[title] The Incompleat Known Space Concordance    

Articles: Alternate Views of Known Space

Editor's note: Articles in this section extrapolate beyond the canon of Known Space, and in some cases may be incompatible with canon. All articles are copyright by the author(s). The ideas and opinions expressed in these articles are theirs, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website's editor.


The Tnuctipun Plot
by Simon and Philip Hibbs, with help from the larryniven-l list

The Tnuctipun Plot (TTP) started out as a post to the larryniven-l list, and to alt.books.larry-niven. Part 1 of this text is pretty much the original text of the post, with only minor corrections. Part 2 consists of a number of elaborations on the plot.

Part 1: The Basic Plot
by Simon Hibbs

A few things bother me about the outcome of the war between the Tnuctipun and the Thrintun [see Tnuctipun-Slaver War]. The Tnuctipun must have realised that victory was not guaranteed. Surely, they must have had a backup plan?

"Thrint" by Bonnie Dalzell
Copyright © 1975

This post is not intended to be the last word on the Thrintun plans. It's all simply a series of unsubstantiated hypotheses and theories. I'm sure there are holes in my arguments, and I'm not claiming any particular authority or expertise in the study of known space.

I came up with this theory long before reading "Down in Flames", but whereas DiF relies on discarding or modifying 'known' facts about known space from some of the novels, I have worked as closely as I can within the accepted known space corpus of material.

I openly welcome comments on the following article, either supporting or rebutting any of the points raised. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had dreaming it up.

The Tnuctipun plot :
1. Genetically modify various food yeast strains with pre-programmed genes to jump-start the evolution process, and guide subsequent evolution down certain paths. Food yeast strain programmes are tailored to the planet's environment. This is why terran biology and Pak homewold biology are so compatible— they share the same pre-programmed evolutionary sequence. See end notes for details.

2. The food yeast evolutionary programs are designed to simultaneously (in evolutionary terms) produce sentient life forms on many different worlds throughout the galaxy.

3. Precipitate a galaxy-wide civil war against the Thrintun, but secretly put the Tnuctipun homeworlds into stasis in the galactic rim, out of harm's way.

4. Set the homeworld stasis fields to switch off after the development of sentient life forms, but before the life forms have had time to develop more than rudimentary interstellar technologies (by comparison with the Tnuctipun, anyway). Say, about 2 billion years. This also leaves enough time for the suicide command to fade, including any echoes off nearby galaxies.

5. Seed the galactic core with anti-matter bombs timed to trigger a core explosion at about the same time as the homeworlds are due to come out of stasis.

6. Run a planetary shield technology 'protection racket', saving a selection of the evolved species. This will place them in debt to the Tnuctipun, the new 'saviours' of galactic civilisation. An ideal starting point for a program of total galactic domination.

7. Rule a galactic empire, populated with slave and prey species.

8. Game Over.

Secondary Hypotheses :
1. The starseeds were designed by the Tnuctipun as biological probes. Their life cycle takes them from the galactic rim to the core and back. When the Tnuctipun come out of stasis in the galactic rim, they can examine the starseed's breeding patterns and remains, which form a continuous record of conditions in the galactic core, and indeed the rest of the galaxy, over the last few billion years. The core phase of the starseed's life cycle is designed to be dependent on interaction with the core explosion triggering mechanisms. This way, all the Tnuctipun need to do to check on the status of the core detonation systems is examine the starseeds.

This is why the Outsiders are so interested in the starseeds. The starseed nesting sites in the rim are a clue to the locations of the Tnuctipun homeworlds. Perhaps the Outsiders developed the starseed lure in order to interfere with the Tnuctipun plans?

2. The Tnuctipun must be aware of the dangers presented by Thrint that survived the great war in stasis. Indeed, one of their strategies was to force Thrint warships into stasis, thus taking them out of the fight during battles. Some of these warships are bound to have survived. Perhaps the Tnuctipun have a method of safely destroying stasis field boxes, without opening them? After they bring their homeworlds out of stasis, they could trigger a device that collapses all the stasis fields in the galaxy into singularities— bye, bye, Thrintun!

3. The Tnuctipun designed many strains of food yeast, tailored to the conditions on different worlds. Even the yeasts for similar worlds were sometimes varied to minimise the damage done if a particular strain proved to be flawed. The food yeast nuclei contained vast libraries of genetic code designed to activate in a programmed sequence. This accelerated the evolutionary process, and guided evolution in certain desirable directions. This is why we have so many seemingly redundant genes— the 'extra' genes are actually the libraries of Thrintun designed code. Pakhome and Terra must have been seeded with the same yeast strain, this is why human (Pak) molecular biology is so compatible with terran biology.

Unexplained mass extinctions in prehistory were caused by the timed release of viruses from the DNA libraries. Each phase of evolution is allowed to continue until certain species have evolved to a particular stage, then the viruses wipe out undesired species, freeing up evolutionary niches for the next phase.

I'm not suggesting that the Thrintun could control evolution to such an extent that they could control the specific characteristics of the 'end product' species beyond general biological parameters. Their aim was probably just to accelerate the evolutionary process, and make sure it resulted in sentient species within a desired time frame. This is just enough to ensure that terran and Pakhome biochemistry will be highly compatible.

The Tnuctipun would have spread individual strains widely apart, to prevent a star faring species from finding biologies that were too similar for it to be a coincidence. The fact that the Pak colonists found Earth was pure luck. (!)

The Trinocs are a bit of a problem because their biology is so different from anyone else's. Perhaps their world suffered a catastrophic trauma such as an asteroid impact or a geological event that wrecked the Thrintun tailored gene program. Perhaps the Trinocs were designed to be the way they are after all. Who knows?

The Ringworld
There really aren't many suspects when it comes to figuring out who the Ringworld Engineers were. None of the main Known Space species fit the bill, including the Puppeteers. This only leaves a few possibilities:

1. The Tnuctipun — These guys are a possibility, but why would they build the ring? It's certainly not two billion years old and the idea that some Tnuctipun would come out of stasis and build a ring then go away again is bizarre. However, it may well have been built using Tnuctipun technology.

2. The Pak — Favourite contenders with many, The Pak are resourceful and ingenious. They also certainly colonised the ring at some point, though breeders may have been seeded there by an external agency. Still, why would they do it? No particularly brilliant reasons spring to mind. There are at least six good reasons why not.

