Creator / Larry Niven

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"If I had a time machine, I'd visit the near future... a time close enough that someone might want to talk to Larry Niven, and can figure out the language, but distant enough to get me miraculous medical treatments and a ticket to the Moon."
Larry Niven

A prolific writer of Speculative Fiction, Larry Niven is best known for The Verse of Known Space, a very vast and detailed universe, which includes Ringworld and its sequels (which were one of the inspirations for a certain Xbox Launch title which was an FPS...) ; the mysteries of Gil the ARM; the Man-Kzin Wars, which ended up a professional Round Robin; the voyages of Beowulf Shaeffer; the adventures of Louis Wu; the human-ancestral Pak Protectors and the Precursors known as the Slavers. Known Space is notable for the many biologically plausible Starfish Aliens which neither look nor think like humans.

Also responsible for numerous works with Jerry Pournelle, including The Mote in God's Eye (from which the term for a third hand — the "gripping hand" — comes. The phrase is used in the context of there being three options from which to choose, the dominant concern being the gripping handnote ) and Lucifer's Hammer. He's also worked with Steven Barnes on the Dream Park series.

Niven's other notable work includes The Integral Trees and its sequels, A World Out Of Time which examines the implications of slower-than-light relativistic travel used as a form of Time Travel, and the Fantasy series of The Magic Goes Away (Namer of that trope). He also wrote the influential Man Of Steel, Woman Of Kleenex, referenced often in geek culture, and some of the backstory for the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Green Lantern Corps origins.

Niven's story "The Jigsaw Man" was originally published in Harlan Ellison's groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions.

Niven is known among his fans as "Speaker-to-Seafood" because of a long and very public argument he once had with a lobster during the Guest of Honor dinner/Hugo Awards ceremony at the World Science Fiction Convention. (He was bored, the awards ceremony was going long... you do the math.) The name is a play on "Speaker-to-Animals", one of the heroes of Ringworld.

There is more than one Shout-Out to him in Magic: The Gathering. A very powerful necromancer, Nevinyrral shows up, on the very powerful Nevinyrral's Disk, and also wrote the "Necromancer's Handbook", a field guide for aspiring necromancers.

Niven often has Shown His Work.

Works by Larry Niven with pages on this Wiki:


Tropes in other Larry Niven works:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Discussed in "What Can You Say About Chocolate Coated Manhole Covers?" The main characters speculate on how the Adam and Eve legend could work in real life, purely as an intellectual exercise. They conclude, for the obvious reasons, that one pair could not populate an entire planet. They come up with an elaborate scheme based on stock breeding techniques, involving many pairs and small groups that are isolated from each other by geography. Then an alien kidnaps the protagonists, strands them on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, and tells them that they've just figured out the aliens' secret plan for breeding an 'improved' form of human being.
  • Afraid of Needles: The protagonist of A World out of Time died of cancer before the book begins (he got better). He reflects on how that experience cured him of any fear of needles.
  • Agony Beam: In A World Out Of Time, there is Mirelly-Lyra Zeelashisthar's silver cane, which can inflict crippling emotional pain. It was designed by a world-conquering State as a conditioning tool for recalcitrant slaves. A highly effective one, too; the protagonist is so traumatized by the experience that just looking at Mirelly terrifies him.
    It wasn’t physical, this agony. It was sorrow and helpless rage and guilt. He wanted to die.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with in "The Schumann Computer", one of the Draco Tavern stories. Schumann asks an alien if their (much older) species ever developed an AI. She returns the next day with the plans for the most sophisticated computer their species ever developed. Schumann gets some investors together and builds the computer on the Moon so it will be isolated, but the trope appears to be played straight as the Master Computer manipulates them into granting it more and more power and sensors... then one day it just shuts down. Schumann is commiserating over the loss of his investment with some aliens in his tavern; they say the alien who gave him the plans is a notorious practical joker. Apparently the reason AI doesn't work is that the computer advances so fast it solves every question in the universe and, having no further purpose, shuts down.
  • The Air Not There: One of the hazards discussed in the essay "Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation" is the fact that 'thin air' is really swarming with molecules that could do some serious damage if you suddenly found yourself co-existing with them.
  • The Alibi: "The Alibi Machine": What happens to police investigations when quick and easy teleportation makes it possible to hop across the country and back in the same time it takes to step out to use the washroom? Suddenly there's no such thing as an alibi anymore.
  • Alien Sky:
    • The Flying Sorcerers is set on a planet with two suns (a big red one and small blue one that orbits it) and no less than eleven moons ("...three body formation makes capture easy..."), as a plot point. The system also has no other planets and is inside a giant dust cloud, so there are no visible stars, although the formations of the moons are observed in a similar way to how we observe constellations.
    • In A World Out of Time, Niven gives us an Earth that has been moved to orbit Jupiter, because a planet was dropped into the Sun during an interstellar war, making Earth's former orbit uninhabitably hot.
    • The Integral Trees is, if anything, more bizarre. The "planet" is the sky. The Ring is a (mostly) gas torus from a supermassive gas giant in close orbit around a neutron star, which is a binary with a yellow dwarf.
