Compuserve Conference, 5 June 1996

Transcript of an on-line Conference with Larry Niven, held in CompuServe Convention Center, Wednesday, June 5, 1996. A special appearance sponsored by the SF/Fantasy Literature Forum, (SFLIT) and Del Rey Books.

Larry Niven: I'm here. What's new and different?

SysOp Adrienne C.: Welcome, Larry!

WizOp Wilma: Evening Larry! Glad to see you and that you had no problems logging on!

Larry Niven: Thank you.

SysOp Adrienne C.: We'll begin the formal conference at the top of the hour.

David: Hello Larry, glad you could be here tonight. I really enjoyed Lucifer's Hammer, and Footfall, Have you ever considered doing a sequel to either one of those books?

Larry Niven: I generally consider sequels. It's only because I continue to daydream after I'm out of the story. Hammer: dumb idea. We'd have everything going for us except the comet! Footfall: sure, we're considering it. Don't have a story yet.

Joseph K.: Kosh! I though you were dead??!!

K. Naranek: Buzz Rumors exaggerate

Joseph K.: The new Ringworld novel is fantastic news

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: Hello folks! Mr Niven, thanks for all the books!

SysOp Adrienne C.: Folks> if you're in WinCim, you'll click the question mark icon to submit a question to the question queue. Remember that if you submit another question before the first one is asked, you'll overwrite the first question.

Larry Niven: Not dead. Seriously healthy, but with a few scars. I'm really pleased with the Ringworld novel: it closed out the Teela Brown theme very nicely.

Joseph K.: I have often wondered who would win in a fight, The PAC or motie warriors

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: JK: Hmm ... I think the Pac


John Gwinner/VisNet, In: But that's a tough call.

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: Although come to think of it, anyone that can cause a Neutron star quake by firing a bullet BY HAND wouldn't have any problem hitting a motie

Joseph K.: very true

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: I mean an ACCURATE star quake, it wouldn't be hard to hit a NS. (oops)

Larry Niven: Pak protectors vs Motie warriors is indeed a tough call. I'd vote for high intelligence even though the protectors' motives are so restricted.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Top of the hour..... time to begin the conference! I'll start things off with a brief bio of Mr. Niven...... Larry Niven was born in 1938 in Los Angeles. 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. He graduated with a B.A. in mathematics (minor in psychology) from Washburn University, Kansas, in 1962, and completed one year of graduate work before he dropped out to write. Among his accomplishments is the Known Space series of books and stories, considered to be one of the best science fiction series ever. His first published story, "The Coldest Place," appeared in the December 1964 issue of "Worlds of If." He won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1966 for "Neutron Star," and in 1974 for "The Hole of Man." The 1975 Hugo Award for Best Novelette was given to "The Borderland of Sol." His novel _Ringworld_ won the 1970 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the 1970 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1972 Ditmar, and Australian award for Best International Science Fiction. He lives in California. _The Ringworld Throne_ , published by Del Rey, is due in bookstores June 24.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Ready for the first question?

Larry Niven: Ready.

Joseph K. asks: Have the movie rights been sold to The Mote in God's Eye and Footfall? With Computer Graphics the way they are now it seems a good time for a movie.

Larry Niven: There's been some action re the "Gil the ARM" stories (as a TV series) and THE LEGACY OF HEOROT (a good option.) Elsewise there's some interest in RINGWORLD, but not backed with money.

Wade Hovind asks: I recently re-read Grumbles from the Grave and I wondered if you are still able to read mail from fans. Also do you have an internet address?

Larry Niven: I do read mail from fans. I answer if it's at all interesting. I'm on AOL as

Brian F. Johnson asks: Where spawned the idea for Beowulf's Children?

Larry Niven: There exists an african frog with nasty habits, well described in THE LEGACY OF HEOROT. The man who described it to us was Jack Cohen, a reproductive biologist who constantly spawns wonderful ideas and gives them away to science fiction authors. We paid him a flat fee to advise us re BEOWULF'S CHILDREN, and the elaborate mainland ecology had its beginnings there.

Leon Franklin asks: Hello Mr. Niven. I have an old paperback "The Flying Sorcerers" that you wrote with David Gerrold and I enjoyed it a lot.. a little humor with SF. Did you write anything else with Gerrold, or might you in the future?