Outsider, by Alan Michaud
copyright © 2001 by Xlibris Corp.

3. The Outsiders — What is it with these guys anyway? What yanks their chain? Jayson Vantuyl has some ideas. If I'm right about the Tnuctipun planning on conquering the Galaxy, I can't see the Outsiders being very keen on the idea. We know they follow star seeds around and I suspect that the star seeds are part of the Tnuctipun's nefarious schemes. The star seed lures would be a possible way of interfering with them.

continued next column
What are the Outsiders going to do about the Tnuctipun threat? They don't exactly look like born warriors, so presumably they want someone else to do their fighting for them. Who's up to the task?

Kzin are ferocious fighters, but humans have got their measure. What's tougher than humans? — Human protectors of course!

A human protector attacks
art by Cortney Skinner
copyright © 1980 by Galileo Magazine

If you want an army to fight the Tnuctipun, protectors make ideal troops. They're smart, resourceful, tenacious, fearless, long lived and robust. But Pak protectors have many disadvantages too, they're just too single minded and not very creative. Also, you can't really reason or negotiate with them.

So, you want protectors and lots of them. To do that, you need lots of breeders. In fact, you need enough breeders to make a galactic army of protectors. You need trillions of them, and you need them in one place so you can monitor and control the project— having them scattered on hundreds of worlds is not a viable option if you want to keep control. Also, you need to have a way of wiping them all out if the project goes wrong.

Finally, you don't want to have protectors all over the place messing around with your plans, you just want breeders. Of course, without protectors the breeder population will diversify. This is good, because it makes your protector army more diverse and flexible.

So, what do you do? You build a Ringworld, seed it with breeders, eliminate all the protectors, keep a stash of tree of life handy for when Armageddon day comes and you watch, and wait.....

Perhaps the Outsiders have their own Project Cherubim [see A Darker Geometry, in Man-Kzin Wars VII —ed.].

Perhaps simply the threat of a trillion protectors would be enough to force the Tnuctipun to negotiate, after all it's really a doomsday weapon. If it was ever used, the galaxy would never be the same again. If anything goes wrong, you use the solar laser to wipe out the breeders, or sever the scrith wire holding the shadow squares together. The impact of the shadow squares on the ring should do the trick. I wouldn't be surprised if there's more than one Ringworld— one is too vulnerable and it would be hard to co-ordinate simultaneous strikes against two rings in different parts of the galaxy at the same time.

Part 2: Elaborations on the Plot

The Outsiders in TTP
by Philip Hibbs
Note that this is pretty much all my own theorising, building on TTP, none of this has any solid basis in Larry Niven's writings.

The Outsiders inhabit most of the nearby galaxies. They were around in this galaxy at the time of the Slaver Empire, and when the Thrintun discovered them, they ordered the Tnuctipun to wipe them out (they couldn't stand the fact that Outsiders are immune to the Power). This the Tnuctipun dutifully did, but some of the free Tnuctipun got some ideas from the Outsider physiology. They used what they learned to breed the starseeds, which they would later use as a mechanism for monitoring the conditions at the galactic core. The Slaver war happens, and for a billion years there is nothing but evolving food yeast and starseeds in the galaxy. Then some more Outsiders show up— the Tnuctipun never knew that they were an intergalactic race.

They spot the starseeds, and realise that something very strange is happening in this galaxy. So, they follow the starseeds, and over the course of a billion years, work out what they are up to. This puts the willies up the outsiders— something wiped out their kin in this galaxy, and it's still around! This won't do. So, they set about preparing to deal with these impertinent hotlife when they show up again. They notice the Pak, and their colony world (Earth), and have the idea that these protectors can be used as an anti-Tnuctipun device. They build the ring, and populate it. In order that their precious plan doesn't get disturbed, they monitor any traffic going towards or away from the ring, and make sure that no protectors are among them.

They spot the Home protectors heading off on a genocide mission towards the core, and this distracts them from the ring long enough for the inhabitants to sneak off with a load of attitude jets. Maybe the Home protectors defeat the Outsiders, and this screws up their plans in a big way. The remainder of the Outsiders decide to abandon this galaxy to its fate, maybe drop in for a look in another billion years, and stop worrying about the ring. They therefore allow the Puppeteers to find it. The stage is set for a four-way battle between:

  • The Pak (they hate everybody)
  • Humans, Puppeteers, Kzin, Kdatlyno, etc.
  • The Tnuctipun
  • The various hominid Protectors, who have a real hard time working out whose side to be on, the Pak and Tnuctipun are the most serious enemies, and kicking off against the hominids' various allies and neighbours is just asking for trouble.
Shortly after I wrote this, Jayson Vantuyl came up with some better ideas about the Outsiders. Eventually I'll incorporate them.
The Pak Come to Earth
by Philip Hibbs

When did the Pak come to Earth? Niven tells us that they came this way three times:

1. The colony ship that came here two million years ago, bringing our ancestors, which failed due to the tree-of-life (TOL) crop failing.

2. Phssthpok's rescue mission, based on an ancient laser message in an obsolete language, which says that they found what they thought was a suitable planet, but that TOL would not grow properly.

3. The Pak fleet that Brennan-monster discovered, and Truesdale and the Home protectors went off to intercept.

We only have Truesdale's word for this last one, there has been no corroborating evidence since. I'm unsure whether the warning message that comprises the last couple of pages of Protector ever got to humanity.

This still leaves unexplained the overwhelming similarity between Earth and Pak biology. Garner and Sohl said to Brennan that there is considerable evidence that we evolved here alongside everything else, and all that Brennan says is "I have a few ideas about that". That is absolutely typical of protector mentality, he presumed that we would not understand, or it would take to long to explain— we're like children to them.

In my opinion, there must have been a prior pak expedition to Earth. Lets presume it was 65 million years ago. They had no idea what they were going to find out here, there might not be anything that was remotely edible to a breeder. So, they would bring along a potted ecosystem— everything from viruses and bacteria, through plankton, plants, insects, fish, scavengers, herbivores and maybe the odd carnivore, but maybe not. Plus, of course, breeders.

