NIVEN, Larry
   Working name of US writer Laurence van Cott Niven (1938-). He was born in California, where he set many of his stories, and gained a BA in mathematics from Washburn University, Kansas. From his first publication, "The Coldest Place" for If in 1964, he set his mark on the US sf field,winning four short-fiction HUGOS, and both Hugo and NEBULA in 1971 for RINGWORLD (1970), a capstone title in his seminal Tales of Known Spacesequence, which he began with "The Coldest Place" and has added to ever since. In the novels and stories of this sequence, and in some of his other work, he was seen for some time as HARD SF's last best hope; and there can be no doubt that hard-sf writers dominant in the 1980s, like Greg BEAR, and some of those reaching for eminence in the 1990s, like PaulJ. MCAULEY and Roger MacBride ALLEN, owe much to the scope of LN's inventiveness, the sense he conveys of technological ingenuity as being ultimately beneficial, and his cognitive exuberance.The Tales of Known Space, a title LN himself selected for the sequence, is a wide-ranging,complex, unusually well integrated future HISTORY which, within an essentially optimistic and technophilic frame, provides an explanatory structure for the expansion of humanity into space, one notable from the first for the complexity of the Universe into which it introduces the burgeoning human race. ALIEN races - not normally found in the first generation of future histories, those created in ASF under the influence of the homocentric John W. CAMPBELL Jr - have dominated Known Space for eons, beginning with the Thrintun, extinct a billion years ago with the exception of one deadly Thrint held in a stasis field (one of LN's numerous terminological coups) and released with deadly effect in his first novel, World of Ptavvs (1966). Millions of years closer to the present, humanity's ancestors, the Pak, spread their seed through the local arm of the Galaxy. Protectors are the "adult" form of Homo sapiens, the yam necessary to transform humans into full-grown Paks not being available on Earth; the Pak protagonist of Protector (1967 Gal as "The Adults"; exp 1973), set in human times, has travelled from afar atterribly slow sublight speeds to take care of us and protect us against other Protectors who find our slightly evolved species loathsome. The novel spans many years; its complex, casually-alluded-to background demonstrates the value of a coherent sequence in buttressing SPACE-OPERA conventions, though at the same time, as LN himself once admitted, the Universe-changing plot of Protector made it difficult to maintain internalconsistency within Known Space stories set after the Pak incursion. Less dangerously, A Gift From Earth (1968) sticks to less transformative material, being set on a planet colonized from Earth whose inhabitants, descended from the ship's lowly passengers, rebel against the ruling caste descended from its crew; the story is interfused with arguments for personal and entrepreneurial liberty whose connection, as in much US sf, is taken as axiomatic. Centuries of relative peace follow, until the start of the Man-Kzin Wars, treated by LN as a sort of sideshow; the relevant stories were delegated mainly to others in four SHARED-WORLD anthologies, The Man-Kzin Wars * (anth 1988), The Man-Kzin Wars II * (anth 1989), III *(anth 1990), IV * (anth 1991), V (anth 1992) and VI (anth 1994). Finally, the tales and novels of Known Space culminated in RINGWORLD and its immediate sequel Ringworld Engineers (1979), which feature the alien Puppeteers, who are fleeing the explosion at the Galaxy's core which willwithin some millennia make space uninhabitable, and who enlist human aid to explore the eponymous BIG DUMB OBJECT - a million miles wide, 600 million miles around - which circles a distant star. This ring, created by Pak ancestors, houses much life and serves as a final home for TeelaBrown, whose genetically programmed good luck is the culmination of a long and secret Puppeteer breeding programme; the inevitability of her good fortune might have significantly reduced the chance of LN's writing any successful Known Space stories set after her maturity, which is perhaps why she is killed off in the sequel.In the interstices of this joyfully complicated galactic structure, humanity enters space, solves problems in BIOLOGY and GENETIC ENGINEERING, benefits from local TELEPORTATION and thediscovery of a FASTER-THAN-LIGHT hyperdrive for interstellar travel, copes with CORPSICLES and organlegging and a myriad other new challenges, and by the beginning of the fourth millennium has reached a mature plateau. Titles in which Known Space activities are dramatized include: NEUTRONSTAR (coll 1968); The Shape of Space (coll 1969), much of which is re-assembled in Convergent Series (coll 1979); All the Myriad Ways (coll 1971); Inconstant Moon (coll 1973 UK; cut 1974), which was assembled fromThe Shape of Space and All the Myriad Ways; Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (coll 1975), which includes explanatory charts; and The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton (coll of linked stories 1976) and its immediate