Larry Niven, the Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of such classics as Ringworld, dropped by the iUniverse.com #café to discuss his new science fantasy novel The Burning City, co-authored with Jerry Pournelle.
Set in the world of Niven's popular The Magic Goes Away, the story transports readers to an enchanted ancient city that often bears a provocative resemblance to our own modern society. Here Yagen-Atep, the volatile and voracious god of fire, holds sway, alternately protecting and destroying the city's denizens. Only one man, Whandall Placehold, can save the city. But in doing so, he may lose his life to Morth of Atlantis, the sorcerer who killed his father.
Both gritty and exotic, The Burning City is a unique fantasy vision unlike any you have read before. As Tom Clancy says, "The best in the field."
Kat91: Hello, all. Larry,are you ready?
Larry Niven: Harry Redd, you had better be Frank Gasperik or he'll have a complaint. Yes, I'm ready. Frank, you're due for the sequel.
HarryRedd: Yupper Larry. It's me. :-) Cat, I agree with Tom Clancy. Larry Niven is the greatest living writer of the 20th Century.
Kat91: He's a great writer, Harry. Have you read The Burning City?
HarryRedd: Not yet. It hasn't gotten out to the Sticks where I am.
Kat91: Everyone, welcome to this iUniverse Special Event with Larry Niven. Larry, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
Larry Niven: A pleasure. Sorry about that previous attempt, weeks ago.
Kat91: New technology, Larry ... makes us all crazy. Our first question is from Sam: Larry, do you still wear a Viking helmet to LASFAS meetings?
Larry Niven: I love new tech, conceptually. Damn trouble is, I've got to nerve up to using it. Viking helmet, never did.
Kat91: Larry, I read The Burning City. Why did you decide to revisit the world of The Magic Goes Away?
Larry Niven: In 1992 some rioters burned down part of my city and endangered some friends. I got mad. Eventually I saw I needed Jerry Pournelle's help.
Viking helmet: I just realized you mean the mug with horn handles. Someone stole it.
OiVey: Larry, I was wondering about your fascination with Albinism. I am albino, and you stopped me in the hall once at a conference, just to talk. What's up?
Larry Niven: Nothing serious or permanent. I made Beowulf Shaeffer an albino without knowing anything about albinos. I made myself curious.
OiVey: Redflame asks: Even though you don't believe in psychic powers, I'm SURE you know MY question, so I'll come up with a different one. How hard was it to convince Jerry Pournelle to write in a fantasy universe?"
Larry Niven: By now Jerry will at least consider writing what I tell him, and vice versa, but in this case I kept talking out my troubles when we hiked. We hike with his dog, and get a lot of work done that way. He was contributing so much to the concepts that I thought it sane to invite him in. The malevolent chaparral is his, for instance. Also for instance, he drove us along the proposed Hemp Road, then west to the Pinnacles, so he could watch me intuit the magic there. By now it's clear: Jerry needs my help to really get insane.
OiVey: Bard asks: In The Legacy of Heorot, it seemed the three different authors had differing notions of how the creature should be drawn. How do you get members of a collaboration working in the same direction?
Larry Niven: Legacy of Heorot...Steven was writing first draft, so he got first shot at Grendel. I thought it cute to take my own first shot at Mamma, and make Jerry write about the children. You're right that writing as a trio is tough, but it went smoother than you think. Steven told me at one point that it was like writing with one person. Jerry and I have become that good at seeing each other's intent.
Kat91: Larry, Don asks: Will there be a Ringworld movie soon? And HarryRedd would like to know if there will be another Ringworld book.
Larry Niven: Ringworld movie rights are in the hands of Robert Mandell. Apply to him. Ringworld book: there's an outline. Del Rey wouldn't meet our terms, so it may end there.
Kat91: Larry, what are you writing now?
Larry Niven: Short stuff. For the past couple of years, several short stories. I'm doing monthly articles for Space.com. Draco Tavern stories now number 14
Kat91: Bard asks: When will you revisit the Smoke Ring? Such a fascinating creation deserves a third novel!
Larry Niven: Analong has a number of these. One's a collaboration, and we've written three and are planning a novel. Her name is Brenda Cooper and she lives in Washington State in range of Steve Barnes. I do plan to return to the Smoke Ring, but those two books constitute the novel I intended to write all along. If I can get my act together, watch for THE GHOST SHIPS.
Kat91: OiVey asks: A lot of us here are writers, what's his writing method? Scheduled 9 to 9 or so many pages or anything like that (besides his Zen hiking with Jerry)?
Larry Niven: My text told me, either keep hours or write X words every day. I tried the latter until I realized I didn't have to. I have the compulsion. I WILL write.
Kat91: How many words do you write per day?
Larry Niven: Oh, around a thousand. Very flaky.
Kat91: Reaper asks: When is Saturn's Race going to hit the stores?
Larry Niven: I was told May. I was told July. As May is over, I believe July for SATURN'S RACE.
Kat91: HarryRedd asks: Will there be more MAN KZIN WAR books?
Larry Niven: Do that. SATURN'S RACE is an ambitious novel. Everything Steve does is ambitious, and as we don't live in shouting distance any more, we don't write trivial stuff. I miss it, though. Another Dream Park...fun.
Kat91: Larry, Kelly asks what's on your wish list now ... what are you planning to write?
Larry Niven: Sequel to THE BURNING CITY will be BURNING TOWER. (Whandall's daughter, for those of you who have already read it.) We signed the contract days ago. The characters are going south, into Olmec turf, where Coyote has little power and Jaguar rules. The Terror Birds will be forming an army; we think we know how to defeat it.