  • All Myths Are True: In the Hanville Svetz stories, time travel has an inherent tendency to get mixed up with mythology (you go looking for a horse, you find a unicorn). The series culminates in Rainbow Mars, featuring a version of the Red Planet where every fictional account of Mars from The War of the Worlds on is true simultaneously.
  • Amazon Brigade: In The Integral Trees, the Triune Squads are made up of women who refuse to marry, women who love women, or those who are "women" by courtesy only. They are sent to patrol the Trunk, a hazardous and seemingly pointless duty, to make up for not doing their "real" duty to the tribe by providing children.
  • Arcology: In Oath of Fealty, the arcology of Todos Santos is just outside Los Angeles and has a somewhat hostile relationship with the city.
  • Arc Words: In Oath of Fealty, "Think of it as evolution in action" is explicitly developed as this.
  • Artificial Meat: The Draco Tavern story "Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing!" not only features meat cultures grown from humans, but the aliens growing the human meat paid lavish royalties to the human cell donors — who were still upset about it.
  • Autodoc: A portable medical resource, these are virtually omnipresent, helping to drive stories with easily accessed health. They range in size from portable units to provide medicines or induce comas to coffin-sized units that can replace limbs. They also become more technologically advanced, starting with pill-pushing units and ending with Nanomachines that can rebuild anything given time, resources, and programming.
  • The Bartender: The central character of the Draco Tavern stories is the bartender at the eponymous tavern, which caters to alien travelers at Earth's main spaceport. He gets to hear a lot of weird stories.
  • Big Dumb Object: Rainbow Mars features a tree large enough to conceivably be used as a space elevator. Turns out to be a very, very bad thing to have on your planet though, as it literally requires the entire planet's water supply to survive.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: Most of the alien races in the Draco Tavern stories are this, to varying degrees. The Chirps are either benign despots or monumental liars, and no-one has any real idea which; the Gligstithoptok breed human meat in hydroponic tanks for food, but have a strict taboo against actual killing; the Folk lease areas for hunting and are good company afterwards, but too dangerous to approach beforehand; Bazin either has a profound philosophy or is basically an inter-galactic stuntman; and so it goes on.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: In the Draco Tavern stories, all the Chirpsithra were female. There are males, but the Chirpsithra won't talk about them. In one of the stories, the Chirp males are revealed. They're the "red demons", essentially mindless beasts.
  • Blackmail Backfire: In "$16,949", a blackmail victim tries to blackmail his blackmailer, who goes to another one of his victims to resolve the problem permanently.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: In the Draco Tavern story "Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing!", a crewman from the first embassy ship to an alien homeworld reveals that when the aliens took DNA samples it wasn't for pure scientific purposes: they grow brainless human clones as a food delicacy. The UN quietly accepts royalties, and some of the crew members later kill themselves.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: Kind of used in Fallen Angels - a radical environmentalist regime rules the Earth and the only people left with freedom and high technology are those living on a moon base or in an orbital habitat made by combining the Mir and (never actually built) Freedom space stations. However, as another ice age is fast descending upon the Earth, it looks like it could become a straight example.
  • Cake Toppers: In "What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers?", a couple mark their amicable separation with a divorce party, featuring a black frosted divorce cake that has the toppers facing away from each other.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": In The Legacy of Heorot, fish-like creatures swimming in the stream of a colony planet are referred to as "samlon" (much to his chagrin, it took some folks half the book to notice it wasn't "salmon"). However, they turn out to be rather more than that.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": In the Hanville Svetz stories, Svetz is from a time where most animals are extinct, and he uses a Time Machine to obtain animals for the global zoo. Unknown to him, however, his "time machine" drifts across parallel universes as it travels, and he consistently winds up bringing back mythological creatures. As even "real" (i.e., nonmagical) animals are only known from sources like poorly illustrated children's books, no-one thinks it unusual that the "horse" he brings back is actually a unicorn (but they persist in calling it a horse, cutting off the horn to make it look more like the one in the book), or that the "gila monster" is actually a fire-breathing dragon.
  • Car Fu: In "The Deadlier Weapon", a hitchhiker pulls a knife on the protagonist driver, who makes it very clear how badly outgunned any hitchhiker trying this stunt is. The Driver buckles his seatbelt, accelerates to over a hundred miles an hour, and tells the would-be car-jacker that he's going to ram the right side of the car (where the car-jacker is sitting) into the nearest underpass support pylon unless the guy tosses the knife out the window.
  • Cigarette Burns: In "The Deadlier Weapon", the narrator taunts a carjacker by threatening to crash the car and burns his nose with the cigarette lighter.
  • Cold Sleep, Cold Future: In A World Out of Time, the protagonist is revived into an authoritarian world. He's expected to earn his new lease on life by piloting a sublight interstellar mission. If he fails to qualify, they'll erase his brain pattern from the body (of a condemned criminal, executed by brainwipe) he's using and try again with the next Human Popsicle.
  • Colony Drop: In A World Out of Time, Earth develops extra-solar colonies, and they eventually go to war. By throwing planets at each other. Earth's colonies drop a gas giant into the sun, which causes it to heat up and kill most life on Earth and eventually become a red giant star. Lots of moving planets around follows, with the Earth eventually ending up as a satellite of Jupiter.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: An unlucky Human Popsicle in A World Out of Time attempts this but finds out the hard way that the courts of his time ruled those like him could not own property and thus the assets he set up for himself were long gone.
