Laurence van Cott Niven, American Science Fiction writer. b 1938

"I wrote for a solid year and collected nothing but rejection slips"

Larry Niven is one of the greats among science fiction writers, a creator of credible universes and worlds, creatures and cultures. Born in Los Angeles on 30th April 1938, he attended California Institute of Technology in 1956 but left after a year after discovering science fiction. He later (1962) gained a degree in mathematics from Washburn University, but began writing after only a year of graduate study.

His first publication was 1964, for his short story The Coldest Place, which was published in If magazine. He continued to write, bolstered up financially by a trust fund left to him by his oil-rich grandfather, notably a number of short stories in his "Known Space".

Known Space

"Known Space" began with his 1965 short story At the Core, which introduced the race of Pierson's Puppeteers, the traders of Known Space, and which set the scene for a remarkable literary series which arguably culminated in his 'Ringworld series of novels.

The universe he created was populated with a diverse and actually credible set of alien races, each with it's own culture and history: the Puppeteers, the Kzin, the Outsiders, and although not strictly "alien", dolphins (with whom we'd learned to communicate). The richness with which he has drawn these aliens is extraordinary; not just their physiology but their psychology and motives are explored, and he's unafraid to create some of them (Puppeteers are a prime example) as more than just "humans-with-different-facial-features" like Klingons.

The sphere of human space was equally different, too. The worlds which mankind inhabits are not the friendly places we might expect, but all too often, were niche environments. A series of badly-programmed automated scout vessels found inhabitable places on otherwise hostile planets; Jinx, with very narrow bands fit for habitation, and Plateau, whose only habitable point was just that - the top of a several-mile-high mountain.

Life on Earth is changed by the development of cheap teleportation, and as a consequence, "...Beirut resembled Munich and Resht...and San Francisco and Topeka and London..." (Ringworld) and "fashions changed everywhere, all at once".

Ringworld and later

It was his creation of the Ringworld series which really placed him on the SF writing map. The first novel in the trilogy won him both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and attracted a worldwide readership of millions. The Ringworld was a modification of the Dyson Sphere, whose civilisation had collapsed, and whose rescue took place over the whole series.

The Smoke Ring was another popular and fabulous world, which he wrote about in The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, and his many collaborations include work with Jerry Pournelle, Steven Barnes and Michael F. Flynn.


Hugo Best Short story winner (1967) : Neutron Star
Nebula Best Novel winner (1970) : Ringworld
Hugo Best Novel winner (1971) : Ringworld
Hugo Best Short story winner (1972) : Inconstant Moon
Hugo Best Short story winner (1975) : The Hole Man
Hugo Best Novellette winner (1976) : The Borderland of Sol


World of Ptavvs (1966)
A Gift from Earth (1968)
Ringworld (1970)
The Flying Sorcerors (1971) (with David Gerrold)
The Flight of the Horse (1973)
Protector (1973)
Inconstant Moon (1974)
The Mote in God's Eye (1975) (with Jerry Pournelle)
Inferno (1976) (with Jerry Pournelle)
The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton (1976)
A World Out of Time (1976)
Lucifer's Hammer (1977) (with Jerry Pournelle)
The Patchwork Girl (1980)
The Ringworld Engineers (1980)
Dreampark (1981) (with Steven Barnes)
The Descent of Anansi (1982) (with Steven Barnes)
Oath of Fealty (1982) (with Jerry Pournelle)
The Integral Trees (1984)
The Time of the Warlock (1984)
Footfall (1985) (with Jerry Pournelle)
Limits (1985)
The Legacy of Heorot (1987) (with Steven Barnes and Jerry Pournelle)
The Smoke Ring (1987)
The Barsoom Project (1989) (with Steven Barnes)
Achilles' Choice (1991)
Fallen Angels (1991) (with Michael F Flynn and Jerry Pournelle)
The California Voodoo Game (1992) (with Steven Barnes)
The Gripping Hand (1993) (with Jerry Pournelle)
The Dragons of Heorot (1995) (with Steven Barnes and Jerry Pournelle)
The Ringworld Throne (1996)
Destiny's Road (1997)
Rammer (1997)
The Best of All Possible Wars : The Best of the Man-Kzin Wars (1998)
Choosing Names : Man-Kzin Wars VIII (1998)
Rainbow Mars (1999)
The Burning City (2000) (with Jerry Pournelle)
Saturn's Race (2000) (with Steven Barnes)
Burning Tower (2001) (with Jerry Pournelle)


