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Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. Larry Niven 484

Several Slashdot staff people are major Larry Niven fans, so we feel he needs no introduction. You asked. He answered. Enough said. Read and enjoy.

1) Fallen Angels, Baen Free Library, and RMS
by Robotech_Master

Your collaborative novel Fallen Angels is available in the Baen Free Library. What prompted you to make it available there?

Have its paper sales picked up since you posted it there? (Assuming it's still in print to be sold.) Might you consider making some of your other works available that way?

Also, Fallen Angels features a couple of references to one of the ultimate ubergeeks of the Linux world, Richard M. Stallman. Who was responsible for that? (I'm guessing it would have been Pournelle.) Are there any amusing stories associated with those appearances?


Jim Baen's theory is that putting a work on the net will sell more paper copies. Paper books are easier to read and carry around. I thought it worth testing. So did my collaborators.

I don't have figures on whether it worked: raised the sales of Fallen Angels. I'll have to ask Jim Baen. If the theory holds, sure I'll make more stuff available. Long ago I gave away Net rights to certain short works, "Man of Steel/Woman of Kleenex" and "Down in Flames".

Richard Stallman must have ben put in by Jerry or Mike, not by me. We all did some research into science fiction fans; I introduced Mike Flynn to several on the West Coast, and he found his own in the East. Most of the characters in the book are real people suitably altered.

2) Is Science Fiction healthy?
by technoCon

Lots of folks love SF: Today there's a cable network and a nauseating volume of Star Trek reruns. Computer graphics makes it feasible to put a movie into any imaginable setting. Technology is being deployed so quickly that Vernor Vinge's singularity comes to mind. Technological progress is moving so fast it is hard to anticipate it.

NASA is dinking around in LEO: Boldly going where John Glenn has gone four decades before. I don't know who said it: The future just ain't what it used to be.

The Sputnik generation is graying: When I was a lad, I watched moon shots. It captured my imagination. I read any book that had a rocket on its cover. I'm late forties and will be dead of cancer soon.

Writers are moving out of SF: William Gibson's latest novel has high geek content, but none of the science isn't already deployed. Same for Neal Stephenson's _Cryptonomicon_: good story with high geek content, but nothing beyond the current state of the art. And I've seen guys who once wrote Hard Science Fiction branching out to Fantasy.

Publishing is corporatized: The huge bookstores I haunt have SF sections that are overcrowded with Fantasy and StarTrek, StarWars, Babylon5 & (insert corporate franchise here) serials.

It looks to me as if Science Fiction is in trouble, or it may be sick, or it may be dead and doesn't know it yet.

What is your assessment of SF's health and which of these considerations do you think most significant?


We were a tiny, despised cluster of the socially inept when I first found other science fiction fans. Today we have a hell of a lot more respect, success, and money. The field is healthy.

Yes, good SF writers veer into fantasy and mainstream. I do it too. It's a break, a vacation. Don't let it disturb you.

As for the rest--do you see the media invading the science fiction field? It's the other way around. We've fully corrupted them; it only remains to educate them too.

But we ourselves are not moving into space.

Note: we're learning about the universe at an amazing rate. We're exploring the planets. We've got everything we hoped for, except that human beings aren't going and aliens don't seem to be waiting. I don't know what to do about that, except to show the dream to as many minds as I can reach.

Most of my friends are convinced that NASA is the great roadblock. I have my doubts. We persuaded Goldin that all he had to do was fire two levels of NASA bureaucrats and...he managed it, and magic didn't happen. Maybe what we're up against is the universe.

3) Intersection of SciFi and Gaming
by Shadow Wrought

What do you think of video games as a future outlet for original SciFi universes? Do you think that the interactive environments games provide will appeal to writers who would otherwise create movies or shorts?


I love it. Any new market (such as video games) opens more options for creativity, and more money. Games and movie/tv and books will feed into each other. Mind you, that's hard on the novices: competition is going to get fiercer yet.

4) Cautionary tales?
by J. Random Software

You've built worlds with uncommonly dystopian elements, such as Plateau's long tyranny over a disarmed populace, organlegging, all-out war with ruthless aliens, and suppression of dangerous technology. Have you intended any of these to be cautions about likely (or even inevitable) events, or just interesting to think about?


Sure, they're all intended as warnings. Nevertheless--what I've been serving up through most of my career are the dark sides of bright futures.

Organlegging, including State executions for organs, is the dark side of longevity, advanced medical techniques.

Disarmed populace and suppression of dangerous technology seem inevitable. Be warned.

War with aliens seems less likely, except that an enemy is always alien to some extent.

Plateau was fairyland with a single flaw.

5) Favorite book?
by emarkp

Of the work you've written, does one title in particular have a special place in your heart? Douglas Adams once said that his book "Last Chance to See" was the one book he'd hope that people read if they only read one of his books. Is there one book of yours you'd like people to have read?

Similarly, if I were to introduce someone to your books, which one would you suggest I give him first?


What book you give depends on who you're giving it to. To a mundane, give LUCIFER'S HAMMER. To a scientist, give THE INTEGRAL TREES. To someone who already wants to write, or to know about Niven, give N-SPACE or PLAYGROUNDS OF THE MIND or the forthcoming SCATTERBRAIN. Fantasy fans and Angelinos get THE BURNING CITY. If I had to bet my reputation it would be on RINGWORLD.

6) Intelligence and Wisdom
by Kostya

Could you comment on the difference between intelligence and wisdom? You seem to hint at some ideas in Ringworld Throne when Wu chooses to depose the Vampire Protector because he was not wise enough.

In these Pak Protectors, we have unbelievably intelligent and clever beings, but wisdom does not seem implied. What are your thoughts on wisdom, and what points were you trying to make? Considering the audience for most of your books (geeks, "smart folk"), it's an interesting point to include.

Side question: where did you come up with the idea of the Pak, especially as human ancestors? It has to be one of the more original conjectures about effects of old age that I have ever read :-)


My father and stepmother got us into a night class in hominid development. From what I learned, and one initial assumption, I extrapolated protectors. The assumption was, every symptom of aging is a stunted version of something intended to make us better able to defend our descendants.

Fans have pointed out developments even I missed. Thus: We breeders have a stunted sense of smell because our protector forms would otherwise be obeying their noses, rejecting outsider mates for their breeders, causing inbreeding.

The original (Pak) protectors are still too reflexive: they've got intelligence but not wisdom.

Intelligence is a tool or tool set. Wisdom is what you do with that. I've met people who specialized their intelligence, who never developed a life. I know yoga students like that too.

I've written at length about wisdom and intelligence because I didn't have a short answer.

7) What do you read?
by caesar-auf-nihil

Mr. Niven,

I'm always curious about what authors read for either inspiration, or what they find to be good literature. What books (science fiction or otherwise) have influenced your work, or do you find to be delightful reads. Any favorite authors?

Thank you for your time.


THE WIZARD OF OZ seems to have inspired me as a child.

Today I read a lot of science fiction, and I take friends' advice for what else pops up. I loved CRYPTONOMICON. I read everything by Tim Powers and Terry Pratchett and a lot of Connie Willis. Some really good hard SF writers have popped up, and I read them: John Barnes, Bruce Sterling, Stephen Baxter. Barbara Hambly's detective fiction. Patrick O'Brian's sea stories, courtesy of John Hertz.

