice, and yields the revelation at the end of story that the phrase in the title had been meant metaphorically after all.
- The short story "There is a Tide" begins by speaking of a metaphorical tide of fate which guides one's destiny. But the existence of literal tides on a planet in the story is a key to the plot.
- The novel The Integral Trees features long straight floating trees which are curved at each end in opposite directions, giving them the shape of the mathematical integral sign, but are themselves integral to the lifecycle of the inhabitants.
- The novel Footfall at first seems to refer to the elephantine Fithp invaders striding across the Earth, but is actually revealed to be the aliens dropping an asteroid nicknamed the Foot onto the Earth.
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.
Bibliography Main Article
- Larry Niven on Fantastic Fiction
- Sci-fi writers join war on terror, USA Today, May 29, 2007
- Science Fiction Mavens Offer Far Out Homeland Security Advice, National Defense Magazine, March 2008