Neutron Star (1968)
A Hole in Space (1974)
Tales of Known Space (1975)
Convergent Series (1979)
Three Books of Known Space (1989)
N-Space (1990)
Playgrounds of the Mind (1991)
Crashlander (1994)

Short Stories

Becalmed In Hell (1965)
Wrong Way Street (1965)
At the Core (1966)
Neutron Star (1966)
A Relic of the Empire (1966)
The Ethics of Madness (1967)
Flatlander (1967)
Handicap (1967)
The Handicapped (1967)
The Jigsaw Man (1967)
The Long Night (1967)
Safe at Any Speed (1967)
The Soft Weapon (1967)
All the Myriad Ways (1968)
Grendel (1968)
Wait It Out (1968)
Death by Ecstasy (1969)
The Flight of the Horse (1969)
Not Long Before the End (1969)
Leviathan (1970)
The Fourth Profession (1971)
Inconstant Moon (1971)
Rammer (1971)
There's a Wolf in My Time Machine (1971)
Cloak of Anarchy (1972)
What Good Is a Glass Dagger? (1972)
The Alibi Machine (1973)
The Hole Man (1974)
A Kind of Murder (1974)
Plaything (1974)
ARM (1975)
The Borderland of Sol (1975)
The Children of the State (part 3) (1976)
Down and Out (1976)
Mistake (1976)
Cruel and Unusual (1977)
Grammar Lesson (1977)
Rotating Cylinders and the Possibility of Global Causality Violation (1977)
The Subject is Closed (1977)
The Magic Goes Away (1978)
The Locusts (1979) (with Steven Barnes)
The Green Marauder (1980)
The Real Thing (1982)
The Integral Trees (part 3 of 4) (1983)
The Integral Trees (part 4 of 4) (1984)
The Warriors (1988)
Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing (1989)
The Return of William Proxmire (1989)
The Wishing Game (1989)
Madness Has Its Place (1990)
Procrustes (1993)
The South Los Angeles Broadcasting System (1993)
Song of the Night People (1995)
Bordered in Black
Cautionary Tales
Convergent Series
The Deadlier Weapon
Dry Run
Like Banquo's Ghost
The Meddler
Night on Mispec Moor
The Nonesuch
One Face
The Schumann Computer
Singularities Make Me Nervous
Transfer of Power

Please notify me if I missed anything in this bibliography
Grolier's Science Fiction Encyclopedia
various book notes

One of the unique things about Larry Niven is the way he deals with aliens. Of course different writers come up with different ideas of what non-human sentient species would be like, but Larry Niven's ideas are rather interesting.

This is primarily because he bothers to set up an elaborate social structure for each of the species he introduces. For example the Moties (Mote in the God's eye) have a social structure where everyone fits into a particular occupational niche. The Pak (Protector) (who incidentally are the species from whom humans descended) have a different culture with emphasis only on reproduction and survival. Puppeteers are cowards, Kzin are insanely aggressive, and the Outsiders are probably the most interesting(and romantic) of all. They spend their time making trips to the galactic center and back at sub-light speeds tracking starseeds.

Niven's accurate treatment of scientific topics and his creative use of alternative worlds is outstanding too.

His well thought-out and highly-credible Ringworld (an artifact world along the lines of a modified Dyson sphere) and the barely credible, but just possible world of The Smoke Ring (a free-fall environment in the gaseous envelope surrounding the core of a gas giant - introduced in his 'The Integral Trees') are masterpieces of imagination. This adds to his reputation and readability, and makes him one of the most oustanding science fiction writers of all time.

This, with his treatment of possible alien species (I agree heartily with Suvrat above) means that he is, for me, a 'must-read' author.

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