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Larry Niven

Larry Niven
Niven at Stanford University in May 2006
Born Laurence van Cott Niven
(1938-04-30) April 30, 1938
Los Angeles, California, USA
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Period 1964–present
Genre Hard science fiction, Fantasy
Notable works Ringworld (1970), The Mote in God's Eye (1974)
Niven at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, 2007

Laurence van Cott Niven (; born April 30, 1938) is an American science fiction writer.[1] 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 series The Magic Goes Away, rational fantasy dealing with magic as a non-renewable resource.


  • Biography 1
  • Work 2
  • Influence 3
  • Policy involvement 4
  • Other works 5
  • Niven's Laws 6
  • Bibliography 7
    • Tales of Known Space 7.1
    • Heorot 7.2
    • with Jerry Pournelle 7.3
    • with Steven Barnes 7.4
    • The State 7.5
    • Magic Goes Away 7.6
    • Other novels 7.7
    • Other collections 7.8
    • Graphic novels and comics adaptations 7.9
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Niven was born in Los Angeles.[1] Niven 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. On September 6, 1969, he married Marilyn Joyce "Fuzzy Pink" Wisowaty, a science fiction and Regency literature fan. He is an agnostic.[2]


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).[3]

In addition to the Nebula award in 1970[4] and the Hugo and Locus awards in 1971[5] 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 three science fiction television series: the original Land of the Lost series; Star Trek: The Animated Series, for which he adapted his early story "The Soft Weapon"; and The Outer Limits, for which he adapted his story "Inconstant Moon" into an episode of the same name.

Niven 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.

He has included limited psi gifts (mind over matter) in some characters in his stories; like Gil Hamilton's psychic arm which can only do what a real arm could do, Matt Keller's ability to make people not see him in "A Gift From Earth" and Teela Brown's 'good luck' gene in the Ringworld series.

Many of Niven's stories—sometimes called the Tales of Known Space[6]— take place in his Known Space universe, in which humanity shares the several habitable star systems nearest to the Sun with over a dozen alien species, including the aggressive feline Kzinti and the very intelligent but cowardly Pierson's Puppeteers, which are frequently central characters. The Ringworld series is part of the Tales of Known Space, and Niven has shared the setting with other writers at least since a 1988 anthology, The Man-Kzin Wars (Baen Books, jointly edited with Jerry Pournelle and Dean Ing).[6]

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 light-hearted science fiction universe, and are told from the point of view of the proprietor of an omni-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 travels, in fact, into alternative realities and brings back mythical creatures such as a Roc and a Unicorn. Much of his writing since the 1970s has been in collaboration, particularly with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, but also Brenda Cooper and Edward M. Lerner.



Niven's most famous contribution to the SF genre comes from his novel Ringworld, in which he envisions a Ringworld: a band of material, roughly a million miles wide, 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 effect 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). After publication of Ringworld, Dan Alderson and Ctien,[7] two fannish friends of Niven, analyzed the structure and told Niven that the Ringworld was dynamically unstable such that when the center of rotation drifts away from the central sun, gravity will pull the ring into contact with the star. Niven used this as a core 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 (actual "Rings" and Dyson "Spheres" are also mentioned but are much rarer). 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.

The original release of Magic: The Gathering paid homage to Larry Niven on a card called "Nevinyrral's Disk", with Nevinyrral being "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. Netrunner paid a similar homage to Larry Niven with the card "Nevinyrral".

Policy involvement

Niven at Les Utopiales in 2010

According to author Michael Moorcock, in 1967 Niven was among those Science Fiction Writers of America members who voiced opposition to the Vietnam War.[8] However, in 1968 Niven's name appeared in a pro-war ad in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine.[9]

Niven was an adviser to Ronald Reagan on the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative antimissile policy, as part of the Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy – as covered in the BBC documentary Pandora's Box by Adam Curtis.[10] The council also convinced Vice President Dan Quayle to support the Single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) concept for a reusable space ship that led to the building of the DC-X.

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.[11]

Other works

One of Niven's best known 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.

Niven appeared in the 1980 science documentary film Target...Earth?.

Niven's Laws

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.