8) Why is there no religion in Known Space
by Adam Rightmann

I know most SF writers aren't big on religion, but religion occupies a very large space in your collaboration with Pournelle, "The Mote in God's Eye", yet is conspicously lacking in Known Space. Is the religion in "Mote" all Jerry's doing?


Yes, it is. I'm not comfortable speculating on the development of new and established religions. The Kdaptist heresy was a joke. INFERNO was a compulsion: I'd read Dante's INFERNO and my mind wouldn't let go of it, and I sucked Jerry into it too. My motives weren't religious, they were a storyteller's.

9) Crossing my fingers
by Demona

Was your cease-and-desist regarding Elf Sternberg's "The Only Fair Game" motivated more by a personal aversion to the content, or a desire to retain control over "your universe"? How does this jibe with your statement in Ringworld Engineers that "If you want more Known Space stories, you'll have to write them yourself"?


I couldn't remember "The Only Fair Game", so I used your link.

I don't buy its premise. An older species won't have human versatility in sex: sexual responses will be all hard wired. Kzinti females won't be soft and unresponsive, either. You die if you make that mistake.

I probably issued a cease-and-desist when the story was described to me as violating my copyright. It does that, of course, and I notice the "desist" had no effect.

Once upon a time there was a gaming article that blew away the punch lines of several Man-Kzin War stories. I asked that it not be published. In that case too, I acted to protect my copyrights and my authors.

More generally--"If you want more Known Space stories" was intended as an invitation to daydream, not to violate my copyrights and steal my ideas. Turning such dreams into stories is only done under restricted circumstances and with permission.

But these dreams can make my morning. I love it when someone sees an implication I missed. (I get these via email, usually, or as Man-Kzin War stories.) And after all, there are things I can't copyright or patent or trademark. "Halo" looks like a poor man's Ringworld, but I didn't invent spin gravity.

10) Movie Jealousy?
by spun

David Brin has been forthright concerning his jealousy over bad SF being made into movies while his work is not. With the exception of 'Forbidden Planet' I have yet to see a science fiction movie that draws me in the way a good Sci-Fi book does.

I also think that your works would make excellent movies. Brin's work would probably play well in Europe, where people seem to prefer a little more ambiguity in their movies. It probably wouldn't do well here. Now, I'm not saying your writing isn't of the same caliber as Brin's work, but it is a little more accesible to the common man, and therefore seems well suited to be made into a blockbuster that would do well in the states. My questions: 1.) Are you at all jealous that lesser talents get to have their work seen by millions on the silver screen? 2.) Have you been approached by any producers regarding screenplays of your work? 3.) Would you even want to have your works made into movies?

That said, I just have to say thank you for providing me with so much quality entertainment! I grew up reading your stories from the time I was ten. In my esteem, you are one of the best well rounded Sci Fi authors out there. Your work has great characters, fantastic settings, believable science, and lots of action. Thanks again.


Sure I'm jealous, and angry. I've waited too long to take my family to a movie made from my works, and now my mother's gotten to old to go. I'm glad to see Brin's "The Postman" on the big screen. I like his message. But I'd like to see Harry the Mailman, from "Lucifer's Hammer", up there too.

And sure I've sold rights and options, and written a Star Trek cartoon and sold an Outer Limits episode, but it's not the same as walking into a theater. Movies cost a lot more than options do.

Yes, I would like to see my works made into movies. All of them. Short stories as well as novels. Why not? A movie doesn't ruin a book; the book is still there, unchanged, and may even see a larger audience. See Vince Gerardis of Created By, my agent, if you've just won a lottery.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. Larry Niven

Comments Filter:
  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:11PM (#5477623)
    Amen. Put that in your NASA/Military Industrial Complex conspiracy pipe and smoke it. The Universe has no compelling reason to cater to whims and dreams of mortals. There is no "grass roots" road to space. Get over it.
    • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:46PM (#5477914) Homepage Journal
      And frankly, until there is something that would truly require human study and analysis, we just won't see any strong drive to send a manned mission out of orbit anytime soon. The improved capabilities of orbiting telescopes and robotic exploration [] have pretty much eliminated the need for manned missions in the short- to medium-term. It's not that we're not exploring, we're just not sticking our (astronaut's) necks out.
      • we're just not sticking our (astronaut's) necks out

        Either that apostrophe is in the wrong place, or NASA has recruited a Pearson's Puppeteer. I think we should be told!

      • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @03:27PM (#5478828)
        > The improved capabilities of orbiting telescopes and robotic exploration [] have pretty much eliminated the need for manned missions in the short- to medium-term. It's not that we're not exploring, we're just not sticking our (astronaut's) necks out.

        For the most part, you're right, but for Mars, I respectfully disagree.

        A freshman geology student with a pickaxe, a shovel, and an hour's worth of oxygen could teach us more about Martian history than any robotic sample return mission we have on the drawing board.

        • How much would a one-way mission cost?

          Seriously. I know I wouldn't but I'd put very good money that someone would be willing to trade the honour of being the first human in recorded history to set foot on another planet for it being a suicide mission.
      • With that attitude, we would have never of left the cave...
      • Im tired of people bitching about how were not going into space anymore. These things take time people! Youre not going to have star trek tomorrow, or the next day or maybe even in 3 centuries. The first real colony in the americas was nearly 100 years after columbus first set foot here, and there was alot more reason for people to come to america then there is for us to go to space now. We need the impetus to do it, and that means running out of more natural resources. Humans are lazy, they wont change their ways unless they are absolutely forced to. Look at how the steam engine was invented: Steam power was known about for millenia before the industrual revolution (see Heros Engine) but it was finally perfected because they needed a way to pump water out of the coal mines. They needed to do that because they were using more coal, they were using more coal because the english and most of europe had run out of trees. They had run out of trees because populations had grown and they needed to wood for housing and heating. Essentially we were forced to move to another fuel source, and this fuel source required new technology to gather it. Its amazing how innovative you can be when youre faced with being inventive or freezing to death in the winter. Space travel is no different. If we have 15 billion people on the planet in 50 years, I gaurentee we will be going into space. Not to send excess population there, but to bring back resources like power and minerals. All it takes on your part is a little patience for the population pressure to start pushing us outward again.
    • You could be right. The human race has shown a weakness for impossible dreams. Consider, for example, ancient mythologies, or the "ideal" of modern communism. Myths about gods residing on Olympus and entering into the affairs of humans are clearly not true. Similarly, the notions of that contemporary mythology known as communism have been similarly discredited.

      However, we do know that the NASA-aerospace industrial complex has many dysfunctional features. In some ways it's been getting worse over the years. Can current NASA problems be fixed? Reforms have been successfully made to other institutions.

      Before we chuck out our dreams, perhaps we should consider changing the current approach to the problems. This could mean reform of the existing establishment, creating new ways out of whole cloth or some combination.

      Goldin's efforts probably worsened the existing situation. It remains to be seen whether the impact of O'Keefe's reforms will be positive or negative.

      • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @03:07PM (#5478656)
        Before we chuck out our dreams, perhaps we should consider changing the current approach to the problems

        I don't wish for anyone to chuck out their dreams. I'd just like some of the anti-NASA zealots to put their dreams into perspective. The common Joe is convinced that NASA is a farce of waste and mismanagement. This isn't the case, but the perception gives leverage to forces that oppose NASA and, by extension, institutional exploration altogether.

        There are two groups of anti-NASA. The first group hates NASA because they harbor vague notions about how to do it "right." They believe NASA, with it's big budget programs such as the Space Shuttle, is the reason that progress is slow. The second group hates NASA because NASA consumes resources that they would rather have for other, mostly "social", agendas. The problem is that when the first group sounds off, they give ammunition to the second group. I don't like this because I believe progress is slow because the task is hard, not because NASA sucks, and NASA doesn't need either group ankle-bitting it, much less both. Destroying NASA isn't going to create a better NASA, it's just going to get more food stamps bought.

        Next year Cassini will reach Saturn. It will drop a probe onto the surface of Titan. We will learn more about Saturn than has ever been known. That which we learn will constitute the domain of knowledge about Saturn that anyone reading this will ever have the opportunity to know prior to death. Cassini is considered an old-fashioned "big budget" mission according to contemporary anti-NASA zealot thinking. Will there be more? God forbid!

        Want something to dream of that you have a rational basis for suspecting may be feasible in your lifetime? Here are mine; detecting extra-terrestrial intelligent life and creating machine based non-human intelligence. The first is a matter of fate and possibly some luck. The second I consider an inevitability and I'm only left to wonder about timing. I too have my dreams. I just try a little harder to keep reality in perspective. The physics involved in space exploration precludes most of what our imaginations are capable of. This isn't NASA's fault so I figure it's best not to blame them for it.

        • The first group hates NASA because they harbor vague notions about how to do it "right." They believe NASA, with it's big budget programs such as the Space Shuttle, is the reason that progress is slow.

          Some of us have more than vague ideas for improvements. Substantive proposals for reform have been made -- frequently by people who have real knowledge of what's going on in the field. One friend who still works at NASA complains about increasingly bureaucratic management getting in the way. Shifting back to a more flexible management style such as was once practiced isn't a vague proposal. Encouraging independence and the free flow of communications aren't vague proposals.

          Yes, things revealed by this group can provide ammunition to the people who want to simply destroy NASA. But suppressing bad news isn't healthy for an organization in anything but the shortest term. People once assumed that totalitarian dictatorships would best open democracies because they didn't "waste time" on debate or allow "internal critics" to weaken the state. It turned out that the problems ignored were sufficient to weaken the totalitarian states.

          NASA is far from a totalitarian state. But similar principles do apply. You can't solve problems until they are known and widely discussed. The more people who look at a problem, the more likely you'll find a solution.

          Cassini is considered an old-fashioned "big budget" mission according to contemporary anti-NASA zealot thinking.

          Yes, Cassini looks to be a success. And some of the "better, faster, cheaper" approaches have been notable failures. Goldin made severe mistakes. So did his predecessors. And I agree that the critics make some too. That's why I favor getting as many people involved as possible. Openness and flexibility are what we need -- not dogma of one variety or another.

          Yes, physics does argue against things like Star Trek fantasies. That doesn't mean we're not able to do a wide variety of remarkable things in space. Physicists far better than I think things like space colonies and even travel to other stars are possible. Some even think them likely. The Fermi Paradox is still a debated topic. And, given that present day aerospace does have significant management problems, we don't need to invoke ideas that "physics is against it" to explain the failures that we see.

      • Reforms have been successfully made to other institutions.

        Other government institutions? Are you sure? Quite frankly, I can't think of any. From the Post Office to Social Security to the IRS to the Patent Office, every government institution I can think of just gets worse and more bloated year after year. I wish I could, but I honestly can't think of any governmental organization that has gotten better, aside from those which have been essentially totally dismembered (for example, the ICC).

        That's really a depressing thought, actually. Please, someone give me a counter example.

    • You are so full of shit.

      NASA is a victim of its past successes. When Kennedy decided to beat Russia to the moon, what was previously a small, tight research organization got given a blank check and a mandate. After we won the race, the mandate went away. This meant that NASA was a large organization that had grown to its full size too quickly, still possessing a fairly large budget but no clear impelling direction. It's hardly surprising that they fell into bureaucracy.

      STS is a system that might has well have been designed for unreliability. Something like 30,000 people are involved in the refit of the orbiter between each mission. The main engines are partially disassembled, which means de-welding them, between each flight!

      Space travel is expensive and dangerous. It is vastly more expensive and dangerous as a result of NASA's approach.

      A large part of this is politics, and is not really NASA's fault (for whatever that's worth). They make important decisions (like who is going to build different parts of the Orbiter) for purely political reasons, because they need Congress' support. The STS system has major components manufacturered in something like 40 out of the 50 states, because they have to spread the federal dollars around. This is not the way to design a cheap, reliable solution.

      Even doing all that, they can't count on their budget from year to year, which makes it almost impossible for them to undertake long-term projects with confidence.

      No grassroots road, eh? Why not? It's a technical challenge, sure. But so far no entity other than NASA has had a real chance to attack the problem. Back a few years, there was a flurry of small private rocket companies, all of which collapsed after spending a few $million. They were successfully moving the technology forward, but were unable to raise the $100-200 million that was the rough budget for developing a new launch system: most investors just don't have that kind of vision.

      $100-$200 million sounds like a lot, but consider this: NASA spent over $30 million just selecting the bloody launch site for the X-33, which ultimately never got built.

      It is possible to build reliable rockets cheaply. It is even possible to mount them in piloted vehicles safely. It's been done. [] So don't tell us it is impossible.

      I will agree with your statement insofar as a literal interpretation goes: there is no military/industrial conspiracy. It's just a bunch of people and bureaucrats all acting to protect their personal short-term interests. Most of them don't care any more about space than the Post Office employee cares about your mail. And given how bound up in bureaucracy NASA is, I can hardly blame them.

  • by eaddict ( 148006 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:11PM (#5477628)
    I hope to see more authors here! Too bad PKD is dead. I guess I will have to live with "What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick" which is a great read!
  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:12PM (#5477630)
    Joel Rosenberg put it best in "The Sleeping Dragon":

    The difference between intelligence and wisdom is the difference between Edith Bunker and Richard Nixon.

    Edith has high wisdom and low intelligence, and Nixon is the other way around.
    • Thanks for reminding of Joel Rosenberg and his excellent novels. They are some of the best fantasy I have ever read. It's been far too long since I've read them.
    • Solomon. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:20PM (#5478227) Journal
      The difference between wisdom and intelligence?

      That question reminds me of the story of Solomon deciding which woman was the baby's mother.

      1 Kings 3:16-28 []

      Nowadays most knowledgeable and intelligent people would suggest using DNA tests for such a case.

      In contrast, Solomon's method would find out who was better suited to be the baby's mother. Even if you are physically the baby's mother, if you'd rather the baby be chopped in two, you aren't a mother to the baby.

      Whilst many intelligent people have a tendency to answer just the given question, a wise person will often give an appropriate response for the entire situation.

