A technologically advanced race descended from twin-necked herd herbivores, and noted for their so-called cowardice. Their commercial empire directly and indirectly controls events throughout Known Space and beyond, and Puppeteer plots are behind many of the larger events in Known Space.
Biology and sociology
Pierson's Puppeteers have two forelegs and a single hindleg ending in hooved feet and two snake-like heads instead of a humanoid upper body.
The heads are very small, containing a forked tongue, extensive rubbery lips, rimmed with finger-like knobs, and a single eye per head. They use the "mouths" to manipulate objects, as a humanoid uses hands. Each neck contains three sets of something analogous to vocal cords, making the puppeteer's lingual ability extensive. Puppeteers have no issue learning most languages spoken in Known Space, though their native language is all but impossible for other species to duplicate naturally. The heads do not contain the Puppeteer's brain; it resides near the shoulder in a massive mane-covered hump from which the heads emerge. The hump features thick hair usually curled, dyed or decorated.
The hind leg is also used in conflicts: when a Puppeteer is threatened, it can turn its back, spin on his forelegs and lash out with the hind leg. In that occasion heads are turned backwards and spread wide, to triangulate on the target.
The natural odor of the Puppeteers is characteristic and reminds Humans of some spice mixtures.
On occasion a puppeteer will express its amusement by facing its two heads towards each other, in effect, looking at itself, an equivalent to ironic human laughter.
Puppeteers are extremely long-lived, with a lifespan of at least several centuries and as a result the Puppeteer homeworld has a population of over a trillion. At least one world's entire economy is put toward growing food to feed them. Almost all puppeteers rely on synthesized food, real food being a costly luxury.
Тheir cycle of reproduction is unusual, similar to a digger wasp's: the Puppeteers consider themselves to have three genders (two male, one female), except their two "male" genders are the equivalent of human female and male (one has an ovipositor, the other a penis, of sorts) and the "female" is the (non-sentient) parasitised host into which the ovum and spermatozoon are deposited. Male puppeteers refer to themselves as Citizens, while the smaller females are Companions.
Humans met Puppeteers in the early 26th century. Olaf Pierson was a crewman aboard a spaceship at a time when there was a camp revival of the ancient Time for Beany TV show featuring Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent (a former puppet). Pierson accordingly described the alien he had met as a Puppeteer, given some resemblance of the head and neck with Cecil.
"......The first man to see a puppeteer had done so during a Campish revival of "Time for Beany" reruns. He had come running back to the scout ship, breathless and terrified, screaming "Take off! The planet's full of monsters!" "Whatta they look like?", asked a colleague. "Like a three-legged centaur with two Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent puppets on its hands, and no head." "Take a pill, Pierson. You're drunk.........."
A herd animal, Puppeteers prefer the company (and smell) of their own kind.
Technologically, the Puppeteers are extremely advanced compared to most other species. For example, humans invented a method of cheap teleportation in the 25th century called displacement booths, which requires an enclosed space at either end of the transmission. Puppeteers' use a much more elegant and sophisticated booth-less "open" version in the form of stepping disks, which require no enclosure. More impressively, Puppeteers transformed their home world, and several other astronomical bodies, into the Fleet of Worlds, in order to flee a galactic catastrophe.
Socially, the three most notable traits of Puppeteers are their racial/cultural penchant for cowardice, their tendency to congregate in herds, and their steadfast honesty in honoring agreements.
The Puppeteer's tendency to be heedful of the slightest risk and adept at avoiding danger results in their famous extreme timidness which is reinforced by a cultural tradition. All advances in their civilization served the survival of the race, and only after extreme observation and experimentation.
The cowardice is thought in Puppeteer society to originate with the Puppeteer instinct for turning one's back on danger. However, the trait is thought to actually originate from their herd instinct, as the instinct to turn one's back is linked to an instinct to kick the hind hoof at an attacker.
Another noticeable behavioral trait is the catatonic state in face of danger (unless it is decided that action is preferrable to minimize the danger) — they fold up into a ball, tucking their three legs and two heads underneath the padded cranial bulge. This is, in part, an explosion reflex, learned during childhood.
A science experiment also partly contributed to cowardice; having proved that the Puppeteers have nothing equivalent to a soul, and therefore death is, for their species, absolute nothingness. As a result, the Puppeteer race is fanatically devoted to its own safety.