They found Earth, full of dinosaurs, and decided that it was probably the best bet. It may have started from the same food yeast strain, which would help. They seed the environment with all the enabling lifeforms, which begin adapting the atmosphere, reducing the oxygen content towards a comfortable level, and killing off the dinosaurs as it did so. Once the place was getting towards being suitable for habitation, they established a base on the planet, and moved out of orbit. The protective wrapping of an atmosphere is better than any shielding device that they had.

However, something goes wrong. An enormous meteor suddenly appears, and BOOM— all their breeders get wiped out. They do the decent thing, and send a laser message back to the Pak homeworld, telling them that there's a planet here that will soon be ripe for colonisation. The library protectors file it away, and it is lost for sixty million years.

A tiny fragment of this message, almost entirely illegible but just enough can be decoded to work out that is contains instructions on how to get to a particular planet, is found— and the second expedition is launched. By Phssthpok's time, no trace of the original mission can be found, it is all lost in among the details of the second mission.

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The Tnuctipun Aren't Done
by Steve Davidson

Like many readers, I count the Puppeteers among my favorite Niven aliens. From the basic concept of an herbivore developing sentience out of a need to avoid predators, to their surprising physical makeup, Puppeteers are truly unique.

When I read Ringworld for the first time, long before the sequels, long before the Ringworld Role-playing Game, I was truly surprised that the identity of the builders was never revealed. It was a great question for Niven to leave us. The Puppeteer psychology that the novel revealed told us a lot, but left a huge number of questions as well, particularly since Nessus declared himself to be insane.

I read most of the remaining Niven canon of the time— Protector, Tales of Known Space, All the Myriad Ways, World of Ptavvs, everything extant up to the mid-seventies. Of all the facts and history I learned, two came together in my mind. The Tnuctipun had genetically engineered the Bandersnatchi, stage trees, sunflowers and other species. The Puppeteers manipulated the evolution of humans and Kzinti, if not other species. The similarity was intriguing.

We know less about the Tnuctipun than we do about the Puppeteers (or so we think). They were a slave race. They were enslaved for their technological capabilities, including a major talent for genetic engineering— Stage Trees, Sunflowers, Bandersnatchi.

Some of their artifacts have been found inside stasis fields. Physically, the Tnuctipun were small, toothy and very, very carnivorous.

Artist concept of a Tnuctip
by Todd Hamilton
Copyright © 1994 by Bill Fawcett & Associates

Thrintun domination was so complete that the Tnuctipun were enslaved despite their technological capabilities. From various clues, we’ve gleaned the idea that a successful revolt against the Slaver Empire was only accomplished at the expense of all sentient life in the galaxy. The Tnuctipun also presumably spent generations formulating and executing their plan, and it probably involved turning all of their genetically engineered tools against the Thrintun.

Of Puppeteers: We know that they are fleeing the core explosion with their entire population aboard the Fleet of Worlds. We know that they have dominated Known Space through an economic empire that sells high technology. We know that they’ve manipulated human evolution with the birthright lotteries in an attempt to create the Teela Brown gene. They’ve done the same with the Kzinti, with the aim of pacifying them. All of this presumably to insure greater safety for their race, an expression of their herd-herbivore need to clear the grasslands of predators.

There are a great many similarities between the Puppeteers and the Tnuctipun— high technology, genetic manipulation. I started thinking about these similarities and where they might lead. Just how deeply were they connected?

Consider: What sentient species would revolt at the expense of all sentient life in the galaxy? That’s not revolt, it's suicide. The Tnuctipun must have developed a plan that would allow for their victory and survival. Maybe the death of everyone is just good propaganda.

There’s a need for good propaganda. If you had just successfully revolted against a galaxy-spanning empire of Slavers with telepathic mind control, you’d hope desperately that none have survived. And if they have, you don’t want them looking for you. In fact, it would be a pretty good idea if any survivors believed that your entire species had been utterly eliminated.

And just in case, wouldn’t it be wise to put on a disguise? If anyone does come looking, you don’t want to be recognized.

continued next column
Now, what kind of creature would never, ever, literally in a million years, be mistaken for a short, bipedal, meat-eating carnivore? How about an herbivore? How about a three-legged, two-headed one? That's right— the Tnuctipun turned themselves into Puppeteers.

"Puppeteer" by Bonnie Dalzell
Copyright © 1975

If the Tnuctipun can engineer Bandersnatchi, I certainly think they’d be capable of altering their own species. Perhaps they secretly did so while they were plotting against the Thrintun. Even if the Thrintun discovered the Puppeteer colonies, what would they do with them? Turn them into gardeners?

Original Puppeteer colonies would not be aware of their true history; if they don’t know who they really are, they can’t give anything away. Presumably some mechanism existed that would reveal their identity under special future circumstances. Maybe this has already been revealed to the species we know now as Pierson’s Puppeteers, or maybe it hasn’t. Maybe the Dead Sphere Scrolls are waiting to be found in a stasis sphere somewhere.

What do we really know about ancient galactic history? Where does our information about Slavers and Bandersnatchi and Sunflowers come from? Could it be yet more Puppeteer propaganda? Hmmmmm.

The Puppeteers have self-admittedly been moving worlds for at least half a million years. Their true origins have never been revealed. Puppeteers seem to be in the habit of giving up only enough information to achieve a desired result. In the grand scheme of their flight through Known Space there is no effective difference between ‘half-a-million’ and ‘half-a-billion’.

General Products hulls are so far beyond any other Known Space technologies that no one has yet discovered their secret. Stepping Discs are revolutionizing transportation. These don’t strike me as technologies that were developed by a race just slightly ahead of other regional sapients.

In "The Soft Weapon", Nessus claims that the stasis box was purchased from the Outsiders. Inside the box is the Tnuctip spy weapon we’re familiar with. Its shape provides one of our major clues to the physiology of the Tnuctipun. But how can we trust any of this information when we have no way of verifying Nessus’ claims? The stasis box and its contents could have come from anywhere. Perhaps its destruction was necessary to concealing its actual origins.

Why are the Puppeteers really running? Sure, sure, the core is exploding. More than likely, Beowulf Shaeffer only saw whatever the Puppeteers wanted him to see. Who knows what they were looking for in those tapes of the trip to the core? What’s the real reason for their paranoia about what lies ahead of their path? Maybe they’re really searching for Slavers. From what we’ve seen, Tnuctipun-created animals and plants are all over the Ringworld… (and the Puppeteers seem to know an awful lot about it.)