      Giving correct answers to questions shows your your knowledge and intelligence. Responding appropriately to the entire situation shows your wisdom.

  • What was the Outer Limits episode he wrote?

    • Re:Outer Limits (Score:5, Informative)

      by scowling ( 215030 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:15PM (#5477661) Homepage
      "Inconstant Moon", from the more recent (90s) series. It starred Michael Gross and Joanna Gleason, and is considered one of the finest, if not *the* finest, episode of the series.
    • Re:Outer Limits (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WinPimp2K ( 301497 )
      I was channel surfing and clicked over to this on it's opening scene. I saw the too-bright moon and instantly knew that whatever the darn show was, it was based on "Inconstant Moon" before they ever got to the title or opening credits.

      While it was good for TV, it lost most of the humorous bits that made the actual story so much more enjoyable (and really nailed the main character for me). Since I had last read that story more than ten years earlier, I think it is safe to say it struck me as very good story.

      Now if you want to have some fun, name the TV series that Niven's collaborator (Pournelle) wrote an episode for. I started laughing out loud when I saw "written by Jerry Pournelle" on the credits. Note that this was an episode he wrote, not an episode based on one of his stories. (Hint: it involved an improbably old Civil War veteran and his cannon)
      • I believe that was an episode in the first season of the original (1970's) Land Of The Lost. It had several big name writers during the first season. It was well written for a Kid's show, at least until the third season. The 1990's version IMHO sucked.

  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:17PM (#5477674) Homepage Journal
    10) Movie Jealousy? by spun David Brin has been forthright concerning his jealousy over bad SF being made into movies while his work is not...
    It's been my experience that GOOD sf books turn in to NASTY sf movies. Since David Brin's name was brought up, let's look at The Postman. In my opinion, it was a fantastic story which, once turned in to a movie made me feel like I'd been violated

    Of course, it might have been entirely the fault of Kevin Costner...

    - Jhon
    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:31PM (#5477800)
      Compare and contrast the original Blade Runner with Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. The film massacred the book. The recent edited version was a lot better, but still cut out the whole religion and culture of the world; I suppose those couldn't realistically fit into a film.

      Obviously the Niven book that would make the best big-budget effects monstrosity of a film would be Ringworld... but cast the wrong person as Louis and you face disaster. Making Speaker-to-Animals and Nessus look plausible would be a heck of a job, too. Compared to that, the CG involved in creating the ring, the flycycles and the flying buildings would be trivial.

      • by Coz ( 178857 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:39PM (#5477868) Homepage Journal
        The effects are easy, nowadays... it still depends on the ability of the screenwriters, actors, and director to tell the story. Speaker and Nessus could be done, IMHO - they would probably be CGI, and it would be on a scale similar to Gollum in LOTR.

        All that said, I still foamed at the mouth when I found out Verhoven had dropped the powered armor from Starship Troopers. He pretty much proved he couldn't direct, or select good actors, too.

        I hope the Heinlein estate made good money off that monstrosity.
      • I disagree WRT Blade Runner. I think it was an incredible movie, even though it was altogether different from the book.

        A good book is always going to be more cerebral than any movie made out of it. I prefer when a director/scriptwriter is inspired by the story and translates it into a good film, rather than trying to recreate the book page for page.

        Kubricks "The Shining" is another good example. The movie tells an altogether different story than the novel, but both are excellent.
      • I like Dick's answer (Score:3, Informative)

        by epepke ( 462220 )

        I'm quoting it from memory, so I probably have some words wrong:

        I have just seen Blade Runner. It is terrific. It has nothing to do with a book. What my book will become is a futuristic shoot-em-up. Which is just as well, because my book may have made a terrible movie, full as it is of the main character's internal dialog. A book is meant to be contemplated, but a movie is an event that moves.

      • While I like a lot of Dick's writing, I think that _Blade Runner_ was far superior to the book. As with many writers, Dick's novels often are hit and miss. Lots of good ideas that often doesn't finish well. Further what works in a book doesn't always work in a movie (and vice versa).
      • Obviously the Niven book that would make the best big-budget effects monstrosity of a film would be Ringworld... but cast the wrong person as Louis and you face disaster. Making Speaker-to-Animals and Nessus look plausible would be a heck of a job, too. Compared to that, the CG involved in creating the ring, the flycycles and the flying buildings would be trivial

        I always pictured Louis as David Carradine (the guy from "Kung-Fu"). Or maybe the other way around.

    • You have to detatch the way your imagination depicts the the way any book, SF or otherwise, is written. The beauty of any novel is that, while the author is drawing an defining scenes and conversation, it is your mind that pieces it all together.

      Each of us may read the same novel, but we will formulate our own mental picture.

      Any movie will, perhaps, come close to what some of us imagined, but it will never be an exact copy of what we all imagined.

      Personally, I have found that if you disconnect the novel from the movie, at least a little, you get to enjoy it more as a seperate story than as a carbon-copy-that-failed story.
      • I realize this is how film majors always explain it but there're two problems: (1) they're largely projecting their psychology on others. Many of us don't picture the scenes in our heads as we read. (2) they're largely projecting their psychology on others. Many of us are already larger than supposing a movie has to look the same as the pictures in our heads. But the ideas it presents have to be the same as those from the book, otherwise it's a shitty adaptation.

        In any case, if you want something that will be judged on its own, you should create something that can stand on its own not something that pretends to be the same as something else.
    • My favorite neat book/bad sf movie is When World Collide. Mad props to George Pal and the movie company, but that movie really stunk after I read the book.
    • Not just SF book-to-movie transitions suck. Most book-to-movie adaptations are disappointing. My theory is that directors, producers, and screenwriters just cannot help messing with the story. They have to "make it their own", or "put their creative stamp" on it, or show that they can be creative story tellers too, or something. And, inevitably, they take a great story, carefully crafted by a single author, and screw it up.

      The most disappointing to me was LOTR: The Two Towers. It's an instructive case as to what happens to books when they become movies, even when the person in charge actually cares about the project. I think of Peter Jackson as Smeagol/Gollum now. His good side is (Smeagol voice) "Good Tolkien! I'll make the movie as much like the book as I can! And the bad side is (Gollum voice) "The movie is my precious! MINE! MINE! I can write a better story than Tolkien, gollum!

      Anyway, I think something like that happens whenever a great story gets into the hands of a bunch of egotistical movie makers and Hollywood types.

      I have to admit I'd love to see Cryptonomicon, Ringworld, A Fire Upon The Deep, Neuromancer, and dozens of other stories as movies, but only if they were done right.

      But the lesson from The Lord Of The Rings is that will never happen.

      Each of those great stories would be shortened, condensed, sliced, diced, and rewritten. The dialog would be altered, plotlines scrambled, characters changed, motives lost, and connections cut. Gratuituous romance, special effects, sex, and lowbrow humor would be added in an attempt to put back what had been lost from the cuts.

      By the time it makes it to the screen, it's a ruined wreck, and anyone who loves the original story can only weep for what has been lost.

      Better to just read the book again and let the movie play out inside my imagination.

