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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."

A prolific writer of Speculative Fiction, Laurence van Cott Niven (born April 30, 1938) 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.

Starting in the 1970s, much of Niven’s work was in collaborations with other authors. (By the 90s, "much" became "nearly all".) He worked extensively with Jerry Pournelle, including The Mote in God's Eye and Lucifer's Hammer. He's also worked with Steven Barnes on the Dream Park series, both writers on the “Heorot” series, and others like Michael Flynn, Brenda Cooper, Edward Lerner, and Gregory Benford.

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.

Like his colleague and friend Jerry Pournelle, Niven is known for his right-wing politics, though they tend to be a bit more subtly expressed in stories where Pournelle wasn’t involved.

He has a wiki.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Auto-Doc: 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.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Svetz the time traveler, apart from encountering creatures of myth, seems to have inspired a few myths of his own. In "The Flight of the Horse", he flies around on a device from his time shaped like a rod with a bristle of electronic antennae at the rear end; he inadvertantly leaves it behind in the possession of the young woman who caught the "horse" for him, and wonders what people will think when they see her flying around on it.
  • Big Dumb Object: Niven loves this trope and arguably helped shape it.
    • Ringworld, one of the earliest BDOs, is a one-million-mile wide ring built roughly in the diameter of the Earth's orbit (around another star.) Picture a giant ring spinning around the sun with the inside surface open for light, with 1000 mile high walls to hold the air in, while it spins for roughly 1 G of gravity. Population? In the trillions, with nowhere to run if something goes wrong.
    • 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.
    • The more recent Bowl of Heaven series (with Gregory Benford) involves an object that is essentially a redesigned Ringworld: a bowl-shaped artifact surrounding a star.
    • The Integral Trees series features an ”organic” variant of a Ringworld: an entire civilization living in free fall in a human-livable environment around a neutron star, with the atmosphere being pulled from a local gas giant by the star’s ferocious gravity.
  • 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.
  • 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, and assume that the book shows a domesticated horse with its horn cut off for safety), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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-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).
    • In "Spirals" (a short story in the Limits collection), they blow up the receiving antenna that the Construction Shack is supposed to use to beam power down to Earth, and then tie up rebuilding it in lawsuits.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Extinct in the Future: In the Hanville Svetz short stories, the title character is sent back in time to obtain specimens of creatures that no longer exist in the future, such as horses and Gila monsters ("Get a Horse!"/"The Flight of the Horse"), sperm whales ("Leviathan!") and wolves ("There's a Wolf in My Time Machine").
  • Fat Bastard: The demon in Convergent Stories has a large, bulging belly & is described as embodying each of the deadly sins. The protagonist manages to put him in a paradox by drawing the pentagram on his gut.
  • 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 nearly a money machine), he's now quite well off, meaning she doesn't bother working and lives a white-collar life of leisure on the other side of the city from him.
  • 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...
  • Future Imperfect: In the Hanville Svetz stories, animals are known only from old stories and pictures in old books, and there are many misconceptions about them. For instance, Svetz and his boss expect a gila monster to be huge because the one picture they have doesn't have anything to show scale.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Niven's stories often include these, usually with some individual who subtly breaks the conditions of the hegemony. Niven refers to them as "hydraulic empires" though the control mechanism in the Niven stories usually is a type of technology, not water. Examples include:
    • A Gift From Earth and the "Gil the Arm" stories (access to medical care and organ transplants)
    • Crashlander (access to General Products technology)
    • Oath of Fealty (access to the water controlled by the Todos Santos arcology, a true hydraulic empire)
    • Destiny's Road (access to potassium)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hover Bot: Cloak of Anarchy had "copseyes", spherical robots the size of a basketball that floated around Free Parks. They had a television camera connected to police headquarters and a sonic stunner. Anyone who tried to commit violence in a Free Park was stunned unconscious
  • Human Popsicle: 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.
  • 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 the same - 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Organ Theft: Advanced medicine starts prolonging life by dismantling criminals for spare parts. Due to a voracious need for organs, more and more crimes get the death penalty. Before medical alternatives get good enough, serial speeding becomes terminal in more ways than one.
  • 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.
  • Population Control: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • "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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Time Abyss: "Cautionary Tale" has an alien over ten thousand years old on a fruitless search for immortality.
  • 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 Clever by Half: 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." Just to rub it in, their chosen point of entry is a door with a skull-and-crossbones over the words, "IF YOU GO THROUGH THIS DOOR, YOU WILL BE KILLED." In English, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean.
    • Justified in that they're the decoys. Their Animal Wrongs Group backers wanted to start a media brouhaha about the restricted community killing kids with the lethal defenses they have protecting the most vital systems; for example, the hydrogen lines — y'know, the stuff that could very possibly blow up like a fuel-air explosive — were protected with Sarin gas sprayers. As a result of the decoy attack, the outside government forces the arcology to dismantle their best defenses, clearing the way for the AWG to make a real attack.
  • 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 homely young woman. (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."
  • 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 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 Robur was a gambit worthy of Xanatos. Aaron Tragon's primary goal is to establish a colony on the mainland which he will rule. However, he saw all the angles;
    1. If the theft was successful, good. It's more than enough to get the ball rolling, and once he's there... See option #3.
    2. If one of the adults died in the conflict, then it's hardball and Aaron gets a war; even better, as most of Aaron's age group — already antagonised at having to follow the adults' orders despite all of them having varying amounts of intelligence-crippling brain damage — would support such a war.
    3. 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 with their support; that's the "have your cake and eat it too" scenario, as he has evidence that the planet is about to undergo catastrophic climate change and a mainland colony is essential to the survival of humanity — and he already tried to share that evidence but was waved off. Especially since he waits to re-present this evidence until after the adults hold a show trial and legitimize the killing. The adults are humiliated as insular and senile, Aaron's generation lionizes him, and best of all, a wedge is driven between them, leaving Aaron's peers under Aaron's control.
    • Cadmann Wayland — the man who prevented the theft by making the kill — 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. Other adults point out that won't stop Aaron's peers from adoring him; he rose to power in his generation through similar means — an Ignored Expert who is accused of murder rather than acknowledging a threat — and he's still an authority decades later.