Larry Niven

An author of "hard" ScienceFiction books. His HugoAward classic RingWorld (1970) is a masterpiece.


Niven's glory days were the late sixties and early seventies when he originated two truly brilliant universes, one SF, KnownSpace, and the other fantasy, TheMagicGoesAway?. Unfortunately he seems to have lost his abilities to write tight prose and gripping drama in later years. He's still worth reading, but he's no longer an author we'd regard as one of the immortals.

Ringworld is great, but don't bother with the sequels. They get progressively worse. -- GregVaughn

(Seconded, and this from a long time Niven fan. -- MartySchrader)

But TheRingworldEngineers and TheRingworldThrone? are not totally awful (I think).

I thought TheRingworldThrone? was totally awful. After finishing the book, I still didn't understand what had happened -- GregVaughn

He also wrote OathOfFealty and many others.

With JerryPournelle.

RainbowMars? was actually funny and out of his normal character, kind of fantasy like. The series I really did like was the smoke ring ones [TheIntegralTrees?] -- amc

RainbowMars? is good in that it reprints the early Svetz stories, which some may have trouble finding otherwise. The (new) title story is regrettable and thoroughly formulaic.

Sounds like TheFlyingSorcerers?, with DavidGerrold?. RainbowMars? is just Niven.


The Smoke Ring stories are pretty cool, and the physics are actually correct. I love the multiple-AU-diameter breathable atmosphere. I checked with an astrophysicist at a Fermilab gig I was on a while back. The same kind of gas torus (not breathable) is in a story that I am trying to put together about a long term battle over a treasure found within such a torus.

However, my favorite short story of all time is "A Teardrop Falls," which combines Larry Niven's writing with my All Time Favorite Bad Guy®, Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers. In fact, the main character of this short story is used to tie together the stories in the collection in which it is originally published, entitled Berserker Base.

-- MartySchrader


I thought RingWorld, TheRingworldEngineers, and TheRingworldThrone? got better as they went along. I keep TheRingworldThrone? within easy reach and I have read it possibly as many as ten times. I also liked TheIntegralTrees? and TheSmokeRing?. I tried to read LucifersHammer? once, but I got bored around page 106 or so. I also liked FallenAngels?.

LarryNiven seems to have only three bad habits in TheRingworldThrone?. First, he likes intercutting between story lines. This bugged me because I found one story line more interesting than the other, and when I got in the "boring" story line, I slammed through it so fast to get back to the "good" stuff that I missed important information. Second, TheRingworldThrone? has a sort of mini-climax in the middle of the work. TheMoteInGodsEye?, written with JerryPournelle, has another notable instance of this problem. I prefer stuff that builds up to a unified FinalConflict?. Third, sometimes his style places too much emphasis on narrative and dialogue, and not enough on description; you have to remember how he describes things when he does, because he seldom describes them again. If he described things more, his work would probably be 50% longer.

-- EdwardKiser


I think his short stories are pretty weak. E.g., a space-faring species that don't know about tides? It's silly. His (early) novels, on the other hand, are excellent. In this Niven is a kind of anti-IsaacAsimov. Asimov's novels are weak but his shorts can be very good indeed. -- DaveHarris

They didn't not know about tides, Dave. They just didn't realize the stasis box was being guarded by something of that steep a gravity gradient. I didn't figure it out myself when reading the story. -- MartySchrader

It may be that Dave was thinking about the Puppeteers, who also apparently didn't know about tides.

Yeah, that was "Neutron Star" itself--which, by the way, was voted one of the "Super Hugos" from the 1992 MagiCon?.

I remember reading "Neutron Star" as a first year physics student. It gave me an intense experience of I-know-who-donnit. I don't know if LarryNiven did this intentionally but it would definitely be a valid writing technique. The glimpse of KnownSpace and the story telling were facinating as well. Never mind small (perceived) glitches. BTW: I heard that "Neutron Star" was published before any neutron star was actually observed. On the other hand it was supposedly 'inspired by an IsaacAsimov essay about curious gravity effects around neutron stars' Anybody know for sure? -- JanLarsen

Asimov relates somewhere or other (I've no idea where; the man was SO prolific; someday it would be nice to have all his works on CD - except I doubt anybody could ever know that it was ALL his works!) that his essay was inspired by an article in an astronomy journal, and that Niven freely admitted to him that "Neutron Star" was inspired by Asimov's essay. He describes the frustration that, "... had I only been thinking story-wise, instead of article-wise, *I* might have written the story." He seemed to accept that it was fair for Niven to use the idea, though it was unclear. -- DanielKnapp

Neutron stars were theoretical at the time - although hypothesized to exist in 1933, one wasn't actually discovered until 1968, two years after Neutron Star was published. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_star) -- JosephRiesen


I personally think he's brilliant. Not the best Sci-Fi writer out there by any means, but his set pieces are always magnificient in scope and idea. His short stories about Gil "The Arm" are probablly the best I've ever read from him in terms of actual writing. I think the Moties are probablly my favorite Universe of his. Also, if you'd like to read something really out of his style try Destiny's Road (It gives you a mighty hankerin' for Stir Fry though). -- DanNugent?