      • by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <> on Monday March 10, 2003 @03:29PM (#5478855)
        I have to admit I'd love to see Cryptonomicon, Ringworld, A Fire Upon The Deep, Neuromancer, and dozens of other stories as movies, but only if they were done right.

        None of those books would make good movies. Movies and books are competely different art forms. It's like saying, "I have to admit I'd love to see Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as a painting, but only if it was done right.

        But the lesson from The Lord Of The Rings is that will never happen.

        Actually, the lesson from The Lord of the Rings is that a good book has to be adapted in order to make it a good movie. Unless your idea of the perfect Lord of the Rings movie would have been forty-one hours of Tolkein himself sitting in a chair reading the book to you.
        • Well, I have to agree that they would not make good movies, but only because most people wouldn't consider an 8 hour movie to be good no matter what. It isn't quite extreme as transitioning a symphony to a painting - after all, both books and movies have characters, plots, settings, dialog...

          I agree that there needs to be an adaptation, and a paragraph-by-paragraph text to movie transformation would not work. I actually mostly liked the Lord Of The Rings - Fellowship Of The Ring. That was an adaptation - Jackson made cuts, but stuck to the story line. He was in his "Smeagol" mode.

          But The Two Towers wasn't an adaptation, it was a rewrite. It should have been called: The Two Towers: A Movie Inspired By The Lord Of The Rings. Jackson went into "Gollum" mode made all sorts of totally unneeded changes in the plot, dialog, and characters. He didn't just make cuts, he added unnecessary stuff that wasn't even in the original books! The resulting "plot" doesn't even make sense. Bah.

          I have to admit my idea of the perfect Lord Of The Rings movie would be to film almost every scene and with a minimum of adaptation, and almost no changes to the dialog. The significant change I'd make would be to film the "flashback" stuff (like most of the Council Of Elrond) and not just have Aragorn, Gandalf, Elrond, and the rest sitting around the table talking to each other, and present a lot of that before the real beginning of the book and Bilbo's Birthday party.

          But it would be very long, too long for a movie. Perhaps it could be done as a TV series - one years worth of 1 hour episodes, one per week.

          Anyway, unless it could be produced quite cheaply it would never be a commercial success, so I don't expect to see it in my lifetime.

          To get back on topic (i.e. Niven, Ringworld, and movies...) I do think that most books would be better adapted to a 8 to 40 hour TV series than jammed into a 2 hour movie.

  • Paper Copies (Score:2, Interesting)

    "paper copies are easier to read and carry around"

    As a laptop, I have read over dozens of books while sitting on the couch, lying in bed, or in the breakroom at work. While any one paperback is probably lighter than my laptop, I needed the laptop anyway.

    I've even read a few books on my PDA, which is even more convenient to carry around.
    • Re:Paper Copies (Score:3, Informative)

      by RevAaron ( 125240 )
      I read a fair bit on my PDA. I think reading on most 'modern' (ha) PDAs would be a pain- the tiny PalmOS device screens would be the worst, but even a 320x240 3.5" PocketPC screen would be a pain. I've done some reason on my Jornada 720 (640x240) as well as on my Newton (480x320). While illegal, you can find a lot of good books (sci-fi especially) on-line. A bunch of the books I've read on my PDA have been ones I own, but it's nice to be able to read without carry around more and more stuff.
      • Re:Paper Copies (Score:3, Insightful)

        by taliver ( 174409 )
        As an avid PalmOS reader, I thought I'd share.

        So, I have a Sony Clie. Screens a bit small, but it's quite sharp.

        On it I have a free program, 'PalmReader'. It basically shows about a paragraph at a time on the screen. Since the Clie has a thumb scroll wheel, this is quite usable.

        Using a 128MB Memory Stick, I have enough room for quite a few books. I went to Project Gutenberg [] and downloaded several classic works. You know, all those books your English Teachers thought you were old enough to appreciate in 11th grade but weren't.

        So now I carry around a small virtual library of English Literature, and whenever I find myself stading around waiting for anything, I start reading where I left off (Hell, I replaced the ToDo list button with the Palm Reader for quick access). It's now by far the most used program on my Palm. I even finished 'Count of Monte Cristo' on the airplane with it.

        Quite easy to implement, and infinitely useful.
        • My PDA is an old, but still quite useful, Handspring Visor Deluxe. With 8MB of RAM, it has plenty of space to store a book or two, and the paragraph-at-a-time is fine - you can veritably fly through the book without dealign with page changes. With the PDA being small enough and light enough to hold in one hand, there is no discomfort about having to hold the PDA. With the backlight (seldom used by me, though) you can read just about anywhere, anytime.
      • I just finished reading Robinson Crusoe on my Handspring Visor. There are a lot of formatted books available at []. These can be viewed with the Plucker browser ( []) which also can do AvantGo type stuff.

        All stuff with expired copyrights. There's some good stuff in there. Too bad Disney and congress will never let us add anything past 1920 to it. :(
    • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:32PM (#5477803) Journal
      As a laptop...

      It's refreshing to hear a laptops point of view. They're always drowned out by the mainframes.

    • I've even read a few books on my PDA, which is even more convenient to carry around.

      Even better is a device designed for reading, like my Rocket e-Book.

      After reading with my Rocket for a while, I find that I really dislike paper books. They're just inconvenient: fragile, bulky, heavy, require two hands, lose my place, don't work in the dark, etc.

      IMO, the only thing paper books have going for them is market share. I've been reading a lot of Baen books recently, primarily because they're available in softcopy.

    • by Erris ( 531066 )
      he says, " I don't have figures on whether it worked: raised the sales of Fallen Angels. I'll have to ask Jim Baen. If the theory holds, sure I'll make more stuff available."

      Score, it just worked. Before I read this article, I had not heard of Baen Free Library. Paper has it's virtues, such as a 100 year battery life, which make it useful still.

  • Hear, hear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by m_chan ( 95943 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:27PM (#5477753) Homepage
    ...after all, there are things I can't copyright or patent or trademark. "Halo" looks like a poor man's Ringworld, but I didn't invent spin gravity.
    That is an astute observation by an incredibly fertile mind. I can not help but see how what he says he _can't_ do is repeatedly attempted and successfully accomplished by many companies and people, more and more often to the detriment of future creators and to society at large.

    I interpret that it is not that he sees no value in protection of ideas and innovation, but that he sees the reasonable limits and values of that protection. Hear, hear, Dr. Niven.
    • I interpret that it is not that he sees no value in protection of ideas and innovation, but that he sees the reasonable limits and values of that protection. Suppose he _had_ patented the Ringworld. What's he going to do, sue the Pak?
  • SF?? (Score:2, Funny)

    by pummer ( 637413 )
    Lots of folks love SF: Today there's a cable network... SourceForge has its own network?? What do they show, reruns of Slashcode 0.2 or something?
  • Pratchett (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:28PM (#5477764) Homepage Journal
    It first it surprised me to see it being between the authors he read more, as I put him in a hard sci fi category and pratchet is... well, mostly fantasy (is one of my preferred authors also). But in fact, in Discworld there are a lot of science fiction ideas on it, for stories that have all that funny stuff and absurd situations they finish having pretty heavy stuff on them.

