Larry Niven

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The Gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools.

Laurence van Cott Niven (born 30 April 1938) is an American science fiction author, most famous as the author of Ringworld (1970), his "Known Space" stories, and Niven's laws.


Anything you don't understand is dangerous until you do understand it.
Everything starts as somebody's daydream.
The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!
The Unexpected always comes at the most awkward times.
  • That's the thing about people who think they hate computers … What they really hate are lousy programmers.
  • Think of it as evolution in action.
  • Everything starts as somebody's daydream.
    • As quoted in Reader's Digest Quotable Quotes : Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions from America's Most Popular Magazine (1997) by Reader's Digest Association, p. 27
  • The Unexpected always comes at the most awkward times.
    • Scatterbrain (2003), p. 26

Short fiction and essays[edit]

Neutron Star (1968)[edit]

Page numbers from the mass market edition, published by Ballantine Books; ISBN 0-345-27065-7 eighth U.S. printing, March 1978
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • Part of being a coward is wanting security.
    • A Relic of the Empire (p. 37)
  • Do you know what it’s like to be suddenly poor and not know how to live poor?
    • A Relic of the Empire (p. 43)
  • There is no turning away from knowledge.
    • The Soft Weapon (p. 123)
  • “Do you believe in hunches?”
    “Neither do I. Except just this once.”
    • Flatlander (p. 159)
  • The moral of this story is, anything you don’t understand is dangerous until you do understand it.
    • Flatlander (p. 164)
  • “Does it help you to know that you’ve ruined my day?”
    “It does, yes.”
    • The Handicapped (p. 220)
  • I didn’t want to find her. Not now. Our bargain had been clear, and also inevitable; and there are advantages to sleeping alone. I’ll think of them in a moment.
    • Grendel (p. 237)
  • Just take my word for it, will you? Assume I’m a genius.
    • Grendel (p. 248)
  • Was he deadpan because he didn’t care anymore? How much boredom can you meet in three hundred years?
    • Grendel (p. 251)
  • Any time seems long when you need to make a decision but can’t.
    • Grendel (p. 252)

The Flight of the Horse (1973)[edit]

Page numbers from the mass market paperback first edition, published by Ballantine Books; ISBN 0-345-25577-1 4th printing, December 1976
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • But the horse ran on, daring Svetz with its eyes.
    How to describe such motion? Svetz had never seen ballet. He knew how machinery moved, and this wasn’t it. All he could think of was a man and a woman making love. Slippery-smooth rhythmic motion, absolute single-minded purpose, motion for the pleasure of motion. It was terrible in its beauty, the flight of the horse.
    • The Flight of the Horse (pp. 11-12)
  • Once the ocean teamed with life, Svetz thought. Now the continental shelf is as dead as the moon: nothing but bubble cities. Once this whole continent was all forest and living desert and fresh water. We cut down the trees and shot the animals and poisoned to the rivers and irrigated the deserts so that even the desert life died; and now there’s nothing left but the food yeast and us.
    We’ve forgotten so much about the past that we can’t separate legend from fact. We’ve wiped out most of the forms of life on earth in the last fifteen hundred years, and changed the composition of the air to the extent that we’d be afraid to change it back.
    I fear the unknown beasts of the past. I cannot breathe the air. I do not know the edible plants. I could not kill the animals for food. I do not know which would kill me.
    The earth’s past is as alien to me as another planet.
    • Bird in the Hand (pp. 45-46)
  • There’s always another problem behind the one you just solved. Does that mean that you should stop solving problems?
    • Flash Crowd (p. 147)
  • For each human being there is an optimum ratio between change and stasis. Too little change, he grows bored. Too little stability, he panics and loses his ability to adapt.
    • Flash Crowd (p. 154)
  • Drugs: “There’s no way to keep them from getting in. Anyone who wants drugs can get them. We make arrests where we can, and so what? Me, I’m betting on Darwin.”
    “How do you mean?”
    “The next generation won’t use drugs because they’ll be descended from people who had better sense.”
    • Flash Crowd (p. 157)
  • Talking to the Council would be like shouting obscenities at a forest fire.
    • What Good is a Glass Dagger? (p. 191)

A Hole in Space (1974)[edit]