Kat91: Kelly says: What else fulfills your life, beyond writing?
Larry Niven: Listen up: if a writer thought that the most interesting thing to do in life was write, he'd only write about writers. Niven's Law: people who write for other writers should write letters. I'd like to try a lot of things. I have, but not for gainful employment. I'd like to build spacecraft.
Kat91: That's ambitious! Kazon asks: Do you have a website, and what is the address? G
Larry Niven: Sure. I learned to be ambitious...but for a writer there's no penalty for that. Yes, you can find me as email@example.com. It's just a mailing address, not a website.
Kat91: Larry, kind of a two-sided question here: Do you believe in life on other planets, and in magic?
Larry Niven: I used to believe firmly in life on other worlds. Later developments suggest that that's no certainty. No, I don't believe in magic. Nor flying saucers, nor psychic powers, nor anything that could have been videotaped as easily as a meteorite can be videotaped crossing most of Canada before it hits a parked car.
Kat91: Getting back to nuts and bolts ... Do you have advice for aspiring authors about avoiding genre clichés?
Larry Niven: Avoiding genre clichés? Jeez. Write what you can. Sell what you write. Learn what constitutes a story in your mind.
Kat91: Kelly asks: Do you believe in God or supreme beings that control destiny?
Larry Niven: I've got a notion re God, but it's maybe too intellectual, and not too damn comforting. I'd rather try to sculpt my life into something pretty.
Kelly: Like damnation is comforting?
Kat91: What sort of notion, Larry?
Larry Niven: Oboy. Okay, picture a sole intellect leaping to the notion of "company". It's all alone. How can it shape a universe that will evolve something worth talking to? First attempt: make "angels". That works about like making parrots. Intermediate attempts may be of interest, but the current one has quantum effects: all possibilities will be acted out, and one is likely to produce a God level mind.
Kat91: So would the angels be a failure or a success, though, since the next step would be animals or humans? Are humans a success?
Larry Niven: Angels: failure. Devils: cute, create something that does the opposite of what God wants, but not really interesting. Humans: no cigar, but maybe getting close. Watch a bit longer... 10x40 years.....
Kat91: So you think there will be something newer and better than humans? What do you foresee?
Larry Niven: If I can get any detail, I'll write it down as article or short story or novel. I wouldn't conceal any reasonable insight.
OiVey: Do you mean 10 to the power of 40?
Larry Niven: Yes, I meant 10 to power 40. Could as easily have said power 3000. Don't know what God might have in mind.
Kat91: I'd love to see you write about that, Larry. HarryRedd asks if you'll tell us a bit more about GHOST SHIPS.
Larry Niven: Kat, that's what Phil Dick did. I'm reluctant to adapt him as a role model. Okay. There's an Inner State (around Sol system) and an Outer State (colony worlds) I want to deal with the colonies. The Ghost Ships are best pictured as a Bussard ramjet with no ship in it: just a magnetic flow pattern, fusion ongoing in the core. Beyond that it gets elaborate...but the GS had their origin in a supernova, and the remnant is Levoy's Star, and they come back periodically. They're coming back now.
Kat91: Krenon asks: Larry, are you thinking of bringing out a compendium of all the Draco Tavern stories?
Larry Niven: Sure. My agent loves them. But the Draco Tavern stories are all vignettes. Any such book would be thin. (Niven's Laws is thin, and it's only part Draco Tavern stories.)
Kat91: Cruiser47 asks: Any advice on navigating the roadblocks imposed by the current publishing climate?
Larry Niven: What would I know about the current publishing climate? Del Rey may have turned flaky. Simon & Schuster seems to be user friendly, as they were not always. Otherwise, I don't face the roadblocks you (as a novice) do.
Kat91: Don asks: What do you portend to be the future of the fiction part of sci fi given new the theories of cognition, ala Chomsky, Pinker and other computational theorists?
Larry Niven: Writers who understand these matters will produce powerful fiction around them. Not me, probably, but watch for Steven Barnes on these topics. Or him and me, if he get me involved.
Kat91: Larry, I'm a big fan of INFERNO. Is it a good example of your view of God? And will you ever do a sequel?
Larry Niven: Oh, get a grip. INFERNO is a Catholic view of God. I'd have the same attitude writing as a Kzin. The fun idea here was, Inferno is fantasy, but our character is a science fiction writer.
Kat91: Yes, I loved that aspect of the book! Reaper asks: Will you ever go back to writing about when the magic was plentiful and when the slavers ruled?
Larry Niven: THE BURNING CITY is a sequel to THE MAGIC GOES AWAY series, now on the stands. I've signed a contract for THE MAGIC GOES AWAY, T THE MAGIC MAY RETURN, and MORE MAGIC. to be published as an Omnibus. BURNING TOWER is being written when I get off this net.
Kelly: Same house, Larry?
Larry Niven: Yes, Simon & Schuster will publish BURNING TOWER and the omnibus.
Kat91: We'd better let you go, so we can read it soon! Larry, is there a question you hoped would be asked tonight, but which we've missed?
Larry Niven: Kat, I generally get my say. it's rare that I think of something I should have said, too late.
Kelly: Any conferences planned? Places we can buy signed books?
Larry Niven: Westercon is next, I think, in Hawaii. Then Worldcon in Chicago. I'm at Viking Con too. Fare you well.
Kat91: Thank you, Larry, for chatting with us tonight. Thanks to everyone for attending this chat with Larry Niven!
This is the log of a chat hosted by chat.iuniverse.com and posted to the Larryniven-l mailing list on 5/30/00 by Kelly Milner