    Also, I think that name Discworld is somewhat based in Ringworld, and being Niven being a fan of Discworld could make Pratchett very happy.

    • Re:Pratchett (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:45PM (#5477905)
      It first it surprised me to see it being between the authors he read more, as I put him in a hard sci fi category and pratchet is... well, mostly fantasy (is one of my preferred authors also). But in fact, in Discworld there are a lot of science fiction ideas on it, for stories that have all that funny stuff and absurd situations they finish having pretty heavy stuff on them.

      Discworld magic is turning into science at a tremendous rate. I think the world's getting away from him; after two dozen books, the world's either totally stale or becoming dangerously real. Ponder is converting all of magic to physics, a link that has been there in spirit ever since the law of conservation of energy gave Rincewind a tough time in Colour of Magic. Ankh-Morpork itself is turning into a real city, independent of the heroes and monsters that occasionally march through, independent of whoever thinks he's in charge at the time. Vetinari maintains only a semblance of control - I get the feeling that Terry is in the same position.

      Personally, I blame Cohen and Stewart for the science creeping into Discworld. The Collapse of Chaos and Figments of Reality have had a clear influence on the development of the Discworld in the last five years or so. Terry was quoted on the cover of Figments as calling it 'the most thought-provoking book I've read all year' - and it clearly provoked a whole lot of thought. Ankh's economy has been particularly heavily affected by the ideas Cohen and Stewart put forward.

      OK, let's bring this back on-topic. Niven reads Pratchett. Pratchett reads Cohen and Stewart. And guess what? There's a whole chapter in Figments about the Moties...

    • Also, I think that name Discworld is somewhat based in Ringworld,

      It's definitely more of a linguistic basis than anything else. The concept of a disc shaped planet supported on the backs of four elephants who are in turn, standing on the back of an enourmous turlte is not very physically analagous to a ribbon of steel a million miles wide that revolves around a star.

      It's funny though. The whole reason that I read (and became thoroughly addicted to) the Discworld novels in the first place is that I had just read and loved the Ringworld novels and was hoping that they were an intelligent parody.

      Boy was I wrong, and yet not the least bit disappointed.


      Was it the sheep climbing onto the altar, or the cattle lowing to be slain,
      or the Son of God hanging dead and bloodied on a cross that told me this was a world condemnded, but loved and bought with blood.
  • Score 5: Insightful (Score:3, Interesting)

    by frostfreek ( 647009 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:31PM (#5477798)
    Finally, a well written interview response.
    After reading a few of the recent Interview Answers, I was beginning to think the Slashdot interviews were a waste of blog, with nothing but terse, off the cuff replies.
    Thanks to Larry Niven for spending more than 30 seconds!
  • Glad? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dirtside ( 91468 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:36PM (#5477830) Journal
    I'm glad to see Brin's "The Postman" on the big screen.
    Well, that's nice, I suppose... since no one else was glad to see it. [] ;)
    • I honestly don't put much stock in most people's problems with The Postman

      Had it been any other actor than Costner, even if it was the exact same performance, people would not have lampooned it the way they did. I felt it was a good movie (although very different from the book), and most of the problems I've seen people have with it have been because it was Costner. That isn't to say the movie was perfect; there were about 20-25 minutes of film that should have been cut, that were somewhat interesting but, in the end, extended the length of the movie more than was justified. Still, I think it was a much better movie than people give it credit for.

      But whatever. I know, I know. It's cool to hate Costner, so anything he makes must be terrible. Let's all go back to parotting the same hatred towards those it's popular to hate, like good little drones.
  • Mote (Score:3, Informative)

    by scharkalvin ( 72228 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:38PM (#5477859) Homepage
    I just read an article in Astronomy magazine about travel to the stars using a laser to drive a sail craft. I thought this sounded too familiar. Sure enough Niven has been there. I'm going to have to pick up a copy of "Mote in God's eye" and re-read it. I think he also 'invented' the Bussard ram jet too.
    • Re:Mote (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tassach ( 137772 )
      Travel by a laser-powered solar sail was not an original idea of Niven's. Try reading "The Flight of the Dragonfly" by Robert L. Forward. Excellent book.
  • by Seq ( 653613 ) <slashdot@chris[ ] ['irw' in gap]> on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:40PM (#5477876)
    I had a book report to do in high school. It was obvious that I had to do science fiction, as I rather enjoy reading such literature. Unfortunately, thrown into that section of the library, I was a little lost, if only by the size of the science fiction shelves. I took a browse through, and recognized names of authors I've read before, but came across one called "ringworld", by a fellow named "Larry Niven". I hadn't heard of him (I, myself, find this hard to believe now), but figured it was probably rather good, as it had five copies in a public library. I started the book on a friday night, and while I cannot remember if it was saturday night or sunday night that I finished it, I couldnt put the book down for more than a few moments without deciding to read "just one more chapter." That is the only assignment I finished in high school without waiting for the deadline to approach. This probably wont interest anybody, but I just figured I would share my story of my first experience with Niven's work. I'd highly reccommend his work to anyone.
  • This is a harder question than it looks. I don't think it is healthy, but good real science fiction has always been such a small slice of the market that it's quite difficult to be sure except for decades later. E.g., Robert Forward was a great science fiction writer. And a pretty good story teller, too. Ditto for Hal Clement. And a very few others. Most well known authors have been great story tellers, who plied their trade in the Science Fiction area. E.g., Jules Verne. (The hollow earth hasn't been a reasonable idea since Newton. Just do a few calculation on the strength of materials required to make it work.)

    Most of what's called good science fiction is actually good story telling. Nothing wrong with that, but story telling can play in any field. Science fiction is different. Ringworld was a great concept for a science fiction story. But it made use of a lot of magic (hyperdrive) to make the story work. So it's a great story, and a good science fiction story.

    With that background: It seems to me that science fiction is both in trouble, and more vital than ever. The reason science fiction is in trouble is the same reason that even narrow specialists can't keep up with their fields. And that's the same reason that it's more important than ever. I consider Lobster's (et seq.) to be the best science fiction that I've read in the last decade. There's almost no magic in them. The only weakness I see is that some of the characters are a bit difficult to empathize with. Which weakens it a bit as a story, but not as Science Fiction. But, and here's the catch: Lobsters takes place within the next 50 years. (10 if I take the story literally.) Now if things are changing that fast, and they appear to be, long term projections go right out the window. (As it was, Larry Niven used hand-waving magic to justify not using computers to navigate hyperspace. And it took magic, because without magic 1: people wouldn't be able to do the navigation, and 2: computers would have done a much better job. But people make a much better story.)

    So I say that science fiction is in dire trouble, and that most of what passes for science fiction is really just high-tech fantasy. But there are still a few exceptions.
  • Yes Larry Niven intersected with Trek...

    This [] really trips me out...
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:49PM (#5477936) Journal

    HALO []: $46.88

    Ringworld [] $6.99

    What's a poor mans who now?
  • by LionMage ( 318500 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @01:54PM (#5477971) Homepage
    Well, I knew someone would bring up Elf Sternberg's stories, and how Mr. Sternberg ran afoul of Larry Niven. Naturally, Niven claims that Sternberg violated his copyrights. Pardon me, but I was under the impression that copyright only applied to complete works; you can only trademark a name, such as "Kzin." (Paramount goes nuts with claiming trademarks and registered trademarks on everything under the sun, so I know this is pretty standard practice.) Similarly, although IANAL, I understand that you technically can't claim copyright on a character or a concept, only on a work of fiction involving that character or concept.