Oh, puhleeeze! Destiny's Road gave me fits each of the three times I actually tried to read the durn thing. I still ended up skipping over large parts in the middle that didn't seem to contain any content. Even when I read the last few chapters very carefully I couldn't figure out half of what was happening. I ended up using my copy (paperback, thank goodness) as a doorstop. I like Niven a lot, but Destiny's Road was a steaming pile as far as I could tell. -- MartySchrader

I had no trouble following the book, but I still found it very boring. It had very few real science-fiction ideas, and the ones it did have were really incidental to the story. Most of the aspects of living on a colony world were repeated from the Smoke Ring books (and for that matter, the Grendel books). A worthless, disappointing book. -- DanielKnapp

Personally, I found Destiny's Road to be mediocre, but worth finishing. As Niven's work has progressed, he's moved away from hard science fiction focused on cool gadgets and grandiose ideas (i.e. RingWorld) and gone in for character development and more personal plots (Destiny's Road, The Burning City, The Integral Trees, etc.) I'd suggest it was related to Jerry Pournelle's influence, but thanks to their work we also got The Mote in God's Eye... so I can't complain. =) Also, personally I enjoyed Lucifer's Hammer as a great character-driven what-if story without too much heavy tech (though it's hard to read a semi-SF book set in the Apollo era!) As DanNugent? mentioned above, it's definitely out of his style. Me, I'll stick with the good ol' Known Space timeline, though I've read pretty much all of its books and short stories. -- JosephRiesen


I think the best way to describe LarryNiven would be one of the masters of hard-science 'what if' SF. The emphasis isn't so much on character development (and, as mentioned above, when Niven downplays science and tries to make interesting characters, it seems to fall flat). As you can get a glimpse of when reading All The Myriad Ways (i.e. his notes from his MIT lecture on teleportation), he likes to come up with a zany idea and run with it, make sure it's intellectually consistent. Rinse, lather, repeat [LatherRinseRepeat], and a whole unique universe evolves out of it, social implications included. It makes his speculative fiction very compelling, in my mind. For instance, if minor errors in physics annoy you (such as I found in Stephen R. Donaldson's 'Gap' novels), you can rest assured everything's well thought-out in Niven's work. -- JosephRiesen


I personally enjoyed Destiny's Road, but enjoy his other works as well. If it says Niven on the front I read it. I particularly enjoy his collaborations with Jerry Pournelle. I think Mote in God's Eye to be an extrordinarily fresh piece of SF lit. For pure story enjoyment though I go back repeatedly and read the "Smoke Ring series" and would absolutely be thrilled with an additional tale. One of my other favorites purely for the entertainment is Footfall, (sometimes you just gotta have an alien invasion). Overall if find his work consuming everytime I pick it up. -- Jason Watson


Nobody here seems to talk about "Protector" or "World of Ptavvs". I think both of them are wonderful hard SF novels. -- Chetan Vaity


Protector is by far my favourite of Niven's work. It's a wonderful story, and a perfect microcosm of Niven's work - he throws together a little science and a little fantasy to make a wonderful concept/setting with some truly alien, mindbending new ideas... and then he tells stories where the protagonist is always this intelligent, slightly-hedonistic everyman that makes it easy for the reader to empathise.

The problem I find with Niven's work is (a) when he tries to move away from his expertise, and (b) when he works with Pournelle or Barnes. Niven + Pournelle produces bold-faced ideological trolling (Pournelle's characters are often strawmen for various leftist concepts he dispises). Niven + Barnes is just piles of fan-service (holodeck-LARPS are televised, sci-fi conventioneers save the world, etc.). That being said, many of the Niven + Pournelle books are quite enjoyable when Pournelle manages to rope in his didactism (e.g., The Gripping Hand, Footfall).

-- MartinZarate


CategoryAuthor, CategoryScienceFiction

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