  • Cryonics Failure: In The Legacy of Heorot, the cryonics used to get the colony ship to the planet Avalon failed because while it had been tested, it hadn't been tested over durations as long as the voyage took. The colonists got brain damage, ranging from mild in some cases to severe in others, and a handful of the colonists couldn't be revived at all.
  • Curse of the Ancients: In The Flying Sorcerers, we get to hear the traveller's translator-recorder's version of what he is really saying when he discovers the locals have sabotaged his spaceship.
  • Deal with the Devil: "Convergent Series" deconstructs the Deal With The Devil by not only giving a purported reason why demon-summoning rarely works (and why you wouldn't hear about the successful cases), but also by ruling out each of the usual ways out of the deal one by one. The protagonist eventually comes up with an unconventional solution.
  • Democracy Is Bad: The enviro-fundamentalist regime of Fallen Angels is entirely democratic; scientists and science fiction fen are a tiny percentage of the voting population, the majority of which believes that science is responsible for the world's woes — specifically an ever-worsening ice age.
  • Didn't See That Coming: In Beowulf's Children, Aaron Tragon's (the Magnificent Bastard of the novel) schemes to colonize the mainland of the planet and become the new leader of the colonists is derailed by a rather spectacular Unknown Unknown. After shooting Little Chaka and Cadmann to keep them from warning everyone of the imminent continent sweeping attack of the recently discovered huge flesh-eating "bees" with Super Speed, all in order to keep everyone from leaving, he goes back to the colony and tells everyone a story of how they were devoured by grendels. He puts on a very convincing act of grief and shame, while preparing to take the reins of leadership left behind by Cadmann. All of a sudden, the intelligent grendel protagonist approaches the colony, having saved Little Chaka, who proceeds to blow the whole scheme out of the water by telling everyone of Aaron's betrayal. The only reason Aaron avoids execution on the spot is the untimely arrival of the aforementioned flesh-eating "bees" with superspeed.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: In "Convergent Series", a man deals with a demon he's semi-accidentally summoned by asking the demon to freeze time for a bit, then redrawing the summoning pentagram on the demon's belly, trapping the demon in a paradox. The mechanics of the summoning requires that the demon has to fit inside the pentagram, and because it's drawn on his belly, when he shrinks himself down to fit in the pentagram, the pentagram shrinks as well.
  • Doom As Test Prize: "What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manhole Covers?". At a party, a man proposes an idea: that the human race was created by aliens placing small groups of Homo habilis at various places around the Earth and letting them evolve separately. When the groups met up and mated, their descendants would have superior intelligence by virtue of hybrid vigor and would make good servants. Some of the people at the party deduce additional information about the aliens and thus pass the aliens' intelligence test. As a reward they're kidnapped and taken to a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, to be the subjects of a new seeding experiment.
  • Earth All Along: In one of the Draco Tavern stories, the chirpsithtra remember a civilization they met millions of years ago, whose planet was undergoing geological upheaval, and a green blight was taking over the oceans, converting much of their atmosphere into oxygen. This killed them off in the end, but created the conditions necessary for us and (almost) everything else we know.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: "The Hole Man" involves a team of explorers uncovering an ancient alien device on Mars that is powered by a miniature black hole in a containment field. When the black hole is accidentally released, it falls through one of the explorers standing underneath (killing him) and through the surface of the planet, leaving a tiny pinhole. The explorers predict that the black hole will settle in the planet's core and slowly add the planet's material to its mass, with the whole of Mars eventually collapsing into it (but this supposed outcome doesn't occur within the timeframe of the story itself).
  • Eco-Terrorist: The FROMATES (FRiends Of Man And The Earth) terrorist group in Oath of Fealty. They totally oppose the arcology Todos Santos and commit kidnapping, attempted arson, murder and attempted mass murder in their campaign to destroy it (and everyone living in it).
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Destiny's Road is full of quotes from planetary science surveys, local lore regarding the colonization of an alien world and the ultimate fate of some colonists, and quotes regarding local customs. A very early chapter opens rather ominously quoting an excerpt of a military absentee court-martial.
  • Endless Daytime: In the Draco Tavern series, the home planet of the alien Chirpscithra is tidally locked. The species evolved in the "twilight region" around the planet's terminator zone.
  • Expendable Alternate Universe: Explored in "All the Myriad Ways", where verification of the existence of alternate universes leads people to regard their own universe as expendable. Because billions of new alternate worlds are created every second (every time anyone makes a choice, even such a minor choice as what color socks to put on, or even to put on socks at all, a new universe is born; multiply that by the billions of people on the earth, and...), people no longer value their own lives, because they know alternate versions of themselves will do better if they die — and why not commit murder, rape, robbery, or suicide, if you were always destined to do so in at least one timeline? The story ends by showing nine very different outcomes to the same story with only the last line changed on a whim of the protagonist.
  • Exploited Immunity: In one Draco Tavern story, the bartender is infected with a Puppeteer Parasite sentient virus. It warns his friends that there's no way to get rid of it without killing the bartender too, only to be told that it's treatable with sulfa drugs (which would destroy the virus without harming the bartender).
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: In The Flying Sorcerers, the astronaut's attempt to explain to the stone age natives how he got to their planet implies some kind of warp drive: "I went around... the distance".