And, of course, there’s Larry. Larry seems to like red herrings. I’m always looking for the real explanation behind the explanation. And then I wait for the other shoe to drop. Who doesn’t expect to find out that everything they’ve come to believe is just another cover story when it comes to Known Space?

So far as I know, nothing in the canon contradicts this theory. If the new information found in Fleet of Worlds has taught us anything, it is that the Puppeteers have many secrets. Maybe a few more than we suspect.

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An Outsider Motivation for Building the Ring
by Jayson Vantuyl

Assuming the Tnutipun Evil Plot ["The Tnuctipun Plot"] and that Outsiders were not a power in the Galaxy at the time of the [Tnuctipun-]Slaver War (they seem to likely be of extragalactic origin):

Problem: Outsiders recognize Tnuctipun as possible threat.

Solution: Eliminate threat

Problem: Outsiders don't want to do the dirty work.

Solution: Get the races of Known Space to do it. The Puppeteers are the only sufficiently developed race in / about Known Space. Give them the technology to make the species of Known Space sufficiently spacefaring that they'll be ready for the war. Likely similar other programs elsewhere. Wait for races to discover / trade with the Puppeteers. Build the Ringworld to become a headquarters in the war. Seed it with races isolated on the maps with plans to move them to more breeding room when the time comes.

Problem: Discovery of the Pak

Solution: Wipe out fleeing Pak from Pakhome. Use the information gained to supercharge your army.

Problem: Protectors are really, really mean.

Solution: Soften them. The Earthers seem less aggressive. This is likely due to a more advanced breeder stage, cultural differences, and a long greater independence on protectors. Genetic manipulation is best done passively. Seed the Ring with hominids. Work them to be more dependent on each other, so their protectors might be able to cooperate. Presumably we caught the breeding plan before it complete. Why?

Problem: Ring is being interfered with by hominid civilization that developed.

continued next column
Implications: Assumption that low raw-material would prevent appreciable civilizations was wrong.

Solution: Have Puppeteers eliminate the civilization.

Problem: Ring is off balance due to lack of attitude jets.

Solution: Have Puppeteers send an expedition that might repair it.

The Outsiders have always appeared to have little interest in other races because they are just so darn powerful. Perhaps they realize that it is easier to get someone else to do it. The best motivation is self interest. Put the humans in a situation where they, who accidentally have proven to be a very good warrior, in a situation where they don't have a choice.

The Outsiders tipped their hand in Ringworld Throne. Why was their ship there?

The core explosion will eventually force humans off of Earth. When we let them "discover" the ring, it'll be the perfect place for all of the Races of Known Space to prepare for the coming war. What comes with them? The basic infrastructure of a Ringworld space fleet and the Teela Genes. When it comes that the humans are indistinguishible from the natives and the ways of space lanes are established with the Ring at its center, the war begins. What do the Outsiders care? It's hotlife. The only thing special about the Tnuctipun is that they made the starseeds. Start messing with things on a galactic scale, you're in Outsider territory. Why else would the Outsiders eventually make the Ring population so diverse? Fragmentation. A galactic civilization composed of all the races of Known Space will be too fragmented to ever be a unified threat. To make sure they're all being made docile. The Humans Teela Genes, the friendly protectors of the ring, the newly docile Kzin— all made docile (but not impotent) by the first race we made so docile yet quietly dangerous, our first henchmen, the Puppeteers.

—Jayson Vantuyl

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Six Good Reasons Why the Pak Didn't Build the Ringworld
by Simon Hibbs

1. The idea that Pak protectors would suddenly decide that their non-sentient, essentially helpless breeder stage is better off wthout protectors to look after them is ludicrous. They'd also know that the breeders would mutate from studying the Earth breeder colony. Letting that happen is simply unthinkable to a pak protector.

2. The Protectors would have known about the Kzin, Grogs, Humans, Martians, etc. and rather than wipe them out, as Brennan-monster and Phssthpok wiped out the Martians on Mars, they brought them to the ring and gave them a nice cozy home to live in, right next door to the breeders, and withing spitting distance (in ring terms) of the command centre for the entire ring. Yeah, right, good move!

3. The theory presupposes that the Ringworld engineer protectors found the records of the failed Earth colony and followed its path in secret. If it was a secret, why did they leave records of the Earth expedition in the great Library on Pakhome? Suppose some protector decided to go on some fool errand to rescue them with a load of thallium oxide, or suppose a Pak family decided to conquer Earth for itself? They'd have a planet full of protectors from Earth right on the doorstep of the ring!

4. Pak protector technology doesn't use automated control systems. Phssthpok flew all the way from the galactic core on manual, without so much as a rudimentary autopilot. They just don't trust automatics, yet the ring is completely automated, from the flup dredges and recycling system, to the attitude control jets and the meteor defense laser.

continued next column
5. Why only build one ringworld? When you finish one, why not just build another, and another, and another? You've got something better to do? Suppose there are other ringworlds aout there, would they let this one alone, knowing it's packed with a trillion potential protectors of radicaly different bloodlines?

6. Who keeps killing off the protectors that sporadically get created on the ring? Somebody must be doing it. Why are there any attitude control jets still in place? If I were a new protector on the ring, the first thing I'd do it put a bunch of juvenile breeders of my species on an attitude control jet ramship, with one adult and a time released store of tree-of-life. Launch the ramship and let the timer release the tree-of-life and turn the adult into a protector. When he wakes up he's already on a fast trajectory away from the ring. His mission is to establish the species on new worlds away from the ring, helping guarantee the long term survival of the species, whatever happens on the ring. It's simply the optimum survival strategy. (Your mileage may vary on this, any other ideas?)

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What the Hell is Jinx?
by "Republibot 3.0"

As everyone who reads Larry Niven knows, "Jinx" is a human colony world in his Known Space universe, and another in his long line of only-marginally-habitable locations that humans live in. For starters, it’s not even a planet: It’s a moon of a Jovian world called "Primary" (in some stories; in others it’s called "Binary"). Jinx — so named because they evidently lost several colony ships en route, and found the place fairly uncomfortable when they got there, so they suspected the place was bad luck — is physically larger than earth, and quite a bit denser, with around six times the mass of our own world, and a surface gravity of 1.78 Gs. (For those not adept in such things, that means that if you’re a 100 lb girl on earth, you’d weigh 178 pounds on Jinx, and if you’re a 200 lb guy, you’d weigh in at a chart-topping 356 pounds. Yikes!)