    Not that I think Elf's stories are worth the electrons wasted in transmitting them. Those of us old enough to remember Elf's massive cross-posts of his fiction to a number of Usenet newsgroups (many of which were, in fact, inappropriate venues for this sort of work) will remember the complaints about wasted bandwidth and so forth. At least now that this junk is all archived on the web, only people who want to see it can go seek it out, and the rest of us are spared.

    What's interesting, though, is that Elf claims "The Only Fair Game" is the original story where he ran afoul of Niven. I seem to recall an earlier work of Elf's that mentioned Kzinti, which was later edited so that the one Kzin character was changed to some sort of anthropomorphic tiger. (There have to be some early archives of the Usenet posts that contain the original version of the story.) I remember Niven's editorial in one of the Man Kzin Wars books, where he blasts Elf (though not by name) for writing a rather bad story involving a "sadomasochistic homosexual gang-bang." I'll never forget that line. Anyway, I assumed that Niven was speaking about this other, earlier story, and had no idea "The Only Fair Game" even existed until today.

    The thing is, though, Sternberg doesn't just steal from Niven's work -- he steals freely from a variety of writers. (I've found elements of C. J. Cherryh's books in some of the stories.) Which leads to the natural question, what can an author do legally to prevent someone from stealing things outright? Short of the Paramount solution (i.e., claim trademark on everything), I don't see that there's much you can do except threatening someone with legal action and hoping they can't afford to fight back in court.

    My only other comment is regarding the question of film adaptation, and why so many bad SciFi stories get made into films whereas the "good stuff" never makes it to film. Ignoring for the moment the definition of what constitutes good Sci Fi, I wanted to comment that I was aghast at Niven's seemingly congratulatory tone speaking of how The Postman got turned into a film. I enjoyed David Brin's The Postman, but the film was nothing short of horrible. Costner methodically removed any trace of the Sci Fi elements present in the original book, and dumbed down the dialogue so much that I almost walked out in the first 30 minutes.

    Bottom line, I think a bad film adaptation of a Sci Fi book is worse than no adaptation being made at all. I mean, how would Niven feel if some Hollywood mogul made a version of Ringworld, but removed all of what made it good Sci Fi?

    Maybe Niven should be grateful nobody's raped his intellectual property yet, rather than being jealous.
    • His point was not the The postman was a great movie, but that he was glad to see sci-fi books on the screen,regardless of quality. The book doesn't change. So he wouldn't mind seeing a bastardized version of ringworld, in the theory that more people would read his book. Although I suspect the money he would get would be the primary reason for wanting to see his books be made into movies.

      "Costner methodically removed any trace of the Sci Fi elements present in the original book, and dumbed down the dialogue so much that I almost walked out in the first 30 minutes."

      so apperently it takes 30 minutes to drain ones will power and common sense... ;)
      I hadn't read the postman, and I hateed the movie. As a counter to Nivens point, I didn't read the postman because of the movie.
  • Patrick O'Brian's sea stories, courtesy of John Hertz.

    Cool to see that name on his list of inspirational reading. They're not similar writers; O'Brian's series are historical fiction, and their heart is really the complex, evolving friendship between the two main characters. Not really Niven territory, but they're astonishingly good once you're in the mindset.

  • The Sequel Question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rayonic ( 462789 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:11PM (#5478146) Homepage Journal
    It's too bad that the question of sequels didn't make the cut to be asked. I've noticed a trend in Niven's body of work -- he's not good at direct sequels. Really, some of his sequels fall short of the original novel, while the others fall far, far short.

    Even when collaborating, the man just can't make a good series. Look at The Gripping Hand for a prime example. Am I the only one who notices this trend?

    (Disclaimer: I've only read 50-60% of his work so far. Mainly it's the short stories I have to catch up with.)
    • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:48PM (#5478454) Homepage Journal
      I almost sent him your question, since I think serialization is a plague on the novel-publishing industry, and that franchising an author's work (as Larry Niven, Tom Clancy, and others have done) is a sick marketing tactic that produces bad writing almost every time. (Even Robert Parker's attempt at completing a Raymond Chandler novel stunk -- and Parker is a plenty fine writer himself.)

      This is a question I think we should ask a book editor or marketing person. Maybe Baen... he'd make a nice Slashdot interview guest, wouldn't he?

      Please sumbit the same question when you see us grab Jim Baen or another publishing person. Or maybe Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog, who may have a better grasp of science fiction as a whole than anyone.

      - Robin

  • All very nice but (Score:5, Interesting)

    by uncadonna ( 85026 ) <> on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:12PM (#5478152) Homepage Journal
    Junk science cuts both ways. Niven's "Fallen Angels" strikes me as malign, irresponsible propaganda.

    It's fine for people to advance their point of view, but putting bogus science in the mix is a stunt that I would wish, to put it mildly, Niven would avoid. Some of the readership might think the scientifically literate characters in this story were describing the way the actual real universe works.

    I'm all for progress, mind you, and I'm as tired as the next geek of people who don't believe in it. I'm just not for pretending that unconstrained pollution is the cure for an imminent ice age in the actual real world. The way "evidence" was mustered for this conclusion in this book is classic junk science.

    This book is entertaining as light fiction, but in a way that is divisive, contemptuous, ignorant and destructive. It irresponsibly damages serious discourse. I'm sure it's done considerable harm to some of its adolescent readership. It ruined any respect I had for Niven.

    • I love science. I love SF. But anyone who gets their science from SF deserves exactly what they get.
    • Re:All very nice but (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheCrazyFinn ( 539383 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:53PM (#5478519) Homepage
      The Science in 'Fallen Angels' is better than 90% of the so-called 'Science' being put forward by the greens these days.

      Classic example is the 'greenhouse cliff', which ignores the fact that average temperatures on earth were roughly 5 degrees higher 1000 years ago, without a disastrous icecap melt.

      The iceage cliff in Fallen Angels matches up pretty well with current understanding of how fast iceages begin, and what prevented the 'Little Ice Age' of the last 700 years from becoming a true ice age.

      Please get a clue before knocking the science in 'Fallen Angels'
    • As a niven fan, I never expect to read a book that positively revolted me as much as Fallen Angels did. It was painful. I finished the book out of sheer morbid curiousity at where else he was going with this.

      I assume that the flavour of this book (except for the NASA-bashing) was not Niven's fault. The novels Niven writes on his own are very apolitical except for a mild pro-corporate attitude. Pournelle, on the other hand, is an extremely old-fashioned conservative - he supports religion, monarchistic power, and is vehemently anti-intellectual. Read the many other collaborations of theirs and compare teh tone to Niven's books alone. Niven's bad guys are con-men and warriors, while Pournelle's bad guys are foolhardy academics and environmentalists. Look at how many academic villains there have been in their compilations - both the Legacy of the Heorot and Mote glorify the militaristic characters while they insult the academics.
  • what for sci-fi (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:27PM (#5478289) Homepage Journal
    I really like is answer to "Is Science Fiction healthy" and the related NASA basing. The fact is that science fiction is a very large category which can include extremely serious stories such as "Ringworld", as well as the Heinlein sex commentary "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" and Pohl's semi-historical novel "Chernobyl". To say this or that is real science fiction is a conceit.

