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Literature / The Draco Tavern

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The Draco Tavern is the setting of a series of science fiction short stories by Larry Niven.

Run by bartender Rick Schumann, the Draco Tavern is located at Earth's primary spaceport near Mount Forel, Greenland, and caters to a clientele that includes both humans and an ever-expanding range of weird and wonderful alien species. Some of the stories recount incidents at the tavern, while others feature visitors telling tall tales about their experiences on other worlds.
The stories originally appeared in various publications. The 2006 book The Draco Tavern collects the stories published up to that point. Several more have been published since.

    Stories in the series 
  • Grammar Lesson (1977)
  • The Subject Is Closed (1977)
  • Cruel and Unusual (1977)
  • Assimilating Our Culture, That's What They're Doing! (1978)
  • The Schumann Computer (1979)
  • Breeding Maze (1980)
  • The Green Marauder (1980)
  • War Movie (1981)
  • Limits (1981)
  • The Real Thing (1982)
  • One Night at the Draco Tavern (1984)
  • Table Manners (aka Folk Tale, 1984)
  • Smut Talk (2000)
  • The Wisdom of Demons (2000)
  • The Missing Mass (2000)
  • Ssoroghod's People (2001)
  • The Heights (2001)
  • The Convergence of the Old Mind (2002)
  • Chrysalis (2002)
  • The Ones Who Stay Home (2003)
  • The Death Addict (2003)
  • Lost (2004)
  • Storm Front (2004)
  • The Slow Ones (2005)
  • Losing Mars (2006)
  • Playground Earth (2006)
  • Playhouse (2006)
  • The Artists (2010)
  • The Flare Weed (2011)
  • God Walks Into a Bar (2014)
  • Closing Sale (2015)

This series contains examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with in "The Schumann Computer". 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. A later story depicts a more successful AI. This is explained as possible in continuity with "The Schumann Computer" as the more successful AI coming to the understanding that it cannot perceive the entire universe from its initial location even with the best sensors and thus choosing to travel the universe in search of more information.
  • Alien Catnip: Rick stocks intoxicants for a wide variety of alien races, including pure alcohol, spongecake soaked in cyanide, and rocks he refers to as "green kryptonite". Chirps use small devices called "sparkers" that pass an electrical current through their nervous system.
  • Artificial Meat: "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.
  • The Bartender: Rick Schumann, the central character of the Draco Tavern stories, is the owner and bartender of the eponymous tavern, catering to alien travelers at Earth's main spaceport. All stories are told from his point of view.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: Most of the aliens fall into this category, to varying degrees. The Chirps are either benign despots or monumental liars, and no-one has any real idea which; the Gligstith(click)optok 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: A number of species discuss or demonstrate significant differences between genders: Wahartht females cannot tolerate any environment but the forests of their homeworld, sending the males into space to explore and "bring back stories"; female Grey Mourners are twice as large as their male counterparts, whom they consume after mating (unless certain measures are taken); and the female Chirpsithra that visit Earth (eleven-foot-tall salmon-colored crustacean analogues) refuse to talk about their males – to the point that other species avoid the subject altogether. In one of the later stories ***SPOILERS***, the Chirp males are revealed as destructive spike-covered "red demons", similar in height and proportions to a human child.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: In "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.
  • Earth All Along: In "The Green Marauder", an ancient Chirpsithtra recalls a civilization they met millions of years ago, whose planet was undergoing geological upheaval: 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 humans and the entire fossil record (as we know it).
  • Endless Daytime: The Chirpsithra homeworld is tidally locked. The species evolved in the "twilight region" around the planet's terminator zone.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Female Grey Mourners, whose instinctive mating habits resemble those of certain Earth spiders, practice polyandry for safety purposes. While one male is having sex with the female, the other – being less "distracted" – feeds her a prey animal to prevent her from devouring her current sexual partner.
  • Exploited Immunity: In "Smut Talk", Rick is infected with a Puppeteer Parasite sentient virus. It informs his friends that there's no way to remove it without killing its host, only to be told that it's treatable with sulfa drugs (which would destroy the virus without harming Rick).
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: In "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.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The Draco Tavern is a pub in Earth's main spaceport, equipped for a very diverse range of customers.
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • "Breeding Maze".
    • "Smut Talk" explores the possibility of a sexually transmitted Alien Invasion.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Mark Taper.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: In "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.
  • Nothing Left to Do but Die: In "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.
  • People Farms: Played with in "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.
  • Starfish Aliens
  • Tidally Locked Planet: The Chirpsithra evolved on a tide-locked planet orbiting a red dwarf star.
  • Time Abyss:
    • The danger-seeking alien in "The Death Addict" 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 Marauder" 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: "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:
    • 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.
  • To Serve Man: "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.
  • War for Fun and Profit: In "War Movie", 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.