Larry Niven: David and I see each other from time to time. We don't have current plans to collaborate. We're both capable of being funny on our own: see FALLEN ANGELS. See his MORE TRIBBLES, MORE TROUBLES, for that matter. It's one of the Star Trek cartoons.

Nan asks: Did you deliberately design your aliens around psychological problems (i.e. Trinocs are paranoid, Puppetiers are cowards, etc.)? It would make sense with your background in psychology....

Larry Niven: Each was designed to fit something I wanted to say; but nothing so specifically Psych Class as you suggest. My guideline is that aliens don't think like humans do.

John Gwinner/VisNet, In asks: Is there any chance that a Pak protector could recognize the fact, like Teela, that they do their overall race a disservice by being so focused on their bloodline, and scientifically alter their 'built in' motives?

Larry Niven: What you suggest certainly happened to the protectors who built the Ringworld. They must have found some way to cooperate, just to cross 30-odd thousand light years of space at sublight speeds. The protectors who reached Ringworld space must have been significantly altered from classic Pak......but that's a tale I haven't told yet. I have notes.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Here's a question from a member who couldn't be here this evening, Melanie Quinn:

(where have I heard that name??? :-) - EAS)

What inspired you when you created the Puppeteer species?

Larry Niven: I was fed up with humanoids. Chad Oliver in particular, an anthropologist, wrote story after story claiming that THIS is the only workable shape for an intelligent being. The puppeteers were my first attempt to show him a shape that could evolve to intelligence.

Mark Bennett asks: Larry, Last night on UK Satellite TV I was lucky enough to spot "Inconstant Moon" on the Outer Limits, have any other of your stories been filmed or made into TV films?

Larry Niven: No. I was very lucky with "Inconstant Moon". The scriptwriter (Wright) is a Niven fan. Most of my stories would burn up millions in special effects every few paragraphs. It's true that you can put anything at all on a big screen......but you saw only six minutes of dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK. You'd need at least twenty of a Pierson's puppeteer in RINGWORLD, and thirty of varying species of Motie in A MOTE IN GOD'S EYE, and so forth.

Rich Hamper asks: Are you a seat-of-the-pants writer or do you do some sort of outlining/pre-planning when you write your novels?

Larry Niven: I always outline to some extent. When in collaboration, we outline it to death. How the hell else could we be sure we won't veer off in different directions?

John Gwinner/VisNet, In asks: What's your view of our 'online' future? You don't focus on 'cyberness' as much as say Gibson ... do you think we'll disappear into the machine as the Borg did?

Larry Niven: As regards the future of computer tech, I'm still listening to my colleagues. You need a lot of nerve to embed computer tech in a story, when Jerry Pournelle is your sometime collaborator. But see OATH OF FEALTY: I'll speculate when I've got decent backup.

Brion Lutz asks: Larry...what if any science fiction do you read... who's your current favorite new writer?

Larry Niven: I have a software problem: I can't remember names. By the time I've memorized the name of a new writer, he's middle aged. It's a character flaw.

Leon Franklin asks: How do you decide when to collaborate with someone, and with whom?

Larry Niven: Very carefully. I've spent an afternoon carving out a collaboration story during a walk, at the end of which we both decided we didn't want to write it. Talking about a collaboration is recreation. It isn't work until you start writing text. --But I've collaborated with most kinds of human being, excluding stupid and uneducated.

Jeff Powell asks: Do you have a favorite timeframe for Known Space stories, ie Man-Kzin Wars, Ringworld era, B. Shaeffer era, etc?

Larry Niven: If I put it in the timeline, I probably like to write stories in it. I love what other authors have done in the Man-Kzin Wars period, but I've generated more text in the Ringworld period. I'd write a lot more Gil the ARM stories if they were easier, but dammit, it's not easy to follow two sets of rules simultaneously.

Bob C. (Calif.) asks: I have to say that FOOTFALL and THE MOTE IN GODS EYE are among the best books I've ever read. Will there be any more stories from these worlds?

Larry Niven: FOOTFALL has room for a sequel. MOTE has its sequel after more than twenty years: THE GRIPPING HAND. In England it's THE MOAT AROUND MURCHESON'S EYE.

John Gwinner/VisNet, In asks: Is it easy or hard to 'let go' of an entire world/universe, the way you did in 'Man/Kzin wars?' Is it scary having other authors building in your universe, and how do you control that? I love these shared worlds ...

Larry Niven: Jeez. Baen wanted to open up all of known space! I told him that was mine! Then it crossed my mind that I don't have the knack or background for war stories. I control it with an iron hand. Sure it was scary to let them in, and the only defense is to demand that they don't damage the playground equipment.

Olivier Fabian asks: How about an evolution toward an "energy state" which would spare the need for so much hardware to travel in space ?

Larry Niven: Feel free to write about it. My hard-SF friends don't even accept my singleships as plausible. If your future were part of known space it would be well into the "Teela Brown" age, when being near-naked in space won't invite attack by kzinti and the like. SysOp Adrienne C.: Here's a question about MUD (Multi-User Dungeon):

Wade Hovind asks: I am an active MUDDER both on CServe (British Legends) and various MUDS on the Internet. Since it is text environment do you think it could be a good vehicle for some of the worlds and characters that you have created?

Larry Niven: I have no idea. What's it mean? If you mean role-playing games, my problem is this: when I write a story, I define paths for my characters. I can't write a role-playing game because I'd have to define all possible paths: a totally different set of skills.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Wade, explain a little bit.

Wade Hovind: What I mean is using the worlds, races and technology more than using particular characters.

Larry Niven: Sure, known space would probably lend itself to role-playing. I'd be grateful if my copyrights weren't violated. I remember being amused and flattered, years ago, when I learned that a Gamer was playing as a kzin.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Here's another question about Role Playing Games:

Mark Bennett asks: In the notes in the back of one of your books, you mentioned a RPG game based on Ringworld. I have been trying to get this EVERYWHERE (!), is it still around and if so, who published it?

Larry Niven: Chaosium published it: the Ringworld Game. It's long out of print. I expect you'd have to find it used.

Rich Hamper asks: From your experience, are collaborations easier or harder to write than if you wrote solo? Are collaborations more fun to do?

Larry Niven: Collaborations are harder. You must each be prepared to do your 80% of the work. Don't collaborate unless it's the only way to produce a superior story. --But, sure, they can be more fun, because you're likely to be trying to amuse each other.

Nan asks: In _Fallen Angel_, there seems to be a good deal of animosity toward environmentalists. Granted, in Pittsburgh, we don't have to deal with Earth Firsters, but do you really see them all as being "that bad?"

Larry Niven: We've had our say. The point isn't that "environmentalists" are all like that. Hell, we were the first of those, we science fiction fans. But the quotes in that book were all accurate, and the crazies as described are quite real. They're noisier than the good guys.

Darlene D asks: I have enjoyed your books very much and appreciate science fiction more than fantasy. It seems to be harder to find science fiction than fantasy, however. Do you agree?

Larry Niven: Sure. Science fiction is harder to write: it takes more education, and the greater restrictions can cramp one's style. By the same token, readers like you will seek the stuff out, so it does pay the rent. There's some wonderful hard far-future stuff around: Benford's 6-book "Galactic Center" cycle is finished.

Leon Franklin asks: Do you have any plans to write about the period of the Slaver-Tnuctip War? The references in existing books are enticing!

Larry Niven: I don't have plans for that period. Truly, I set it that far in the past so I wouldn't have to deal with it, back when I shied from something so complex. But Pournelle and Sterling have shown us glimpses of slaver ("Don't eat the servants!") and tnuctip family life. Maybe I'll just wait.

Mitch Stein asks: Any more DREAM PARK books in the offing?

Larry Niven: Steve has moved to Vancouver, Washington. Sure we'd like to write another Dream Park book, but first we have to know we can send text back and forth over AOL.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Larry, we're past the top of the hour, here. How much longer are you willing to be online with us? [smile] Two or three or four more questions, or more?

Larry Niven: Oh, another half hour wouldn't hurt me.

WizOp Wilma: Ummmm....Larry...not to toot our own horn but you can send TEXT files back and forth via CompuServe. [smile]

Larry Niven: Uh huh.

SysOp Adrienne C.: [smile] Here's another Gil the Arm question:....

SysOp Adrienne C.: What two sets of rules do you specifically mean in the Gil the Arm series? you mean following the detective genre and science fiction?

Larry Niven: That's what I meant.

Layne Black asks: What do you see as the most important goal that we as a species should strive for that would facilitate Man becoming a viable space base race?

Larry Niven: The bottleneck is ground-to-orbit access. Open that up and we'll be see a thousand other obstacles, and then deal with them. I want to see Luna City founded before I die.

SysOp Adrienne C.: another technology question:

Olivier Fabian asks: How do you decide between a possible future technology and an impossible one ?

Larry Niven: Superbly. --Just kidding. It's not a skill so much as an art form, and not even that so much as a story-teller's choice. I'll choose whatever future best fits my original idea, whatever that was.

Dana Hague asks: When you start writing a story, do you generally have the whole plot (and the ending) worked out at the beginning? Or do you start with an idea for a character in a situation or setting, and see where the story takes him/her?

Larry Niven: I generally have the ending before I sit down to write text. In a few cases, I've been wrong about the ending; but the story will still read as if I was moving toward some goal.

Tully Dew asks: I'd like to know more about the Puppeteer's. What kind of society do they have? How do the choose a mate? What kind of evolution could possibly have produced them?

Larry Niven: Everything that I know is to be found in a handful of short stories, including the Beowulf Shaeffer stories in FLATLANDER; and in the Ringworld novels.

David Hager asks: Was it lucky (for humanity) that the galaxy exploded?

Larry Niven: Hell, the core explosion must have happened nearly 20,000 years before Teela Brown was a motion to be discussed by the Experimentalist puppeteer coalition.

Leon Franklin asks: Do you use an Intel PC or a Mac for your writing (assuming you use a computer)?

Larry Niven: I use Win95 and a Pentium chip and a laser printer. Any data beyond that would have to come from Alex Pournelle; and it's Jerry Pournelle who tells me what to buy.

Dan Rhymes asks: Since you've turned Ringworld into a trilogy, any plans to do the same with the Moties?

Larry Niven: No such plans. Remember, it took us 20 years to learn enough about the Empire and Moties to justify another novel. SysOp Adrienne C.: How are you doing, Larry? Ready to wrap things up, or do you want to answer another question or two?

Larry Niven: Keep it going another ten minutes. Then-- I'm half starved, and I hear dinner downstairs.

SysOp Adrienne C.: Okay, great!

John Gwinner/VisNet, In asks: (Fantasy) I loved the Warlock .. it was Fantasy, but 'felt like' known space, very rational. Are you planning on any other Fantasy stories?

Larry Niven: "The Burning City" is hanging fire while Jerry Pournelle and I both work on our solo novels. It will be his first fantasy, and it's half written now. Fourteen thousand years ago, when magic was dying, there was a city they burned down every few years to placate the fire god.................

Jerry Delvecchio asks: You've written characters with various PSI powers, such as Matt Keller's "Plateau Eyes", and the statement was also made in _A Gift from Earth_ that anyone who believes in PSI powers generally also believes they have one. Do you believe in PSI powers, and do you believe you have one?

Larry Niven: No, and no. (when I was just out of high school, I thought maybe I had a little TK.) When I started writing there were far too many Psi stories. I wouldn't have written similar stories, if I hadn't thought of variants I could treat consistently. Teela Brown had the ultimate psi power: author control!

SysOp Adrienne C.: One last question, and then WizOp Wilma has a few words to say:

Robert KvH asks: Given your interest (and opinions) on the U.S. military, what was your view on the potential feeding frenzy that would have engulfed Admiral Boorda? It seems very sad that he could be hounded for something that several other officers said really was entitled to.

Larry Niven: My last answer, then, is: I don't know. But I wish the general public would remember that NO nation's military functions well as a branch of the Red Cross.

WizOp Wilma: Thank you very much for being online with us tonight,

Larry! I and the members of the SFLIT Forum really appreciate it!

SysOp Adrienne C.:

WizOp Wilma: Please say HI and Thank You for letting you "play" with us tonight! I'll see you both at LACon!

Larry Niven: Fare you well.

WizOp Wilma:

SysOp Adrienne C.: % Moderation of this conference has ended % The floor is now OPEN

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: Thank you Larry! I've got ALL your books

Nan: Thanks for tonight and thanks for all the wonderful stories!