As with every moon we actually know of, Jinx is tidally locked to Primary. That means that its period of rotation around its axis is the same as its period of rotation around the planet. Hence, just like our own moon, it keeps one hemisphere always pointed at the planet, and another pointed perpetually off into deep space. But what really makes Jinx unique is its shape:

It’s not round, it’s shaped like a football.

art by John Schoenherr
copyright © 1974 by Condé Nast Publications

Gravity naturally pulls everything towards the center, so this means that the extreme ends of the football are actually extending out of the atmosphere and into space. Both poles are literally in hard vacuum, so of course nothing can grow on ‘em. Picture them looking like the moon — grey and rocky. Let’s start from the North pole and head south [1] — after the grey moonscape of the pole, we come to a ‘temperate’ zone where there’s water, air, plants, and everything you need for human and animal life, and it’s similar to earth, though of course gravity is much higher. South of there we come to the tropics, which are as uninhabitable as the poles, though for the opposite reason: Air and water tend to pool up here in completely toxic levels, it’s super hot, uncomfortable, swampy, and awful. In addition, it’s populated with giant, occasionally crotchety Bandersnatchii, giant genetically engineered monocellular life forms who’d already been stuck on this moon for Finagle knows how long before the humans came. At the equator is a vast toroidal ocean. The other hemisphere is a mirror image of the north, so as we continue to work our way to the other pole we encounter nasty toxic swamps, a temperate, habitable region, and, of course, the other uninhabitable pole. Consequently Niven describes it as "Looking like God’s own Easter egg."

"How did such a thing come to be," you ask? Good question!

We’re told that back when the Sirius system was forming, Jinx coalesced too close to Primary, and was stretched in to an oblate spheroid shape by tidal forces from the planet it orbited. Its orbit must be very close to the Roche’s limit of Primary. For our purposes, that’s the point at which tidal stresses are stronger than the strength of rock itself, and a solid object will quickly disintegrate and form a ring. When the moon cooled, it was locked in to this shape forever, six hundred miles ‘out of round‘. I’ve long wondered if Jinx is sort of Niven’s homage to Hal Clement’s planet "Mesklin" from Mission of Gravity, a somewhat similarly oddball non-ball-shaped world by really the only other SF writer out there who was known for off-brand non-standardized planets. That’s not to say Mesklin and Jinx are the same, of course — Mesklin is shaped like a lens and Jinx is, as noted, a football, but from a topological viewpoint, a football can be considered the opposite of a lens.

The bottom line here, though, is that Jinx is super-cool and a very neat and unusual location in my own personal favorite fictional universe, and one that turns up again and again, worked through the woof and warp of the entire thing, and intrinsic and indispensable part of the structure of Known Space itself. I love the place.

It won’t work, though.

If we look at it closely, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Such a thing simply can not exist within the confines of the physical laws by which the real universe works. And while Niven has done end runs around a few of those laws in clever fashion, the existence of Jinx violates laws he hasn‘t futzed with. He doesn’t screw around with universal gravitation, for instance. Everything about Jinx was obviously intended to be plausible — if odd — when he first cooked it up back in 1965.

There’s several reasons why it won’t work. A couple of these are simply natural rules, others are plot-based things that require a bit more explanation, but, if you tough it through my rambling essay you’ll be rewarded with one possible way all this can make sense.

Firstly, we’re told that Jinx retained its weird shape because it had a solid core, which gave the moon some permanent rigidity. This is extremely unlikely for a number of reasons.

1) Rigid or no, be it a metal core, a rock core, or an alloy of the two, there is simply no way it would have the strength to retain that kind of shape with the massive amount of weight bearing down on both ends. It simply couldn’t happen, and if it did happen, it wouldn’t be able to retain the shape for very long. Gravity pulls things in to a stable shape eventually, and presently, even a solid metallic core shaped like a jellybean will eventually become yet another boring ol’ "Ball World." The only way around this is if the core is made of some kind of unobtanium or similar doubletalk element, and there’s no indication that it is in any of the stories.

2) It’s extremely unlikely that Jinx could have a solid core anyway. Granted, there’s a lot we don’t know about the fluid dynamics of planet-sized liquid-core planets, but all the evidence seems opposed to it, particularly in the case of a liquid core body in a close relationship to a substantial gravity well. Take, for instance, the earth, which barely seems to be cooling off at all. Our planet is four and a half billion years old, give or take, and according to some accounts our core appears to have cooled off only by about 100 degrees in the last billion years. Or take Io: it has the same abnormally close gravitational relationship with Jupiter that Jinx does with Primary, and as a consequence it is the most freakin’ volcanic place in the known universe! Tidal stresses on Io keep the core liquid and a-bubblin’ out through vents in the surface. Bottom line: Odds are that Primary would keep Jinx’s core from ever cooling off, but if it didn’t for some reason, it would still take 10 billion years or so for the core to solidify under normal conditions.

3) When it comes to the Sirius system, we just don’t have that much time to play around. All stars are not created equal. Our star is a "G" class, Sirius is an "A" spectral class, and there’s a whole bunch of different kinds of stars you can have. I don’t want to get too technical here, so let’s just work by allegory. If we’re to compare stars in the sky to musicians, G-class stars like our own sun are like Johnny Cash and Frank Sinatra in that they have very long, distinguished careers and keep crankin’ out the hits for generations. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you’d have the live-fast-die-young types, like Kurt Cobain and Janice Joplin, right? Well, Spectral Class A stars such as Sirius have life spans that are so amazingly short, they aren’t even up to that level. They’re more like Baltimora [2] — one odball hit, and then they’re gone [3]. Sirius has a life expectancy of about a billion years, total, and although it’s obviously used up a lot of that already, it’s clearly not a billion years old. So we really don’t have time for planets to form in the normal manner, and we certainly don’t have time for something as big and funky as Jinx to cool off and go rock-hard through and through.