sequel The Patchwork Girl (1980); and Crashlander (coll 1994).Most of LN's first decade as a writer was occupied with Known Space,with the exception of the tales assembled in The Flight of the Horse (coll 1973)-including the 5 stories of the Svetz series of TIME-PARADOX comedies- A Hole in Space (coll 1974) and, with David GERROLD, The Flying Sorcerers (1971), a tale of a low-tech people who think that high technology is MAGIC. His next - and commercially his most successful move - was to collaborate with Jerry POURNELLE on THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE (1974),a giant, spectacular SPACE-OPERA epic with all the trappings-interstellar shenanigans, aliens with unhealthy proclivities they must keep hidden, galactic aristocracies, intricate solutions to hard-sf problems . . . The book is essentially a development of Pournelle's CoDominium series, and may fruitfully be read in that context. Several critics have taken the book to task for what they regard as its human chauvinism, the discrepancy between its imaginative plot and its old-fashioned characterization, and its conservative political stance; but the combination of Pournelle's ability to shape novel-length plots (an ability his partner has always lacked) and LN's brilliant conceptual knack make for an enticing book. The sequel, The Gripping Hand (1993; vt The Moat Around Murcheson's Eye 1993 UK), lacks the drive of the original, concentrating on heavy-handedspacewar shenanigans which have been fatally overtaken by events, as the problem of the Moties's breeding pattern is solved before any of the battles actually occur.Further collaborations with Pournelle ensued. Inferno (1975) reworks DANTE ALIGHIERI's Inferno, an act notable for itsapparently conscious vulgarity, interesting in its theological explanation of evil - that God's "sadism" is in fact designed to encourage self-help among the damned - and amusing in its placing of anti- NUCLEAR-POWER propagandists in Hell. Lucifer's Hammer (1977) is a long, ambitious DISASTER novel which sophisticatedly marries sf techniques with thebestseller idiom familiar from the many disaster films of the early 1970s. In Oath of Fealty (1981) a Los Angeles arcology - without the aid of anineffective, bureaucratic government - defends its wealthy inhabitants from ECOLOGY freaks and terrorists. The internal government of this arcology being a conveniently infallible hierarchy culminating in one brilliant man in constant communication with a great COMPUTER, no significant dissent is necessary, or heard. Footfall (1985), about an alien INVASION of Earth, became an example of RECURSIVE SF through its enlisting of a readily identifiable group of sf writers to brainstorm solutions to the threat from space. The Legacy of Heorot (1987 UK), with Pournelle and Steven BARNES, replays the Beowulf saga on a colony planet:the natives of the planet have the unenviable role of the dragon. Fallen Angels (1991), with Pournelle and Michael FLYNN - in which the USGovernment betrays its own astronauts - once again treats environmentalists as villains in a planetary drama of the NEAR FUTURE.LN has increasingly made use of collaborators; in fact, in later years he has written only 4 solo novels outside the Known Space canon: A World Out of Time (fixup 1976), a complexly contemplative look through oneprotagonist's eyes at millions of years of human history; The Magic Goes Away (1977), a fantasy in which MAGIC is treated as a non-renewableresource; and The Integral Trees (1984) and its immediate sequel The Smoke Ring (1987), both linked to A World Out of Time. The Dream Park sequence -Dream Park (1981), The Barsoom Project (1989) and Dream Park: The Voodoo Game (1991 UK; vt The California Voodoo Game 1992 US), all with Barnes - is set in a GAME-WORLD environment (see also VIRTUAL REALITY) in the 21st century, with the eponymous corporation involved in running complex role-playing games as well as enterprises in the real world and on Mars. Other collaborations include The Descent of Anansi (1982) and Achilles'Choice (1991), both with Barnes. LN's late collections - likeNiven's Laws (coll 1984), Limits (coll 1985), N-Space (coll 1990), Playgrounds of the Mind (coll 1991) and Bridging the Galaxies (coll 1993) - have tended increasingly to re-sort earlier material. It cannot be denied that the fresh inventive gaiety characteristic of LN's early work has not survived the passing of the years, nor that the political agendas (POLITICS) exposed in the collaborations have become more rancorous over the same period. He will perhaps be best remembered for the Tales of Known Space, the most energetic future history ever written, for his bright and profligate technophilia, for his astonishingly well conceived aliens, and for his early joy.
   JC
   Other works: The Time of the Warlock (coll 1984), fantasies; The Magic May Return * (anth 1981) and More Magic * (anth 1984), shared-world successor anthologies to The Magic Goes Away.About theauthor: The Many Worlds of Larry Niven (last rev 1989 chap) by Chris DRUMM.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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