WizOp Wilma: Thank you everyone for coming tonight. And the conference Transcript will be available as soon as we can get it online.

Jerry Delvecchio: Thanks for much reading pleasure, Mr. Niven!

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: whoops, he's gone

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: Can someone please tell me when the third Ringworld book will be out?

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: June 24, in bookstores

SysOp Adrienne C.: June 24

Leon Franklin: That was great! This is the first conference I've attended and I enjoyed it.

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: Yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jerry Delvecchio: Ditto.

Leon Franklin: How am I going to wait until June 24?!?

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: This has made my Compuserve membership worthwhile!

WizOp Wilma: Leon--Great! You'll have to come and play with us again sometime!

A. Wei: This is the first one I've stayed through.

Mark Bennett: Oh well, bye everyone - I'm off back to bed (3:45 AM over here in the UK!)

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: It seemed slow to me also.

Leon Franklin: Bye Mark!

SysOp Adrienne C.: g'night Mark!

Nan: I saw the third Ringworld book in Barnes and Nobles here recently!

A. Wei: What's the name of the new Ringworld book?

Robert KvH: And you didn't buy it?

Lou Mills: I I saw it in B. Dalton

Chris Hart: Can someone tell me how to break into the revenge of the patriarch cd game color coded cable trap if one has lost the book... I wish I had joined this conference earlier. My first, and I am a fan of all of Larrys work.

Nan: My Mac card died - no money!

A. Wei: As far as I remember, you really do need the book. Let me see if I can find it.

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: where are you at Nan?

Nan: Pennsylvania, with a Watch Parrot (Dolci the Nanday Conure) on my shoulder.

Leon Franklin: I guess I'll go to Barnes and Noble tomorrow...I have no patience!

Dana Hague: Me too.....

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: Florida, but i have a Barnes&Noble down the street. I'll be there at lunch tomorrow!

Leon Franklin: Anyone care to divulge his or her favorite Niven story?

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: Tough one ...

Leon Franklin: I think mine is Footfall.. tough decision though~!

John Gwinner/VisNet, In: probably Protector

WizOp Wilma: The cover of Ringworld Throne is really neat! It was done by Barclay Shaw if the name means anything to anyone.

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: The Ringworld books

Nan: Easy - The Coldest Place - first one I ever read. Second would be A Gift From Earth

A. Wei: Chris Hart, the code changes every game, so you will probably need the book.

Olivier Fabian: a world out of time was good too

Leon Franklin: A world out of Time was excellent!

Dana Hague: Possibly the one with the line, "Admiral Heinlein doesn't allow the Russians to build rockets".....

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: I also liked that story about the Neutron Star and Beowolf S.

Nan: Brain infarct - which one was "A Wrld out of time"?

Leon Franklin: Hard to argue with any of these choices...Wish he could write them as fast as I read them!

Chris Hart: To A. Wei, Thanks, such is life, I like books better most of the time anyway.

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: I hope he writes more Known Space stuff

Leon Franklin: JB Corbell was frozen and awakened in the future.. to be drafted as a starship pilot!

Nan: Ok! Yeah, that was great!

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: i remember that, he didn't have much choice right?

Olivier Fabian: the computer got him

Nan: I also like _Descent of Anasazi_ although I don't know many who agree with me on that....

Leon Franklin: Nan.. he went to the galactic core and came back about 2 million years later (courtesy of relativity)

Olivier Fabian: he wanted 70.000 years 'only'

Leon Franklin: I thought Descent was good...I really didn't get the point of Achilles Choice.

RICHARD A. RASMUSSEN: Good night All, see you at the bookstore tomorrow....

Nan: Well, I gotta go! Been a long day....

Leon Franklin: So long Richard & Nan

WizOp Wilma: Night Nan! And thanks for coming!

Olivier Fabian: Bye everybody

Jerry Delvecchio: Bye all!

SysOp Adrienne C.: Nighters, everyone!

WizOp Wilma: I'm outta here too folks! Have a good week all and thanks for coming!

Transcript prepared by SysOp Adrienne Chafee

Transcript Copyright (C) 1996 by CompuServe Information Service's Science Fiction and Fantasy Media Forum.

All rights reserved. Malcolm Reid. 85.5% on the Purity test.