The only thing worse than death is physical pain. This is also reflected in their architecture and object design, as all the Puppeteer-designed rooms and vessels have no sharp edges, everything curves into everything else, giving a "half-melted" look and meaning that objects are less likely to damage someone inadvertently, through their own carelessness.
Courage is a mental illness among Puppeteers. Incidentally, though, aside from the crew of the Long Shot in the novel Ringworld, no human has ever met a sane Puppeteer, as no sane Puppeteer would ever leave the safety of the Fleet of Worlds (see below), and even those who do would not venture out without a painless method of suicide, in case circumstances required it.
In contrast, Puppeteers (both in general and in personal) can be criminally indifferent in the welfare of others, when it conflicts with their own survival.
Politics and relations with other species
Politically, the puppeteers have a form of democracy with two major parties: the Conservatives and the Experimentalists. The Conservatives have held power for a majority of Puppeteer history; Experimentalist regimes only take power when a crisis threatens the safety of the Puppeteer race, and action is considered less dangerous than inaction.
The leader of the Puppeteers is known as the Hindmost. Since Pierson's Puppeteers are foremost concerned with their own safety and the survival of their species, the most important Puppeteer is considered to be behind, or the protector of every other member of the species. It is a shortening from the more literal the one who leads from behind. A maddened, deposed Hindmost is responsible for Louis Wu's return to the Ringworld..
They are very suspicious of aliens and don't trust space travel preferring the safety of their own planet and the company of their own species. The general foreign policy of Puppeteers consists of attempts to control the universe around them to ensure their own safety. As Puppeteers try to expose themselves to as little risk as possible, they try to use other beings as agents, utilizing a combination of bribes and blackmail to encourage cooperation. Blackmail is not immoral to a Puppeteer and Puppeteers have an established code of conduct surrounding the practice, making it perfectly safe for both the blackmailer and the victim, including that the blackmailer must turn over all their evidence against the victim and submit to a partial memory wipe, so they cannot betray the blackmail deal. The Puppeteers also use more personal manipulation; for instance, Puppeteers who have dealt with human males have utilized a voice that sounds like that of a seductive human female, and the Puppeteer Nessus utilized an implanted tasp, a device which could stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, thus allowing him to subliminally condition those he dealt with.
They have longstanding trade agreements with many races such as Outsiders and Trinocs. Their trading company General Products was an important supplier of starship hulls throughout the Known Space.
The Puppeteer government meddled in human and Kzinti gene pools. They started a series of wars (the Man-Kzin Wars) between the warlike Kzinti and humans, and guaranteed that the Kzinti lose each time, not least by using a starseed lure to guide an Outsider ship into human space, introducing the hyperdrive to humanity. This was a mechanism to cause rapid Kzinti evolution, since the most aggressive Kzinti would die in battle, leaving the more docile individuals to breed, eventually suppressing their racial instinct for aggression.
Another Puppeteer breeding experiment was the Lucky Human Project. The puppeteer government concluded that humans' most notable quality was luck, and decided to improve this trait. Manipulating politics on Earth through bribery and blackmail, the Puppeteers caused the "Birthright Lottery" on Earth around 2650, biasing human genetic selection (controlled by the "Fertility Board of the United Nations") towards encouraging luck. Teela Brown, who journeys to the Ringworld, is an outcome of this Lucky Human Project, though not quite the outcome the Puppeteers would have liked. Her luck was highly selective, bending probability so that the outcome most beneficial to her or her descendants would come to pass, without regard to its effects on those around her — which was contrary to the interest of the rest of the Ringworld expedition on more than one occasion.
Puppeteers were one of the species detailed in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials.
One of the Green Lanterns shown on the cover of the graphic novel Green Lantern: Ganthet's Tale written by Larry Niven, appears to be a Pierson's Puppeteer. It also appears in one panel of the graphic novel.
This is a strange image, from larryniven.net and captioned there as follows. "Harappa Votive Figurines. Finbar here. Came across some unusual figurines whilst browsing a local museum. the label says: Harappa Votive Figurines. Ivory. Indus Valley. Circa 2300 B.C.E." Not verified...
Known Pierson's Puppeteers
- Achilles (called Adonis by Sigmund Ausfaller)