  • Feed the Mole: In Oath of Fealty, terrorists are trying to take down an arcology, and they have inside information about the defenses of the arcology's hydrogen pipelines. After a test attack (by unknowing dupes), the security chief makes several upgrades to the defenses — and tells different people different things about the upgrades. When the terrorists arrive with countermeasures against some, but not all, of the new defenses, he knows who the mole is.
  • Financial Abuse: In Oath of Fealty, Tony Rand, the architect who built the Todos Santos Arcology, is subjected to a nasty one that is implied to be the end result of his wife being a high-level Chessmaster. She supported him through architecture and engineering school, then divorced him. She then seduced him a week after the divorce was final in order to conceive their son Zach — thus negating his paternal rights completely, as he was born out of wedlock. Final settlement; a sliding scale deal where she gets two-thirds of his income forever. And as he broke ground on the world's first self-sustaining arcology (which in Niven/Pournelle's world is basically a money machine), he's now the richest man on Earth, meaning she is the single richest woman and lives a white-collar life of leisure on the other side of the continent from him.
  • Floating Water: In The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, "Ponds" are spheres of water floating in midair, due to the near-complete lack of gravity.
  • Fog of Doom: In "For a Foggy Night", the mist isn't actually mist, but is rather times when the various alternate timelines intermesh. When you walk out into a fog, you're actually walking into an alternate world... it's just that most of the time the "alternate" is so close to your original world you never notice. But sometimes, just sometimes, you cross over into a world that's completely different...
  • Genetic Memory: Before the "RNA memory" theory was discredited, Niven used it as a teaching device in his short story "Rammer" and its novel expansion, A World Out of Time.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: Beowulf's Children introduces the Scribe, which resembles a giant land-dwelling horseshoe crab. Fortunately, they're also Gentle Giants...with defenses that deter all potential predators, even the grendels and the huge flesh-eating "bees" with Super Speed. To get a feel for how big they are, note that the colonists name the first Scribe they meet "Asia".
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: In the Draco Tavern story "The Subject Is Closed", one of the tavern's visitors describes how one alien race claimed to have discovered the truth about the afterlife. This is the last that was heard from them, and visitors to their world discovered that they had systematically committed mass suicide. It was later decided to destroy the detailed records of what was found, because those who studied them too closely also committed suicide.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In Fallen Angels, the US government attempts to stop global warming by outlawing all forms of technology that emit greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, the subsequent reduction in atmospheric particles causes the Earth's surface to lose heat much faster than normal, causing the planet to go into an ice age.
  • Heroic Seductress: Oath of Fealty: Tony Rand, the chief engineer of the Todos Santos arcology, needs to come up with a plan to rescue someone from police custody. He's talking over his plans with a woman named Delores Martine. Because of problems in his personal life, he can't concentrate and starts to lose control of himself, so Delores repeatedly seduces him to calm him down so he can think.
  • Hit So Hard the Calendar Felt It: The people of Svetz's time use the Atomic Era calendar, counting from the first successful artificial nuclear fission reaction in 1942 AD.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: In The Integral Trees, several characters use the expression "feed the tree," which means, "The words you are saying are a commonly used form of natural fertilizer."
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: In "The Deadlier Weapon", a hitchhiker pulls a knife on the driver who picked him up. The driver starts acting like he intends to kill them both by deliberately crashing the car, ramping up the psychological pressure by looking at the hitchhiker instead of the road until the hitchhiker gives up, drops the knife out the window, and allows himself to be dropped off in the median of a busy highway where he is trapped until the cops come for him.
  • Human Popsicle:
    • World Out of Time, and other short stories and novels in the same setting, involve "corpsicles" revived in an unfriendly future. Most of the time their legal rights are severely curtailed, since they usually have run out of the money that was paying to keep them frozen and lack any kind of relevant work skills.
    • The Legacy of Heorot and Beowulf's Children features a crew of interstellar colonists who discover too late the drawbacks of the freezing process they used.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The Flying Sorcerers has a human on an alien planet. The story is told from an alien's point of view and the cultural differences are Played for Laughs.
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Also used in Fallen Angels - the novel's "ruling coalition of proxmires, falwells, rifkins and maclaines" is composed of groups currently regard each other, sometimes literally, as minions of the Devil. Niven(and later, Michael Crichton) noticed that if those four blocs ever realized that they are Not So Different - that they all yearn for Ye Goode Olde Days - they could easily gain bipartisan support (Green liberals and fundie conservatives) and pretty much Take Over the World.
  • Immortality Seeker: In "Cautionary Tales", a human looking for a way to live forever goes to the center of the galaxy and runs into an alien looking for the same thing. Tales of living forever are in all cultures, but only humans have "cautionary tales". The alien has been looking for far longer than the human...
  • Immune to Bullets: In "The Meddler", the startled protagonist fires his gun at an alien intruder who solemnly replies "Thank you for the gift of metal." Turns out the alien really can "Eat lead".
  • Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering: In The Integral Trees, the tree-dwellers occasionally use high pressure "spitter" seedpods (that shoot seeds out once they are broken open on one end) as rocket motors.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The Draco Tavern is a pub in Earth's main spaceport, equipped for a very diverse range of customers.
