So I, being in Tucson for the Feast of Gorging on Birds, discovered not one, not two, but three Niven books in their Bookmans'-es-es. If you don't have Bookmans' in your (shamefully benighted) area, it's a used bookstore that's organized the same as new bookstores (it also sells used games that actually work, unlike Game Stop). See, I'd (to buy...something) sold my Known Space books a while back; I'd been having trouble with my own writing, the style of authors I was reading sneaking into my prose, but I'm over it now and wanted to give LN another chance. It reminded me of just how great some of that Old Skool stuff can be, and also of several thoughts of my own.

Praise the Lord and pass the bulleted lists.
  • So Niven's actually got a lot more good characters than just the ones in World of Ptavvs; Beowulf Schaeffer, Eric Donovan (the brain in a jar), and a couple of the others are pretty good. And some of them were after Ringworld; I think it might just be that and its sequels that aren't too good.

    But I stand by my criticism of the Kzinti: no hunter would despise prey like that. I mean, getting kicked by a Puppeteer is like getting gored by a rhino; its diet doesn't change the fact it can kill you. Zulus practically are Kzin, down to it being considered inappropriate for men to show fear, but they'll be the first to tell you, stay the hell away from the big gray herbivores in Africa.

  • Neutron Star, At the Core, Becalmed in Hell, and Eye of an Octopus are, pretty much, science fiction par excellence. And it's a damned, criminal, hopefully executable offense that A Gift from Earth isn't on the high school reading lists. Hell, if I had my druthers I'd stick World of Ptavvs and Protector in too.

  • Niven, unless I grossly misread the man, is a Goldwater conservative, so I can't endorse many of his views. But his "Cloak of Anarchy" should be required reading for all high school students or college freshmen, since so many of the twits think they like the idea of anarchy.

    Similarly, how about we start calling people who don't understand how dangerous this universe is, "flatlanders"? Bey Schaeffer says it, how people from Earth don't understand the real meaning of the word "danger", because of how comfortable they happen to find their pet gravity well. I could give you a list as long as my arm of people in today's world who show that mindset.

    Speaking of which, I've thought of it in connection to the Joker, and Chesterton's thing about how comedy is the only poetry of compromise, but has anyone else noticed that our culture's obsession with comedy might be designed to deaden the defensive reactions? That's why Puppeteers don't like comedy, remember: humor is an interrupted defense mechanism, and no sapient species interrupts its defense mechanisms.

  • Off of Niven for a moment, has anyone noticed how easy it'd be to turn Halo into fantasy? A knight with haunted armor having to team up with an exiled monster commander to defeat an undead plague: didn't World of Warcraft have something like that?

    And I still say the Forerunners' "Mantle" is simply the Protector instinct applied to more than one species. So maybe not off Niven, actually.

  • So Niven apparently realized that Ringworld is an SF version of the Wizard of Oz (I myself have toyed with such a thing, along with an SF Journey to the West and an SF Peter Pan). But John C. Wright actually gave Speaker-to-Animals a song:

    I would like to stab and slaughter
    Mankind and his daughter
    Without scruple or reserve --

    [do DOOT dolootle to-doo!]

    But Kzin has lost four stellar wars
    I'd claim it was a long lost cause

    I'm given to understand it has a pleasing metrical structure, though it doesn't rhyme, in the Hero's Tongue. If you don't mind setting a catfight to 40s-era showtune music.

  • Seriously, what is with Niven and single-sex species? The Kzinti, the Grogs, the Puppeteers...okay, actually, the Puppeteers have two sexes, their third "sex" is just their preferred host for their parasitoid larvae (though I never heard of herbivores practicing parasitism).

    All the really advanced species on earth have fairly even development and intelligence between the sexes; anglerfish aren't high on anyone's list of nonhuman intelligences, now are they? Then again we now know dolphins aren't really all that bright (they're probably not as smart as ravens), so maybe that lopsided gender thing was some theory at the time that's been shelved since.

  • Not in connection to Niven, for real this time (except tangentially), apparently the Kzinti are like birds, in having ZW chromosomes (males have two full sex chromosomes, females have a full and a partial, the reverse of XY animals like mammals). And, me being me, I did some looking, and decided: the felinoids in my book are now Z0 (the male has two sex chromosomes, the female only one). Like a small minority of butterflies, and absolutely nothing else. Of course, it's not actually DNA, but it is genetic material and it undergoes mitosis and meiosis, so, yeah, "chromosomes".

    I wonder how come nobody uses the sex-selection system crocodiles do (the temperature of the nest determines the sex of the young). Couldn't be because the writers didn't research any alternatives to the mammalian system, of course. Perish the thought.

  • Another decision I made just a few weeks ago, one that's now blinding in its obviousness: give the aliens an odd number of teeth in their lower jaw. That is, they've got six teeth between their top canines (like a cat, find one and count 'em, I'll wait), and five between their bottom ones.

  • So I actually got the d20 Future book, and, um...did anyone else notice huge chunks of it are just lifted wholesale from the Alternity books? And whatever isn't just feels sorta slapped together; I mean, when your space travel rules say ion engines and fusion torches give the same acceleration, you've officially failed space travel forever.

    Let's review, using a maxed-out fusion Orion rocket as the type of the fusion torch found in writers like Niven, and a standard ion engine (figures from Project Rho). "Launch" refers to whether its Thrust-to-weight ratio is greater than 1 (meaning you can use it for orbital launch). "Mg" means megagrams, AKA metric tons.

    SystemThrust Power(GW)Exhaust velocity(m/s)Thrust(N)Engine mass(Mg)Launch?
    ORION MAX39,0009,800,0008,000,0008yes

    I'm just a layman, but I'm pretty sure an engine that gives you a meganewton of thrust for every ton of its own mass, is just a smidgen more powerful than one that gives you 25 newtons. But what's a forty thousandfold difference in power between friends?

    Oh and incidentally, I will personally run down and devour the next person who says it'd take centuries to get to another star with realistic technology. If you're at Alpha Centauri, you've done interstellar flight (admittedly mostly just as a gesture). And we've got the technology now—we've actually lab-tested a few nuclear rockets—to get there in a few decades. Nuclear rockets can get you up to 10% c in a respectably short amount of time, and at that speed Alpha Centauri is only 45 years away.

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