Tales of Known Space

Ringworld companion series (with Edward M. Lerner)

  1. Fleet of Worlds (2007)
  2. Juggler of Worlds (2008)
  3. Destroyer of Worlds (2009)
  4. Betrayer of Worlds (2010)
  5. Fate of Worlds (2012)


  1. Ringworld (1970)— Nebula Award, 1970[4] Hugo and Locus SF Awards winner, 1971[5]
  2. The Ringworld Engineers (1979)—Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1981[13]
  3. The Ringworld Throne (1996)
  4. Ringworld's Children (2004)

Man-Kzin Wars

  • Man-Kzin anthologies
  1. The 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. Man-Kzin Wars XII (2009)
  13. Man-Kzin Wars XIII (2012)
  14. Man-Kzin Wars XIV (2013)
  • Man-Kzin novels
  1. Cathouse: A Novel of the Man Kzin-Wars (1990, with Dean Ing)
    • Cathouse compiles two stories from the first two "Man-Kzin Wars" books and contains no new material.
  2. The Children's Hour: A Novel of the Man-Kzin Wars (1991, with Jerry Pournelle and S. M. Stirling)
    • The Children's Hour contains some material previously published in "Man-Kzin Wars" volumes II and III.
  3. Inconstant Star (1991, with Poul Anderson)
    • Inconstant Star compiles two stories from "Man-Kzin Wars" volumes I and III and contains no new material.
  4. A Darker Geometry (1996, with Mark O. Martin and Gregory Benford)
    • A Darker Geometry contains some material previously published in "Man-Kzin Wars" volume VII.
  5. The Houses of the Kzinti (2002, with Dean Ing, Jerry Pournelle, S. M. Stirling)
    • Houses of the Kzinti is a compiled edition of the previously-published Cathouse and The Children's Hour and contains no new material.
  6. Paul Chafe)


Heorot (with Steven Barnes and Jerry Pournelle)

  1. The Legacy of Heorot (1987)
  2. Beowulf's Children (1995, UK: The Dragons of Heorot)
  3. Destiny's Road (1997, by Niven alone; not precisely a continuation of the Heorot series: located in the same universe, events from the first two novels are briefly mentioned)

with Jerry Pournelle

  • Lucifer's Hammer (1977)—Hugo Award nominee, 1978[14]
  • Oath of Fealty (1982)
  • Footfall (1985)—Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1986[15]
  • Lucifer's Anvil or Samael's Forge (in-progress as of 2013) (not a sequel to Lucifer's Hammer) [16][17][18]
  • Dante series
  1. Inferno (1976)—Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee, 1976[19]
  2. Escape from Hell (2009, sequel to Inferno)
  • Moties — part of Pournelle's CoDominium fictional universe
  1. The Mote in God's Eye (1974)—Hugo, Nebula and Locus SF Awards nominee, 1975[20]
  2. The Gripping Hand (1993, UK: The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye)
  • Golden Road (set in the same "Magic Universe" as The Magic Goes Away)
  1. The Burning City (2000)
  2. Burning Tower (2005)
  3. Burning Mountain (in progress)

with Steven Barnes

Dream Park

  1. Dream Park (1981)—Locus SF Award nominee, 1982[21]
  2. The Barsoom Project (1989)
  3. The California Voodoo Game (1992, UK: The Voodoo Game)
  4. The Moon Maze Game (2011)

The State

  1. A World Out of Time (1976)—Locus SF Award nominee, 1977[22]
  2. The Integral Trees (1984)—Nebula Award nominee, 1984;[23] Locus SF Award winner, and Hugo nominee, 1985[24]
  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 (1984)

Other novels

Other collections

Graphic novels and comics adaptations


  1. ^ a b "Niven, Larry". Revised June 14, 2014. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction ( Retrieved August 15, 2014. Entry by 'JC', John Clute.
  2. ^ "The religion of Larry Niven, science fiction author". July 28, 2005. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ "the Planet Mercury. Tidally locked?". Archived from the original on 2012-06-24. Retrieved 2012-06-24. 
  4. ^ a b "1970 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "1971 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Tales of Known Space – Series Bibliography". Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved August 15, 2014. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Starship Stormtroopers
  9. ^ "Nat Tilander Writer, Author, Articles, Non-Fiction, Galaxy Magazine and the Viet Nam War". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  10. ^ Pandora's Box (television documentary series)#To The Brink of Eternity
  11. ^ Hall, Mimi (May 31, 2007). "Sci-fi writers join war on terror". USA Today. Retrieved April 30, 2008. 
  12. ^ "1974 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  13. ^ "1981 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  14. ^ "1978 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  15. ^ "1986 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  16. ^ TWiTTriangulation (6 February 2013). "Triangulation 90: Jerry Pournelle".  PODcast Interview with Jerry Pournelle
  17. ^ Jerry Pournelle (26 October 2011). "A good day; Iron Law and NASA". Chaos Manor. 
  18. ^ "Chat Log: January 7th, 2012". Larry Niven. 7 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "1976 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  20. ^ "1975 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  21. ^ "1982 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  22. ^ "1977 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  23. ^ "1984 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  24. ^ "1985 Award Winners & Nominees | Science Fiction & Fantasy Books by Award | WWEnd". Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Gregory Benford & Larry Niven - Shipstar cover art and synopsis reveal". Retrieved 2013-07-18. 

External links

Bibliography and works
  • Audio interview with Larry Niven
  • An audio interview with Larry Niven (MP3 format) from Hour 25
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