  • Inn of No Return: The hero of Destiny's Road hears a tale about an inn that was run by escaped prisoners who killed and ate travelers. This is a bit jarring, since he was one of the escaped prisoners, and while they didn't do anything illegal there except steal the power to run the place, it does mean the authorities might be aware he survived his escape from prison.
  • Interplanetary Voyage: "The Hole Man" concerns a trip to Mars.
  • Interspecies Romance: The Draco Tavern series contributes to the subject in the short story "Breeding Maze". Another story from that setting, "Smut Talk", also counts, as it explores the possibility of a sexually transmitted Alien Invasion.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: In the Draco Tavern story "War Movie", a ship full of alien explorers came across Earth and made recordings of several battles during World War II. The recordings made them rich, so they came back to Earth to film more "war stories", knowing that such a warlike species as ours would eventually nuke ourselves back to the stone age. When we didn't, the alien film producers were forced into bankruptcy.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: Regarding the Svetz stories, this was the Word of God explanation (and heavily implied in the stories — although so much of history was lost to the characters that they never figured it out, there are clues for the reader that this is what is going on) for why Time Travel took Svetz to a fantastic version of the past. They had managed to invent Time Travel... but since Time Travel was impossible and could only work in fiction, it took them to a fictionalized version of the past.
  • Knockout Gas: In Oath of Fealty, the Todos Santos arcology uses knockout gas as part of its internal security system.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: One of the Svetz stories is "Leviathan!", in which he is sent back in time to catch a whale, but the first "whale" he latches onto with his tractor beam is just too big to bring back — as it's the Biblical Leviathan, not a whale at all.
  • Lady Land: In A World Out of Time, an immortality treatment that only worked on the prepubescent results in a population of immortals who, biologically arrested and not needing each other for the continuance of the species, split into Boys and Girls and form two entirely separate and occasionally warring societies (both implied to be screwed up equally, but in different ways).
  • Lightworlder: In the setting of The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring, the inhabitants of Integral Trees are somewhat taller and slimmer than Earth people, but they are strong, tough Heavyworlders compared to people from the rest of the Smoke Ring. The tidal forces acting on the trees provides at least a little simulated gravity, but everyone else grows up in zero-G. One character, often referred to as a "dwarf", actually has an Earth-normal build; he's described as "monstrously strong" and is the only person who can wear one of the original spacesuits.
  • Longevity Treatment: A World Out of Time has an immortality treatment for adults that involves removing impurities from the body.
  • Lost Colony: The Integral Trees series has a lost colony without a planet.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Becomes an issue for two characters in The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring. After one female character is used as a Sex Slave, her husband can't accept her child as his until learning that the child inherited a respiratory problem from Mom's husband/his true father.
  • Metal Poor Planet: In The Integral Trees, there is effectively no metal whatsoever in the Gas Torus where a Lost Colony of humanity is located; as such, all materials are made from local wood from the kilometer-long trees in the gas torus spinning around the neutron star. What little metal there is has been recycled endlessly from what the colonists brought with them.
  • Mirror Chemistry: Destiny's Road is set on a planet whose indigenous life uses right-handed proteins. This is initially problematic as the colonists need to entirely sterilize an area of the planet so as to have somewhere to grow edible food, but it proves to have some advantages; it means they're immune to native diseases, and they discover that the planet's sea life is the perfect diet food as their bodies are incapable of metabolizing it into fat.
  • My Grandson Myself: The main character in Saturn's Race undergoes a top secret rejuvenation process, and ends up assuming the identity of a grandson.
  • Never Land: A World Out of Time features an immortality treatment that only works on pre-pubescents. The far future Earth is ruled by the Boys, who exterminated the Girls, and then seem to enjoy living a tribal hunter-gatherer existence with stone-age technology, though they fully understand and routinely repair more complicated devices. Adults are basically slaves kept to breed more Boys.
  • No Control Group: Averted in Destiny's Road. Colonists on a new planet lack genetic diversity and a nutritious diet. They set aside one village to receive neither dietary supplements nor breeding opportunities, effectively turning the population into their control group.
  • No Ontological Inertia: In one of the Svetz stories, Svetz's entire future has its past altered so that it never came about. This is caused by the ghost of the time traveler who changed it that way in the first place. Long story. However, Svetz returns to the future and finds it the same as always, due to the effects of "Temporal Inertia". There's still a new future, but his exists purely out of the fact that it did. It may be relevant that only part of the time machine (the "extension cage") actually goes anywhere/when; the other part remains in what Svetz thinks of as "the present" and serves as an anchor. (It may also be relevant that it's implied in places that the time machine never goes into the real past, but rather into a potential or alternate past.)
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die: In the Draco Tavern story "The Schumann Computer", the title AI shuts itself down because it's solved every possible problem. The builders/investors are then told that this eventually happens to every AI.
  • Oh My Gods!: The Flying Sorcerers is a comedy in which most of the names are shoutouts to creators in the science fiction world. The two suns are Ouells and Virn, there's Caff the goddess of dragons, Rot'n'bair the God of Sheep and his arch-enemy Nilsn, Hitch the god of birds, and Elcin, the "great and tiny god of thunder, lightning and loud noises."
  • Once-Green Mars: One of the Svetz stories, Rainbow Mars, involves time travel to Mars' verdant past, and chronicles what happened to it.