    As far as space is concerned, when it is part of the science fiction story, it is mostly just a plot device. The story could just as easily be about Homer lost at sea or Huck floating down a river. This is especially true for most so-called science fiction TV shows. In fact, when a show tries to talk about (of course with many errors, inaccuracies, annoyances, but this is fiction) humans journey into space [], or the commercialization of space [], they get canceled quickly.

    I think the interesting thing is that science fiction tends to promote understanding, knowledge, and then exploration. This is what NASA and other organizations are doing a very good job at. However, people get caught up in the idea of adventure and danger, which NASA is not do good at providing, nor should it be their job.

    The love the odd space opera. OTOH, sometimes just thinking about what might happen if someone could predict the time of a persons death is enough for a wonderful sci-fi yarn.

  • wow, bad attitude! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Erris ( 531066 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @02:46PM (#5478432) Homepage Journal
    "If you want more Known Space stories" was intended as an invitation to daydream, not to violate my copyrights and steal my ideas. Turning such dreams into stories is only done under restricted circumstances and with permission.

    What kind of attitude is that? I love the known space story and other work by Neiven but my gratitude to its creator does not extend to limiting what I or others do. How does anyone intend to "share the dream" like that? Why would anyone bother to contribute back ideas to someone who would step on them like this? It's a very supprising attitude from such an amusing author.

    No one owns an idea. Once you tell it, it belongs to everyone. Telling people that they can't write stories about rat tailed cats is about as silly as telling people they can't write stories about elves. Your words are yours, a phrase might be a trademark, implementations might be protected, but the rest is fair game.

  • by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <> on Monday March 10, 2003 @03:04PM (#5478626) Homepage Journal
    I personally think Larry Niven *DOES* need an introduction, since I have no idea who he is. Being that I don't read nearly enough sci-fi literature (instead wasting my time with the subversive literature assigned to me by this damn hippy graduate program), I would have appreciated a quick run down of what he's written and why he's important.

    But of course, since everybody over there knows who he is, I guess I'm just an ignorant shithead.
  • by huckamania ( 533052 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @04:08PM (#5479237) Journal
    Although they share a similar story line, the Kevin Costner movie stripped almost every vestige of what made the book great. Costner turned the lead role from hero to antihero. In the book, the Postman was looking for and actually trying to reestablish civilization. In the movie, he's just trying to scam food, supplies and sex (while also getting a lot of people killed in the process). The movie combined the two female leads and dropped the most important story line in the book (if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about - The night of the long knives). In the book, there are reasons for what the Postman does. In the movie, the Postman just seems to wander about making trouble and only at the end does he do anything about it.

    What a waste. I could go on but it's the same for almost all big screen adaptations of SF books. The translation of Starship Troopers was nearly as painful. In the book, troopers were seperated by miles (that's why they had armor) and in the movie troopers just ran around in mobs. One grenade could have taken out an entire squad.

    The only hope is that hollywood will notice the performance of a faithful adaptation of source material ala Spiderman or the X-Men. If they can do that for comic books, there's hope that they'll one day do the same for Science Fiction.
    • by LionMage ( 318500 ) on Monday March 10, 2003 @05:52PM (#5480097) Homepage
      Costner turned the lead role from hero to antihero. In the book, the Postman was looking for and actually trying to reestablish civilization. In the movie, he's just trying to scam food, supplies and sex (while also getting a lot of people killed in the process).

      It's been years since I've read The Postman, but I have to disagree with your reading of the book. If you read the book carefully, you'll find that the "hero" was much like Costner's version of the same character -- a flawed man who started out trying to scam some free food and shelter, moving from town to town. He finds a Post Office jeep stranded out in the middle of nowhere with the decayed remains of its driver, and the protagonist steals the uniform (or what was left of it) and a few other odds and ends (such as a scintillator, since there were nuclear weapons used in the war that occurred before the book's events, and some areas were still "hot zones"). He takes a bag of mail with him, and uses the letters as a desperate ploy to gain entry into towns that have built city walls to keep marauders out. Only later does the protagonist take on a more noble role, when he realizes the power in the dream that he's been selling people.

      The problem is, Kevin Costner can't play at being smart, because he's clearly lacking the intellect to pull it off, and he's also seriously un-hip. So Costner rewrote the protagonist as a bumbling fool, when the protagonist in the book was smart (and survived on his wits alone at many points in the story). It's no wonder that Costner removed all mention of the group that was trying to re-establish technology, and their fake AI -- the real AI was destroyed shortly after the war, in the book. The protagonist in the book saw right through the fake AI, realizing that it was a scam, and there was a man behind the curtain. (The real AI was destroyed by rioting mobs, who sabotaged the power plant and facilities used to support the AI, which tragically shut down the AI's plans to help rebuild the country and the economy -- no doubt Brin's scathing commentary on the Luddite streak that permeates American culture.) Costner's version of that character lacked the smarts to see through such a deception. And on it goes.

      I'm not sure which plot line you're referring to as "the most important." If I'm remembering correctly from your "night of the long knives" comment, this has to do with the plot line featuring the biologically enhanced super-soldiers who essentially became the feudal warlords of a broken America. If that's what you're referring to, then yeah, that's a key plot element Costner scoured out of the story.

      I remember this one part of the film where they talked about the "Bad Mumps," when they were called "war mumps" in the book, and I cringed. Costner made some comment in the press before the movie came out that he'd "tweaked" the dialog, to make it sound just right, and after seeing this film, I have become convinced that Kevin Costner should never be allowed to edit a script ever again.
  • "Hard wired"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dr. Manhattan ( 29720 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `171rorecros'> on Monday March 10, 2003 @04:52PM (#5479589) Homepage
    An older species won't have human versatility in sex: sexual responses will be all hard wired.

    Huh? I thought one of the key attributes of intelligence is learning and adaptability, the very opposite of hardwiring. The higher-up you get in intelligence on Earth, the less hard-wiring you see. A foal can walk within minutes of birth; a human baby takes several months minimum.

    On the other hand, a human can learn Irish dancing, karate, rock climbing, roller skating, ice skating, and driving. An unusually smart horse might be able to learn one, but an average human, given training, could become competent in all of 'em.

    Humans even rewire their brains in fundamental ways. We have deep wiring, apparently, to learn spoken language, but we can train those parts of our brain to read writing, and sign language. Helen Keller learned to communicate by touch. I don't know of any animal besides primates that have learned to communicate in other than their "natural" channels.

    Humans show wide varieties of behavior in extremely fundamental bodily functions; bathroom habits differ somewhat (my poor wife learning to use those Eastern toilets...) but our sleeping habits differ more, our eating habits differ substantially, and our sexual habits perhaps most of all.

    I don't buy it. An 'older' species, that has had longer to develop, would seem likely to have even more variation in sexual habits and most other areas.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault