Concat interviews Larry Niven


Concat: In our recent F&SF poll Ringworld came in seventh place. Are you surprised at its popularity?

Niven: No. I knew it was a neat idea and an entertaining one. I suppose there were moments of terror when I thought, "Nobody's going to get what I'm after! Nobody's going to understand this thing!" I'm delighted to find out I was wrong.

Concat: What do you think of Bob Shaw's Orbitsville which is a similar sort of novel?

Niven: I think that it's amusing that he came that close to the Ringworld without having read it. He even had a 'shadow-square' system, only for him it's a force-field beachball shape.

Concat: You don't seem to have written much in the way of Known Space tales after Ringworld Engineers...

Niven: No. The reasons are clear enough. You'll get the same story from any man who has done a series -- even EC Tubb, I suspect, without having asked him. You get clogged up on assumptions. You wind up either violating an assumption you made for a different story, or using it because you have to, even though it interferes with what you would like to be writing about. Known Space is all clogged up with assumptions... By the time I reached Ringworld I had two kinds of unreasonably strong materials, and I needed a third for the Ringworld floor material.

Concat: Have you any plans for Known Space in the future?

Niven: I know some things about Known Space, the Ringworld in particular, that you don't, but they haven't added up to a novel yet. [They eventually did, and became The Ringworld Throne]

Concat: Are you going to be writing any short fiction?

Niven: I've been writing short fiction. I've got five or six unpublished stories kicking around looking for somebody to buy them. I wrote two or three of these for anthologies. I wrote a story for Susan Schwartz who wants to do an anthology of stories that are sequels to The 1001 Nights. So I've allowed Scheharezade and her sister and her husband to find out what's really going on with those Jinni, and it's an ugly tale indeed! (laughter)

Concat: A fair proportion of your output is written in collaboration with other people. Why is this?

Niven:: I got to like it.

Concat: What about the 'new wave' of writers coming in, and particularly this phenomenon, Cyberpunk...

Niven: My problem with new writers is that it takes me five or six years to memorise the right names. So when somebody asks me, who do I most enjoy reading?, I'm giving them the names of people who have been in the field seven or eight years. Bruce Sterling is one terrific writer and he's relatively new, but I don't know how long he's been doing it; he probably doesn't need the publicity anymore!

Concat: That's true. Involution Ocean that Harlan Ellison bought...

Niven: That was startling. I hadn't expected to see him go from these near-magical far-futures to something a lot more plausible. But you asked about Cyberpunk, and as far as I'm concerned Cyberpunk is an invention of the critics. A writer who listens to the critics gets everything he deserves.

Concat: There is this sub-set of Texas writers who appear to have come to a consensus on a future which they'd like to use.

Niven: This is a game. It might produce something worthwhile and it's an interesting game anyway. It's something I might join just for fun. Write a story in somebody else's universe? Sure, that's fun!

Concat: Perhaps, as a writer, you need to let off some creative steam in something that is more desirable than it is necessary.

Niven: You betcha. Somebody asked me for a story of exactly one hundred words, and someone else wanted a postcard story which, as far as he's concerned is about four hunmdred words.

Concat: A couple of years back, here in England, a number of people, Chris Priest among them, were airing concerns about SF and the wearing out of the genre. How do you feel about this?

Niven: I've never run across anything I could agree with that had been said by Christopher Priest; this certainly isn't the first. SF isn't a genre; SF is the matrix in which genres are embedded, and because the SF field is never going in any one direction at any one time, there is hardly a way to cut it off.

Concat: So you wouldn't say it was wearing out.

Niven: It would never occur to me.

Concat: Broadly speaking there appears to be more hard science in American SF than in English. How do you feel about the two types of SF being written?

Niven: I think ours is better! What would I think! I think ours is better, and you should all learn to write like me (laughter). I'd think you'd get roughly the same answer from any writer who you asked. I think some of them would conceal it better, but I don't seem to have any interest in doing that.

Concat: Public exposure to science seems to concentrate on disasters: Chernobyl, AIDS and the shuttle explosion. What are your thoughts on the current trends in science and technology?

Niven: Well, taking those three headlines, I can only say I'm appalled and I don't know what to do next. The Chernobyl and shuttle disasters both indicate bad designing, and that's down to politically influenced engineering. Chernobyl was a political reactor -- of course it exploded! The shuttle has wings, but only because Navy funding was required, and the missions they described that they might use the shuttle for required that it had wings. As for AIDS, it's a plague. We are human, we get plagues. They come along every so often, kill off two thirds of the population; in the next generation it's a quarter; after that it's a childhood disease.

[We closed the interview with a preview of Niven's 'coming attractions', all of which have since come out]

[Up: Interviews Index | Top: Concatenation]

[Updated: 99.9.29 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]