  • One World Order:
    • In the stories of Svetz the time traveler. The "SecGen" is apparently the absolute monarch of humanity, but the current SecGen (the product of centuries of inbreeding) is a grown man with the mind of a small child. The actual control of the government rests with those who are most successful at bureaucratic infighting and at cajoling the SecGen into approving their decisions.
    • The State in A World Out of Time.
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: In Saturn's Race, the protagonist eats real meat in the insanely rich refuge of Xanadu and comments on how well-crafted this soymeat is. When she is informed that it is the real thing, she briefly considers whether she should be disgusted by the idea, but then decides to just treat it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: In "There's a Wolf in My Time Machine", Hanville Svetz gets sidetracked into a version of Earth where man evolved from wolves instead of apes.
  • People Farms: Played with in the Draco's Tavern short story "Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing". The alien race in that story enjoys eating humans and other sentient species, but is horrified at the very idea of taking sentient life. So they grow human bodies without functional brains in vats and then eat those.
  • Planet of Steves: In The Flying Sorcerers, the native women originally did not have names. When the wizard Purple started giving them names, this raised a furor among the men (because having names made the women vulnerable to sorcery), but the women did not want to go back to being nameless. The solution was to give all the women the same name: Missa.
  • Population Control:
    • In A World Out of Time, the State has become a One World Order where Individuality Is Illegal, and only massive fusion-powered desalinators on every shoreline can provide enough fresh water for the massive population. A few generations back, the State instituted compulsory sterilization for all those with harmful genes, both for eugenic reasons, to save money on heath care, and to slow the rapid population growth.
    • In Saturn's Race, the world discovered that a vaccine distributed throughout the third world nations twenty years prior had the deliberate side-effect of causing sterility in the children born to the inoculated.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: A World Out Of Time has high-tech devices, including a network of teleport booths, Flying Cars, automated house-manufacturing units, and medical technology still functioning after three million years. The setting does have temporal stasis technology, so may be Justified.
  • Raising the Steaks: In "Night on Mispec Moor" the zombifying organism originally evolved to dwell in corpses of native dog-like animals. Then it found human corpses make a good host too.
  • Ram Scoop: The starship in "Rammer" and its novel expansion A World Out of Time.
  • Razor Floss: The Descent of Anansi features a monofilament cable where, in effect, a space shuttle is lowered to Earth on a cable. At one point one of the baddies drifts into the cable and realises that it is already inside the faceplate of his spacesuit by the time he notices anything.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Jerome Corbell, the hero of A World Out of Time, starts the story waking up after spending 220 years in suspended animation. By the end of the novel, because of time-dilation caused by a close encounter with a black hole, he's at least five billion years old.
  • Remittance Man: In The Legacy of Heorot, Cadman Weyland describes another member of the first interstellar expedition as "the ultimate remittance man".
  • Revive Kills Zombie: In "Night on Mispec Moor", an alien plant reproduces by infecting newly killed corpses and rallying their bodies for one last lurch. On a battlefield an off-worlder is cornered by these plausible zombies. He's in deep trouble until, in desperation, he tries spritzing one with his pan-spectrum cure spray.
  • Royal Inbreeding: In the Svetz stories, the world is ruled by a hereditary Secretary-General. Centuries of inbreeding have produced a feeble-minded and childish occupant of that office.
  • Sapient Ship: The "State" future history has two separate instances of a sapient ship with an AI based on Peersa the Checker. First, in A World out of Time an escaping corpsicle's ramship is taken over by beaming a recording of the mind of his jailer at the ship over and over again. Later, another ship carrying the mind of Peersa is a character in the Smoke Ring novels.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: In "Night on Mispec Moor", a mercenary assumes the zombie-like creatures chasing him must be this trope. They're The Virus instead.
  • Settling the Frontier: In The Legacy of Heorot, human colonists on the planet Avalon have problems building their colony, partly due to damage taken on the journey there, and partly because Avalon has deadly predators with super speed.
  • Sexless Marriage: One of the leading couples in The Legacy of Heorot becomes this after the husband is rendered paraplegic in a fight with an alien monster. He ends up giving her permission to seek "outside assistance" when it came to her physical needs, as long as she didn't sleep with the book's main character.
  • Shameful Strip: At the end of Oath of Fealty, the captured ecofanatic saboteurs and some common criminals are stripped naked, painted, tattooed and left for the police to find.
  • Shapeshifting Seducer: In "The Meddler", the main antagonist, Sinclair, is a crime boss who has a tremendous reputation as a ladies' man, which the hero, private detective Bruce Cheeseborough, confirms after interviewing his exes. It turns out that Sinclair an alien shapeshifter who uses his size-altering abilities in bed. Cheeseborough comments that he "really had gone native" if he found that worth the trouble.
  • The Sky Is an Ocean: The Integral Trees is set in a thin, orbiting band of breathable air; the sky literally is an ocean, since there is no actual planet one can set foot on.
  • The Slow Path: The protagonists of Rainbow Mars travel back in time hundreds of years using instantaneous time travel but lose access to it for the return trip. Instead, they use a stasis device to return to their own time, popping into reality here and there to inadvertently spawn ancient legends, including that of Baba Yaga.
  • Solar Flare Disaster:
    • "Flare Time" is about one of these. It's about how regular solar flares force the Earth colonists to take shelter and cause Medusa's native life forms to come out of hiding.
