Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tales from the Known Universe (On Serial Matters)

The next installment in this ongoing series are the stories and books from the Known Space series by Larry Niven and Diverse Hands. Originally appearing as a series of short stories and novels in the 1960's, Niven grew in popularity, winning the Hugo (Ringworld) and Nebula (Neutron Star) for a variety of stories until the series slowed and stopped.

It got a shot in the arm starting in the 1980's when a roleplaying game based on Ringworld came out. That got Niven to thinking about opening up the universe, and Baen Books started publishing a series of stories and serialized novels (later collected into standalone novels) based around the Kzin Wars era. Niven contributed a couple more entries in the form of some short stories and some more stories set on the Ringworld (of somewhat varying quality), but most recently has been collaborating with Edward Lerner on a series of novels set in the Known Space universe, centering around the Ringworld, but not on the Ringworld.

My first encounters with the series were uncollected short stories. I then borrowed some of the novels from a high school friend (hello, Bill Powell!) but the real boost came when another friend (hello, Ed Boretz!) and I went to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City to see Laserium. At the planetarium was an exhibit of artwork by Rick Sternbach, who was doing a series of covers for the newly-printed Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven as well as a number of covers for reprinted entries in the series. I think that Tales of Known Space is now out of print, but the edition I had, if you looked closely enough, would show you the covers for a couple of the other entries in the series. Yep, Sternbach replicated the covers for books like Ringworld in miniature on this cover. That is one piece of artwork that I would love to have as a poster (or, if I could afford it, in the original).

It has been interesting to re-read these stories again (running up to the Lerner collaborations). World of Ptavvs is a rarity in the SF world (less so now, but when it came out there were few other examples) of a science fiction detective tale. The entries in Tales of Known Space show how the Solar System evolved over the years as Niven wrote the stories. I was even amused to see that he had a lander (!) on Mercury called Messenger. Hmmm...where have I seen that name before?

Larry Niven; Tales of Known Space (Ballantine Books; 1975; ISBN 345-24563-6-150; cover by Rick Sternbach; interior cover illustrations by Bonnie Dalzell).

Made up of: My Universe and Welcome To It; The Coldest Place; Becalmed in Hell; Wait It Out; Eye of an Octopus; How the Heroes Die; The Jigsaw Man; At the Bottom of a Hole; Intent to Deceive; Cloak of Anarchy; The Warriors; The Borderland of Sol; There Is a Tide; Safe at Any Speed; Afterthoughts; About the Cover (Rick Sternbach).

Counts as nine (9) entries in the 2010 Year in Shorts.

Larry Niven; World of Ptavvs (Ballantine; 1975; ISBN 345-24591-1-150; cover by Rick Sternbach; interior cover illustrations by Bonnie Dalzell).

1 comment:

Crotchety Old Fan said...

thought I'd mention a few other Niven/known space resources Fred:

There's the Niven chat the first Saturday of each month; Larry frequently shows up and the past few times I've managed to attend Ed Lerner was in attendance longer than Larry was.

You can find a link to the online chat on the Known Space website -

There's also the Incompleat Known Space Concordance with articles & such, including some speculations of my own called 'The Tnuctipun Aren't Done' here (and links to lots of other stuff.