Page numbers from the mass market edition, published by Ballantine Books; ISBN 0-345-29225-1 sixth printing, March 1980
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
Stupidity is always a capital crime.
  • “Do you like strange places and faraway people—or vice versa?”
    • Rammer (p. 4)
  • The trouble with sharing too many beds was that one’s chance of running into a really bad situation was improved almost to certainty.
    • A Kind of Murder (p. 66)
  • Presently she gave her considered opinion. “Idiots.”
    “No. They’re just like all of us: They want something for nothing.”
    • All the Bridges Rusting (p. 88)
  • I had to grin. Morris was shocked and horrified. I’d shown him a brand new sin.
    • The Fourth Profession (p. 164)
  • A species that can’t develop spaceflight is no better than animals.
    • The Fourth Profession (p. 167)
  • When you trade among the stars, there is no repeat business.
    • The Fourth Profession (p. 176)

Tales of Known Space (1975)[edit]

Page numbers from the mass market edition, published by Ballantine Books; ISBN 0-345-25836-3 third printing, November 1976
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • The morning was blacker than the inside of a smoker’s lungs.
    • Becalmed in Hell (p. 16)
  • There was this about him: he knew who I was, but he hadn’t remembered my name. Ron Cole had better things to think about than what name belonged with whom. A name was only a tag and a conversational gambit.
    • Cloak of Anarchy (p. 115)
  • I asked him, “Do you know the difference between nude and naked?”
    He shook his head.
    “Nude is artistic. Naked is defenseless.”
    • Cloak of Anarchy (p. 124)
  • Anyone who says human nature can’t be changed is out of his head. To make it stick, he’s got to define human nature—and he can’t.
    • The Warriors (p. 142)
  • Peace isn’t a stable condition, not for us. Maybe not for anything that lives.
    • The Warriors (p. 151)
  • “That’s impossible. Isn’t it? Carlos?”
    Carlos’ mouth twisted. “Not if it’s being done.”
    • The Borderland of Sol (p. 160)
  • In a universe the size of ours almost anything that can happen, will.
    • There Is a Tide (p. 201)
  • “Do you play games of chance?”
    “Emphatically yes. The process of living is a game of chance. To avoid chance is insanity.”
    • There Is a Tide (p. 206)
  • Gambling was safer than war. More fun, too. Best of all, it gave him better odds.
    • There Is a Tide (p. 208)

Convergent Series (1979)[edit]

Page numbers from the mass market first edition, published by Ballantine Books; ISBN 0-345-27740-6 March 1979
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • I’d thought my way into this mess. I should be able to think my way out, shouldn’t I?
    • Convergent Series (p. 103)
  • A sufficiently intelligent being will look about her, solve all questions, then cease activity.
    • The Schumann Computer (p. 145)
  • Ten thousand years wasn't lifetime was enough, unless you lived it in such a way as to make it enough.
    • Cautionary Tales (p. 181)
  • Time is a one-way street with no parking spaces. You just have to keep going.
    • Wrong Way Street (p. 214)

N-Space (1990)[edit]