    • "Inconstant Moon": The protagonist initially believes that the sun has gone nova and the world is going to end, but realizes that that can't be the case or it would have finished ending already. Instead, the solar flare just killed everything on the side of the planet facing it.
  • Space Amish: In A World Out Of Time, the far-future immortal Boys spend the antarctic summer living as nomadic Stone Age hunters, but return to their high-tech cities during the unending darkness of the polar winter.
  • Space People: The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring feature the descendants of stranded astronauts who live in a cloud surrounding a star. They are extremely tall (around 3m) and slim and have elongated toes, as well as a high infant mortality rate due to the lack of gravity.
  • Space Whale: The Integral Trees has the Moby, a whalish giant creature that lives within the breatheable Smoke Ring gas torus orbiting a dead neutron star.
  • Spontaneous Crowd Formation: In "Flash Crowd", this sort of thing is one of the unexpected side-effects of the development of easy teleportation technology.
  • Star Killing: In "The Fourth Profession", the Monks are a species of alien traders who travel from star to star. Normally they travel using light sails pushed by launching lasers built by intelligent races in the systems they visit. If there's no intelligent race in a system or the race refuses to build a launching laser for them, they use a device on their ship to make the system's star go nova and use that for propulsion.
  • Teenage Wasteland: In the latter part of A World Out Of Time, most of the Earth is ruled by immortal boy-children who keep a supply of grown-ups around as breeding stock. (The immortal girl-children were wiped out by a gender war and environmental changes making their territory uninhabitable.) All new boy-children are taken from the adults and join troupes of the immortal boys; the ones that demonstrate "superior qualities" are sent back to the adults to become new breeding adults, while the rest become immortal and stay boys forever. Girls remain with the adults and grow into new breeding adults. Both the boys and girls are depicted as cruel despots, but not because of their "youth"; most are far older than the adults and have the mentalities to match. They're cruel because they're powerful, ancient immortals, and cruelty is how they alleviate their boredom.
  • Teleportation:
    • The practical ramifications of easy teleportation are explored in the essay "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation" and a series of short stories including "Flash Crowd" and "The Alibi Machine", some of which are collected in A Hole in Space.
    • The otherwise hard-science A World out of Time includes teleporting booths; they are innately short-range and require a long, unbroken string of booths to travel long distances.
  • Teleportation Misfire: In "One Face", a hyperspace misjump brings the crew to apparently the wrong system. Turns out after a while that it's the right system, but they've appeared billions of years in the future, when Earth is no longer habitable.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: In Destiny's Road, the planet Destiny's ecosystem is completely devoid of potassium, without which humans suffer brain damage and die. A ruling caste of "merchants" travel the Road trading potassium supplements for... pretty much everything they desire.
  • Terraform: In A World Out Of Time, delivering biological terraforming packages to suitable extrasolar planets is the job given to the corpsicle Corbell.
  • Time Abyss: Several of the Draco Tavern stories deal with this:
    • "Cautionary Tale" has an alien over ten thousand years old on a fruitless search for immortality.
    • "The Death Addict"'s danger-seeking alien doesn't have a specific age given, but he's afraid of living long enough to be "the last cluster of protons in the universe".
    • The Chirpsithra have immense lifespans: one in "The Green Plague" is almost two billion — though relativistic Time Dilation makes her subjective age somewhat less — and visited Earth before its atmosphere had oxygen.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: A Draco Tavern story, "The Subject Is Closed", involves a priest asking one of the ubiquitous Chirpsithtra (who seem to know everything about anything) about the existence of God. The Chirp responds with a story of a race of beings who set about to prove the non/existence of an afterlife. The Chirps lost contact with them and the next time a trade ship visited, they found the entire race had calmly and orderly committed suicide. Whatever they had discovered, it was something that had convinced the entire race they were better off dead, and something the Chirps were not particularly interested in knowing. Rick later explained relating this particular story was the Chirp's way of politely saying "none of your business."
  • Time Dissonance: In the Draco Tavern series, the different rates of different types of chemistry result in vastly different metabolisms and perceptions of time. Helium 3 lifeforms have such a slow chemistry that electronic communication is the only way to talk to them, and even a simple conversation takes decades. Their movement is just as slow. Meanwhile, lifeforms that evolved on stars are on the other end of the scale, living less than a year, and regard carbon based humans as equally slow. For non-chemistry forms of the trope, in the story "Limits", aliens advanced enough to have immortality discuss whether or not to give the secret to humans, one side arguing that our brief lives have resulted in humans advancing much faster than other longer lived lifeforms, and more importantly discovering things they have not.
  • Time Machine: In the Hanville Svetz stories, Svetz is from a time where most animals are extinct, and he uses a time machine to obtain animals for the global zoo. The gimmick of the series is that time travel is actually impossible, and instead of the real past the machine takes him into fictional or mythological pasts. When he tries to find a horse, he comes back with a unicorn, and his attempt to capture a gila monster nets a fire-breathing dragon. He does manage to acquire a regular whale... except that it's Moby-Dick in the flesh — complete with a dead Captain Ahab still in its jaws — and he had to avoid the Leviathan to capture it.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: Svetz's solution to a time paradox involving the destruction of Ford's Model-T demonstrates very well how bad English is with time travel:
    Svetz: Maybe we can go around you. Zeera, try this. Send me back to an hour before the earlier Zeera arrives. Ford's automobile won't have disappeared yet. I'll duplicate it, duplicate the duplicate, take the reversed duplicate and the original past you in the big extension cage. That leaves you to destroy the duplicate instead of the original. I reappear after you've gone, leave the original automobile for Ford, and come back here with the reversed duplicate. How's that?
