Larry Niven Biography

Larry Niven (Laurence van Cott Niven) was born on April 30th 1938, in Los Angeles, California.  In 1956 he entered the California Institute of Technology, only to flunk out a year and a half later after discovering a bookstore jammed with used science-fiction magazines.  Larry finally graduated with a B.A. in mathematics (and a minor in psychology) from Washburn University, Kansas, in 1962, and completed one year of graduate work in mathematics at UCLA before dropping out to write. 

Larry's first published story, "The Coldest Place", appeared in the December 1964 issue of World of If.

Larry has been 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 and 2000ths, like Paul J. MCAULEY and Roger MacBride ALLEN, and one of Larry's own favorites, Stephen BAXTER owe much to the scope of Larry's inventiveness, the sense he conveys of technological ingenuity as being ultimately beneficial, and his cognitive exuberance.

Known Space

Larry is probably best known for his "Known Space" future history which to date contains over 30 short stories and novels which intermingle into a complex timeline dating from several billion years into prehistory into the fantastic future world of 3200 and beyond.

The Tales of Known Space, a title Larry himself selected for the sequence in a collection of stories originally published back in 1975, 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 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 Tree-of-Life virus necessary to transform humans into full-grown Paks not being available on Earth; the Pak protagonist of "Protector" (1967 Galaxy Magazine as "The Adults"; expanded to novel length 1973), set in human times, has traveled from afar at terribly 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 internal consistency 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 10 (currently 9 have been published) SHARED-WORLD anthologies, The Man-Kzin Wars I to IX.

Perhaps the most famous of the Known Space titles is "Ringworld" which earned Larry both the Hugo and the Nebula awards in 1970 and the Australian Ditmar Award in 1972. Ringworld features the alien Puppeteers, who are fleeing the explosion at the Galaxy's core which will within 20,000 years make most of the galaxy uninhabitable, and who enlist human and Kzinti 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 Teela Brown, 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. The Ringworld story continued in 1980 with "The Ringworld Engineers" and then again in 1996 with "The Ringworld Throne". Larry is currently working on the fourth novel in the series "Ringworld's Children" which hopefully should be ready for publication soon. The movie rights to Ringworld were sold to Robert Mandell and despite persistent rumors, of directors producers and actors being assigned to the project fans are still waiting for the official "go ahead" for the movie of the novel.

In the interstices of this joyfully complicated galactic structure, humanity enters space, solves problems in BIOLOGY and GENETIC ENGINEERING, benefits from local TELEPORTATION and the discovery 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. Short stories and collections of short stories in which Known Space activities are dramatized include: "Neutron Star" (coll 1968); "The Shape of Space" (coll 1969), much of which is reassembled in "Convergent Series" (coll 1979); "All the Myriad Ways" (coll 1971); "Inconstant Moon" (coll 1973 UK; cut 1974), which was assembled from The Shape of Space and All the Myriad Ways; "Tales of Known Space" (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).

LN's late collections -- like "Niven'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 resort earlier material no longer currently in print, although these themselves are now becoming hard to find.

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. In 1999 Larry revisited his old time-travelling friend Svetz in the well-received and sf comedy "Rainbow Mars" in which a gigantic "Beanstalk" is sucking the red planet dry.

Magic and Collaborations

In the mid seventies Larry's 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 a heavy-handed spacewar which was 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 its apparently 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. Jerry and Larry are currently working on a sequel to this: "Purgatorio". Larry and Jerry also wrote the successful "The Burning City" (2000) set in the world of The Magic Goes Away which took almost eight years to write; they are currently working on the sequel to this: Burning Tower.

"Lucifer's Hammer" (1977) by Jerry and Larry is a long, ambitious disaster novel where comets hit the earth. It is Interesting to compare Hammer to other similar plots of the same genre, i.e. the movies Deep Impact and Armageddon; which prevented most of the worst of the impacts, Lucifer's Hammer's real strength lies in its descriptions of the aftermath, and of what humanity has to do to survive in the broken world of destruction and drowning.

In "Oath of Fealty" (1981) a Los Angeles arcology -- without the aid of an ineffective, 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 US Government 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 one protagonist's eyes at millions of years of human history; "The Magic Goes Away" (1977), a fantasy in which MAGIC is treated as a nonrenewable resource; 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), Saturn's Race (2000) all with Barnes.


Niven was awarded the Skylark Award in 1973 (Officially the "Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction"), is given annually by the New England Science Fiction Association, for significant contribution to SF in the spirit of the writer E.E. "Doc" Smith.


  • 1970 Ringworld (Best Novel)


  • 1967 Neutron Star (Best Short Story)
  • 1971 Ringworld (Best Novel)
  • 1972 Inconstant Moon (Best Short Story)
  • 1975 The Hole Man (Best Short Story)
  • 1976 The Borderland of Sol (Best Short Story)


  • 1970 Ringworld (Best Novel)
  • 1980 The Convergent Series (Single Author Collection)
  • 1984 The Integral Trees (Best Novel)
  • 2001 The Missing Mass (Best Short Story)

Ringworld (1972) and Protector (1973) also won Ditmars, an Australian award for Best International Science Fiction.

Fallen Angels also won the Prometheus Award in 1992 for Best Novel and the Seiun Award (from Japan), for Foreign Novel in 1998.

The Locus Magazine website contains a very thorough list of all award nominations for Larry's works.

Larry Niven's nonliterary interests include backpacking with the Boy Scouts, science-fiction conventions, supporting the conquest of space, and AAAS meetings and other gatherings of people at the cutting edge of the sciences.


  • Grolier's Science Fiction Encyclopedia
  • Larry Niven Biography - Limits
  • Locus Magazine Website

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