So those are our physical limitations to explain why Jinx won’t work. This gives rise to some conflicts within the fictional parameters of Known Space that also don’t make sense:

In Known Space, there was a race called the "Thrint" or "Slavers" who ruled the galaxy long, long ago. Their numbers were so huge that they seeded entire planets with yeast, which grew on oceans yards thick, covering whole worlds, and then harvested the stuff just to feed their massive population. About 1.5 billion years ago, the Slavers were caught on the losing end of a revolution, and being really sore losers they used a super-powerful experimental mind control helmet to cause everything in the galaxy to commit suicide. Literally everything with a brain died, and the long, long road of evolution started over again almost from scratch [4]. Fortunately, however, they’d seeded a bajillion worlds with yeast, which eventually evolved into us on earth, the Kzin elsewhere, the Puppeteers on Hearth, and the Pak on Pak, and so forth, and presumably it evolved in to the indigenous plant and animal life on Jinx.

Except, of course, that the star Sirius wasn’t yet born a billion-and-a-half years ago, when the Slavers died out, and it’s a foregone conclusion then that neither did Primary nor Jinx.

The Bandersnatchii were genetically engineered to be impervious to Slaver telepathic powers, so they alone survived the apocalypse. The obvious intention is that they were imported to Jinx to feed on the yeast, and grow fat and ultimately be eaten, but of course, this makes no sense if neither the moon nor the star existed during the Slaver empire.

Bottom line: Jinx can not exist because (A) it violates physical laws, (B) it lacks the required time to form naturally and (C) it violates the internal continuity of Known Space.

The question, then, is "What the hell is Jinx?"

A lot of solutions have been suggested: Maybe it’s a great big Slaver ark inside a stasis bubble? Nope, won’t work. Deep-radar, which is standard technology in known space, would have recognized that in an instant on literally any scan of a planet or moon. Perhaps it’s some kind of super-strong unobtanium? Nope, won’t work: The stories tell us specifically that it’s just a solid core. Period, end of sentence, and that’s clearly what it’s intended to be. Maybe it’s an artifact? Slaver sculpture or yet another Big Dumb Object? Nope, won’t work: I’d accept that if it was a little hillbilly settlement way out on the fringes with a population of a few hundred people, but no, this is Jinx, the second largest colony world, and home of the Jinx Institute of Knowledge, the most advanced and prestigious seat of higher learning in human space. If there was anything unduly wonky about their home, they’d have noticed it. Added to which, Known Space already seems more than replete with Big Dumb Objects already, thank you very much. We’ve got Ringworld and the Fleet of Worlds, yet another one would seem a bit of a stretch.

I should point out, by the way, that even though these problems are objectively insurmountable, subjectively, from the context of the stories, they’re utterly trivial. They’re a dawdle, nothing at all, certainly not a deal breaker. The fact that Jinx doesn’t make scientific sense is in no way a condemnation of Known Space, which I love, and it in no way detracts from the richness of the universe as a whole. It’s barely even a ‘squint and try not to see it’ issue for most people.

But, you know, one of the great things about Known Space is the way things that won’t work get retconned into things that will. Take the Ringworld itself: a brilliant idea, but inherently unstable. Some engineers pointed this out to Mr. Niven, who wrote The Ringworld Engineers in order to incorporate a solution to his design flaw, and build a story around it. Or take the Fleet of Worlds — they’re running from the Core Explosion, yes? Traveling at high sublight velocities? But at that speed they’d be creating gamma radiation much harder than what they’re running away from, which means it makes no sense for them to be running at all. So what are they doing? The brilliant solution to this problem can be found in Niven’s fixup novel/anthology Crashlander.

Jinx has looooooooooooooong been one of those things crying out for a retcon to explain it, but Mr. Niven has left it alone, and probably will continue to do so. I presume simply because Jinx is so integral to the history of Known Space that any attempt to ‘fix’ it would result in way the hell too much tugging on the other threads of the story, screwing up continuity elsewhere, and it’s just too much effort to waste on a problem that most people don’t notice in the first place. I assume; I don’t know.

However, our esteemed host Lensman asked me to take a stab at coming up with an explanation for it, so here’s what I’ve come up with. I think you‘ll like it. I think you‘ll like the hell out of it, actually:

We have basically three very broad options —
1) Jinx is not natural
2) Jinx is natural
3) Jinx is something else.

We can discount the "Artificial" option right away. In order for it to be a construct masquerading as a moon with life forms on the surface who have no knowledge it’s a fake, and for that to happen within the well-less-than-a-billion-years we’ve got to play in, it just can’t happen. It’s not a Slaver construct, obviously, it’s too young. That leaves one of the older, hyper-tech races such as the Puppeteers, the Pak, or the Outsiders, or some similar species that we’ve never seen nor suspected existed until now. The Puppeteers simply wouldn’t do it. The Pak clearly didn’t since a map of Jinx is on the Ringworld, and thereby Jinx is at least more than a million years old. I know the Outsiders built "Cathouse," but that’s a Man/Kzin Wars story, and I think we all have occasional problems with the canonicity of some of those. Added to which: Why? What profit is there in it for them — or anyone — to build a big, goofy-looking planet-sized non-planet in the middle of nowhere, then making it look like an old Slaver yeast plantation, and stocking it with Bandersnatch who have somehow not noticed they got shooed along to another world at some point in their history? Clearly there is none. No profit could justify such an insane undertaking.

No, to argue that it’s a construct is to argue that there’s a vast alien conspiracy screwing around for millennia behind the scenes right in the middle of Known Space, either using Aliens we know, or — worse — ones we’ve never heard of. It makes less than no sense whatsoever. Can you make negative sense? If so, "Jinx as Artifact" fits in to that.

The next, and probably most likely option is that Jinx is natural. It can’t be. Flat out. Firstly, we’re expressly told that the moon lacks radioactive elements, which is weird and more-or-less unfathomable based on what we know of the natural formation of such large objects. Secondly, let’s assume you used your Starfleet Genesis Mark II Device ("85% Less Protomatter!") right now and created Jinx right now, it would instantly start collapsing itself in to a ball shape. Initially I thought this collapse might take a million years or so, and that Jinx could exist as-written for a very breif period of time, but Lensman pointed out that on the scale of a planet, rock has the shear strength of water.

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Realistically, we'd expect Jinx to collapse down to where the material could support its own weight very fast. On Earth, for instance, they say that a mine shaft cannot be sunk more than about seven miles. Deeper than that, the sides start becoming unstable. Lensman points out that this seems to go along with the height of the highest mountains; I think about seven miles is the limit on Earth. On Jinx, with its heavier gravity, the limit would be much, much lower.