    Zeera: It sounded great. Would you mind going through it again?
  • Too Dumb to Live: In Oath of Fealty, the plot is initiated by a group of teenagers who, as a prank, try to sneak into a heavily surveillance filled arcology while carrying a box labeled "bomb". They take just enough precautions to defeat all of the nonlethal methods of stopping them. The abject stupidity of this act is very heavily lampshaded, and spawns the repeated phrase "Think of it as evolution in action." At one point they even break through a door which has a sign that warns, "If you enter here YOU WILL DIE!" Among other skull and crossbones-type warnings.
  • To Serve Man: The Draco Tavern story "Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing!" plays with this idea differently: Instead of eating the original people, the brilliant alien bioengineers that asked them to visit grow cloned tissue in tanks (up to a whole, headless body), and give a small percentage of the sale price to the Earth government to pay for marvelous new technologies. Some of the people thus cultivated take it better than others.
  • Tripod Terror: Rainbow Mars includes, among its parade of fictional Martians, an analogue of the Martians from The War of the Worlds, complete with three-legged war machines.
  • Uterine Replicator: A key plot element in Beowulf's Children. Tau Ceti is colonized mostly by Human Popsicles and their descendants, but artificial wombs were provided just in case the women had trouble conceiving on an alien world. The colonists produced a creche of "Bottle Babies" before settling into producing them the old-fashioned way; some of them grow up seriously disturbed due to issues with the biochemical stimulation in the bottles. One in particular is the major antagonist of the novel.
  • Virgin Power: In "The Flight of the Horse", time traveler Hanville Svetz is send to acquire a horse from the past, but can only find one with a horn, owned by a very young girl. (As a product of a Future Imperfect future, Svetz doesn't even know what a horse is, let alone a unicorn.) He buys the "horse" and takes it home where the only person who can handle it is "that frigid bitch Zera."
  • War for Fun and Profit: In "War Movie", one of the Draco Tavern stories, Rick Schumann and a female soldier encounter an alien Drowning My Sorrows before returning to his homeworld as a bankrupt failure. Apparently a spacecraft from his species came to Earth in the middle of World War II. Amazed at what they were seeing, they filmed as much of the action as they could from orbit and returned to their world to sell it for a modest profit. They then raised capital to finance a First Contact mission and returned to Earth, planting secret cameras on the ground to get even better footage when World War III broke out. It never did — worse, the psychological and material changes caused by First Contact meant that humans no longer had any major conflicts other than an occasional riot or act of terrorism. Afterwards the soldier asks whether they should tell people about this. Schumann advises her to keep quiet, otherwise some unscrupulous dictatorship might get the idea of starting a war in exchange for a percentage of the profits.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: In A World Out of Time, Earth tries to assert its influence on the extrasolar colonies it has seeded. They then go to war by firing relativistic projectiles at each other.
  • What's a Henway?: In Fallen Angels, an astrophysicist goes to torturous lengths to include the abbreviation SNU (meaning "Solar Neutrino Unit", and pronounced "snew") into a conversation, just so the person he is talking to can ask "What's SNU?" The inevitable response is "Nothing much. What's new with you?"
  • World in the Sky: An unusual, real-physics variation occurs in The Integral Trees, set in the "smoke ring": The smoke ring is a toroidal cloud of gas and matter which orbits a very low-output neutron star, which in turn orbits a sun-like star in a binary configuration. It includes a ring of breathable atmosphere, in which reside a number of flying plants and animals, including some humans who've "gone native".
  • World Shapes: The Integral Trees takes place in the "Smoke Ring", a 'world' which is just a breathable ring of gas around a neutron star.
  • World Tree: Rainbow Mars had a tree that stuck up into space and drained entire planets of their water. It is explicitly compared to Yggdrasil.
  • Wrong Time-Travel Savvy: The Svetz series features time travel based on the premise that, since time travel is impossible, if you travel back in time you actually enter a fantasy world. Thus, when the hero goes back in time to bring back a horse, he finds a unicorn. When he goes back to bring back a whale, he finds Moby-Dick, and so on. No one in the series ever figures out that they aren't visiting the past, but rather are visiting fiction.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: The fake terrorists from Oath of Fealty are, in a word, idiots, and have almost no survival instinct whatsoever.
  • Xanatos Gambit: In Beowulf's Children by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, Aaron Tragon's theft of the transport ship Robo was a Xanatos Gambit. Aaron Tragon's primary goal is to force everyone to leave the island and colonize the mainland. If the theft was successful, good. If one of the adults died in the conflict, then it's hardball and Aaron gets a war — also good. If one of Aaron's friends is killed, then he gets sympathy from the other colonists and he has the leverage he needs to start colonizing the mainland — very good. Justin is horrified when he realizes this, because it meant Aaron took into account the possibility of a friend being killed and that he already planned how to take advantage of it. Even his "friends" are just pawns in Aaron's mind.

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