Which brings us to the "Something Else" option:

Jinx is an animal!

No, really, think about it: What else could it be?

I’ll take you through my thought processes on this: My initial stab was ‘It looks like an egg, so maybe it actually is one?’ But I quickly realized that was ludicrous for a whole bunch of reasons. Firstly, it would posit the existence of a creature that’s at least superjovian size, and probably larger, which works fine in a pulp short story from the 30s, but it just doesn’t fit in Niven’s universe. Secondly, there’s just no logical way the Jinx Institute of Knowledge could be living on an egg and not know about it. And if such a creature exists, why aren’t there other eggs around? Why is Jinx unique?

Ok, so it’s not an egg, but it has to be alive in some way. So it’s an animal, or a plant. We have precedent in Known Space: The Starseeds. Stage trees too, at one point in their life cycle. Outsiders can exist comfortably in the vacuum of space. Presumably there are a whole bunch of other entirely or partially space bourne species as well. Perhaps it’s tied to the Starseeds themselves? Perhaps a starseed is a larval form of…hm….need a name for this behemoth. What do we call it? "Jinxian" is already well-established as a citizen of Jinx, so that’s out. How about "Jinxoid?" Ok. So maybe a starseed is a larval form of a Jinxoid? Let’s run with that: Why aren’t there more of them? Why is Jinx unique? And why is it locked in orbit around a planet, not flying free in space?

Maybe it’s like a barnacle or a Grog? Maybe it’s sessile in its adult form? No, that’s boring. Keep going. Maybe the one orbiting Jinx is injured in some way, or brain damaged? It lives on, but it’s in a vegetative state. That’s more interesting. It’s stuck there because it’s paralyzed, or in a coma, or dead.

So what’s it’s life cycle like? And why do the Outsiders follow them? And what does it eat? And how does it live? And why is it six hundred miles out of round? And what’s its function in the great big entirely-theoretical galactic ecology. How do they get around? Let’s assume — for the sake of argument — that they’re massive living ramscoops, and stick a pin in that one to come back to it later.

If we assume Jinx itself is brain damaged, that implies it has a brain. What if these things were common in Slaver times, and they all killed themselves on The Last Day, in response to the Great Big Slave Mind Control Helmet? But — as is semi-common in Known Space — the larval stage wasn’t sentient at all. Or perhaps some of them were simply out of range? we know that the starseeds migrate out from the core of the galaxy into intergalactic space, then come back again. If some were beyond the confines of the galaxy, the helmet might not have affected them. So a few survived, and presumably matured, but since Jinx is unique, it seems likely that there’s only a very small remnant population, possibly inbred. They’re not thriving.

So: Either Jinx is really old, or it’s grown up since the day of death, and then got injured/trapped in the Sirius system.

So what do these things do? What’s their function? And why isn’t it round?

At this point I need to make a sizeable digression: As we all know, the Milky Way Galaxy is exploding. Stars in the core were packed in too closely, a quarter-light-year apart on average, or less. So close that their emissions tended to affect each other. Ultimately, if one of them goes nova, its shockwave sets off the nearby stars, and their aggregate shockwaves set off stars near them, and so on and so on. The entire core explodes, sending a massive shockwave, not to mention a wall of super-hard gamma radiation flying out through the arms of the galaxy. Beowulf Schaefer discovered this in 1965 or so. Clearly, the galaxy had an inherent and massive design flaw. Clearly every galaxy does.

My question has always been "Why now?" Why not a million years ago? Or a billion? It’s not like the galaxy has changed substantially in the last couple billion years, so the design flaw has always been there. Why is it blowing up now, and not a long long time ago? What kept it from going blooey back then, and what changed thereby allowing it to go blooey now?

Imagine an interstellar ecology in the core — you’ve got Jinxoids flying around between these tightly-packed stars, fusing the massive amounts of hydrogen that must have been wafting around, generating massive electromagnetic fields to suck it all in. This would explain the density of the one Jinxoid we know — its core must be a massive magnet, probably not a monopole since I‘m sure the JIK would have recognized that, but perhaps it’s just something else. To propel itself, it would need a huge field, vastly bigger than anything we’ve seen before — maybe a light year or two across, right? Or maybe it’s some other kind of field entirely. There are millions of these beasties, tens of millions. They spawn, their larva ride the solar winds out from the core, mature, and come back in.

Now these hypothetical magnetic fields they generate, they’d be big enough to completely enfold several stars at a time, as the Jinxoids swam through, right? And let’s say that as their field passed through a star, it had the effect of dampening the stars’ nuclear reactions. The star cools off for a bit, re-regulates during the day or week or however long it takes the Jinxoid’s field to pass. Because this happens to pretty much all the stars in the core several times during the course of their life spans, the stars tend not to explode, despite how densely they’re clustered.

In essence, the Jinxoids are living control rods for a nuclear reactor, only reversed. In a reactor, the more of a control rod that’s exposed, the hotter the nuclear pile burns. In this case, the more Jinxoids are around, the cooler the core burns! For untold billions of years, these things kept the galaxy from blowing up.

Then the Slavers came, they told everything to die, and everything did, excepting the Bandersnatch, the yeast, and maybe some non-carbon-based life, and such Jinxoid Larvae as were lucky enough to be out of town when the bad stuff went down. Some of these survive, they grow up, they’re fruitful, they multiply, but obviously the system is out of balance, their numbers are never quite what they were back before the Day of Death. The Core is running a bit hot and unstable. Perhaps so few Jinxoids survived to reproduce that they’re losing genetic viability?

The Outsiders evolve, and they eventually figure out all that I’ve told you here, so they take it upon themselves to organize a "Save the frighteningly huge space whales" campaign, where they track and follow starseeds, to give them a better chance of survival, to rebuild the numbers of the species, to save the galaxy and the world, to save all the worlds.

It’s a tough job, and obviously they lost. At some point in the last 30,000 years the numbers of Jinxoids fell low enough that they could no longer stabilize the core and it blew up. In another 35,000 years, the shockwave from the explosion will eat earth. In another 30,000 years after that, it’ll have reached the outermost edges of the galaxy. Still the outsiders continue their thankless task, their lost cause. Or is it lost? Perhaps they’re hoping to herd enough Jinxoids to a set location to establish a firebreak of sorts, that will prevent whatever unexploded core stars remain? Perhaps they can save a portion? Perhaps they’re simply running like hell and they’ll deal with the fallout later. Who knows? The point is that the Slavers not only killed all life, they tried to kill the galaxy itself! Talk about sore losers!

But it all makes a degree of theoretical sense, and it explains a lot of otherwise inscrutable stuff. Not that I’m implying for a moment that this is what Mr. Niven had in mind. No, no, no, this is all my doing, crazy ol’ Republibot 3.0: The father of The Mother Of All Retcons.

Which brings us back to Jinx itself: How did it pick up life?

Well, first assume that any Jinxoid cruising through the void would pick up a mantle of dust and crap as it flies through nebulae and such. They don’t mind or care. They might even like it, it’s how you tell young from old. Assume it has a ‘safe patch’ at the center of its magnetic field, just like Moscow Motor’s Ramscoop ships did. Assume the Tnuctipun knew this, as they certainly would have. Assume they’re using Bandersnatchi to pass messages and coordinate the revolution, as we know for a fact they were. Given that, it would make a degree of sense to put some Bandersnatchi in hidden enclaves the Slavers wouldn’t think to look at — like riding the back of a Jinxoid. Coat it in Slaver Yeast, and put a few giant sunlamps in orbit, and who would ever notice these things as they slink slowly ‘twixt the stars? Certainly not the rather dim slavers, who hyperspace jump around impatiently. Better still, anyone approaching too closely would be killed by the magnetic field of one of these beasties, so any Slaver who did see one would know well enough to stay the hell away. The Tnuctipun could get in and out using a magnetic dampening field, however.

Jinx itself was one of the last of these, intended to function as something of a hidden base in the revolution. Something went wrong — a ship crashed in to it, or it hit a big rock, or was accidentally poisoned by Bandersnatch turds, whatever — rendering it brain damaged. It couldn’t respond to the death order, so it just continued to wander — crippled — through the stars, its sunlamps still blazing away. Traveling at near-light speeds, time passed subjectively very slowly for it. Eventually, it ground to a halt after orbiting the galaxy several times, and then it was captured by the gravity well of Sirius, eventually stumbling in to orbit around Primary, where it waited for a hundred million years or so, until we came. Or, it eventually came in to orbit around Sirius, and its own gravitational perturbations caused Primary to form, since it’s unlikely such a short-lived star would have planets under normal circumstances. There’s plenty of dust there, but it ain’t gonna’ coalesce unless something causes it to bunch up. Something like a big planet-sized Jinxoid wandering around.

Finally we come to the question of ‘why is Jinx shaped like it is?’ Well, at root Jinx is shaped like a football because that’s natural for its species. All Jinxoids look like footballs. But of course that begs the question: Why?

Well, if we imagine this thing is a living ramjet, then it must have some method of generating a magnetic field — it’s core — and artificially extending it. While we’re presupposing a ‘liveable area,’ it just makes sense for evolution to put the brain as far away from the potentially brain-frying parts as possible. So the core of the core generates the magnetic field, and the brain is at one end or the other. Whichever pole the brain is, the actual fusion engine would be at the opposite one, a massive volcano spewing plasma. Again, you’d want the exhaust as far away from the actual magnetic field-generating part of the creature as possible, because otherwise you’d risk trapping some of your own exhaust, which would probably be bad. Firing more-or-less constantly for thousands of years at a time would generate an awful lot of internal stress within the creature, and this presupposes some kind of skeleton. Otherwise, the ‘engine’ would simply push through the body. Therefore there has to be some kind of integument to keep the engine - the anus, if you will - as far away from the mouth and brain as possible, and to keep both of them as far away from the magnetic field generator as is practical. Hence, we’ve got to have some kind of tube running from the mouth-end to the not-mouth-end. One end collects the hydrogen and passes it down. In the core of the planet it’s compressed, fused, and shot out the backside. To pass through the whole planet, it would have to be super-hard, so let’s assume it’s made of scrith, or something like it. This spine-esophagus thing would then have semicircular ‘bones’ of scrith coming out towards the front end, arcing along under the surface, and re-connecting to the spine towards the back end of the body. These don’t actually have to be Scrith, mind you, but some kind of biologically produced equivalent thereof. While the Jinxians believe their world to be rock all the way down, there’s no evidence that they’ve dug to check it out physically, and if this integument looks like rock in their scans, they’ll just assume it is wrong and not look any further unless they’re given specific reason to suspect otherwise.

And there you have it. And it all makes sense, after a fashion. Well, if not actually ‘sense,’ at least it’s a theory/retcon that accounts for a whole bunch of observable facts, ties up a lot of loose ends. Granted, at it’s very root it’s super-nuts, but it’s the kind of crazy that eventually makes for a kind of backhanded reasonability. It works for me, but your mileage may vary.

I’m not a fanfic writer, and even if I was I wouldn’t write fanfic in Known Space simply out of my enormous respect for Mr. Niven himself, the man who shaped altogether too many of my dreams. This is just a logical exercise, nothing more. I welcome any feedback from anyone interested in commenting, and Mr. Niven, if you’re reading this (And I can’t imagine why you would be), I’d love, love, love to hear your thoughts on my crazy little scheme. Anyone who wants to can email me at , or you can reach me through my website: .

Special thanks to our esteemed host, Lensman, who kindly allowed me to bend your ear with my rambling OCD ruminations and schizoid delusions, and offered me some friendly solutions to tighten my theory up a bit. Thanks also to you all for reading.

Republibot 3.0


[1] In fact, these bands are arranged from an east-to-west orientation, and the moon rotates on two axes — an East/West pole and a North/South one, but I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible for newbies and people who have trouble with orbital mechanics. Bear with me here.

[2] He had that song "Tarzan Boy" in the mid-80s, remember that?

[3] And if we follow this line of comparison out, we can identify the other spectral classes with other types of singers. For instance, Luther Vandross would be a Cepheid Variable Star, but that’s an article for another day…

[4] In fact, Niven never specifically says that everything with a brain died, but it seems that’s what he was implying to me, and it would explain why there were no great big imperial races who emerged in the enormous amount of time between the Slavers and the K’zin: Sentient life had to re-evolve from scratch again.

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