Page numbers from the first mass market edition, published by Tor; ISBN 0-812-51001-1 September 1991
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • Writing is, therefore, both a form of compulsive behavior and, I frequently tell people, a self-induced form of mental illness. Those few writers who don’t start off by being a little nuts soon get that way as a direct result of their vocation.
    • Tom Clancy, Introduction: The Maker of Worlds (p. 1)
  • I knew it long ago: I’m a compulsive teacher, but I can’t teach. The godawful state of today’s education system isn’t what’s stopping me. I lack at least two of the essential qualifications.
    I cannot “suffer fools gladly.” The smartest of my pupils would get all my attention, and the rest would have to fend for themselves. And I can’t handle being interrupted.
    Writing is the answer. Whatever I have to teach, my students will select themselves by buying the book. And nobody interrupts a printed page.
    • Foreword: Playgrounds for the Mind (pp. 26-27)
  • Nuclear is the safest power source we’ve got—with two exceptions, neither of which is being built. If some folk are terrified of unseen death by radiation, then let ’em deal with their own neuroses, instead of forcing us to stop building the atomic plants.
    • Foreword: Playgrounds for the Mind (pp. 31-32)
  • It takes a lot of people to hold civilization together; some of us are only here to ask the right questions.
    • Foreword: Playgrounds for the Mind (p. 32)
  • In fantasy, more than in other forms of literature, the obligation is to teach something universally true about the human condition.
    • Introduction to All the Myriad Ways (p. 71)
  • Casual murder, casual suicide, casual crime. Why not? If alternate universes are a reality, then cause and effect are an illusion. The law of averages is a fraud. You can do anything, and one of you will, or did.
    • All the Myriad Ways (p. 79)
  • “But there’s an old legend,” I said. “Once every hundred years the Los Angeles smog rolls away for a single night, leaving the air as clear as interstellar space. That way the gods can see if Los Angeles is still there. If it is, they roll the smog back so they won’t have to look at it.”
    • Inconstant Moon (p. 235)
  • You don’t stop planning just because there’s no hope.
    • Inconstant Moon (p. 260)
  • Collaborations are unnatural. The writer is a jealous god. He builds his universe without interference. He resents the carping of mentally deficient critics, and the editor’s capricious demands for revisions. Let two writers try to make one universe, and their defenses get in the way.
    • Building the Mote in God’s Eye (with Jerry Pournelle) (p. 442)
  • There aren’t many prizes for second place in battle.
    • Building the Mote in God’s Eye (with Jerry Pournelle) (p. 466)
  • Government over large areas needs emotional ties. It also needs stability. Government by 50%-plus-one hasn’t enjoyed particularly stable politics—and it lasts only so long as the 50%-minus-one minority is willing to submit. Is heredity a rational way to choose leaders? It has this in its favor: the leader is known from an early age to be destined to rule, and can be educated to the job. Is that preferable to education based on how to get the job? Are elected officials better at governing, or at winning elections?
    • Building the Mote in God’s Eye (with Jerry Pournelle) (pp. 467-468)
  • Heinlein spun off ideas at a terrific rate. Other writers picked them up…along with a distrust for arrogance combined with stupidity or ignorance, particularly in politicians.
    • The Return of William Proxmire (p. 523)
  • A sapient species doesn’t reach space unless the members learn to cooperate. They’ll wreck the environment, one way or another, war or straight libertarianism or overbreeding.
    • Madness Has Its Place (p. 561)
  • Infantry, which means killing on foot and doesn’t have anything to do with children.
    • Madness Has Its Place (p. 568)
  • It doesn’t take brains to mate!
    • The Alien in Our Minds (p. 642)

Playgrounds of the Mind (1991)[edit]

Page numbers from the first mass market edition, published by Tor; ISBN 0-812-51695-8 July 1992, first printing
See Larry Niven's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
    Then who can end a war? The leaders of embattled nations? They aren’t bleeding, except by proxy. It’s only their own imaginations that make war different from a complex chess game.
    The citizens at home? They are usually assured that they are winning, or that the enemy are inhuman monsters, or that to lose would be annihilation, or all of the above.
    Aside from all this, surrender is dishonorable. This is only partly an ethical judgment. It feels dishonorable. Nobody fakes a surrender reflex without cost. Surrender is losing a fight, and we aren’t wired to take that lightly. All of evolution is against losing casually, for trout as well as men.
    Wars continue because there is nobody who can end them.

    You can’t do anything about it.
    • Why Men Fight Wars (pp. 564-565)
  • Do you know the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel? If you try to read a graphic novel in the sauna, it comes apart. Glue melts; staples don’t.
    • Comics (p. 567)
  • I’ll try anything that improves my education and is fun at the time.
    • Comics (p. 569)
  • Any story that needs a critic to explain it, needs rewriting. A lucidly written, easily understood book is likely to escape critical attention.
    • Criticism (p. 580)
  • Many critics avoid science fiction and fantasy as demons avoid holy water. And why not? A science fiction work that needs explaining may or may not be trash, but the standard-issue critic is not likely to know the difference, and not likely to be able to explain it either.
    • Criticism (p. 580)
  • The standard-issue critic took English lit because physics was too hard for him!
    • Criticism (p. 581)
  • I do not want all critics hanged alongside the lawyers and tax collectors. The good ones serve a purpose.
    • Criticism (p. 582)
  • Once you know about critics, you know about literature. Literature is whatever survives the critics.
    • Criticism (p. 587)
  • The test of time has at least the virtue of being unambiguous.
    • Criticism (p. 587)
  • Jovan knew about luck. Like wine: when luck turns sour, the whole barrel is sour.
    • The Portrait of Daryanree the King (p. 607)

World of Ptavvs (1966)[edit]

Page numbers from the Del Rey mass market paperback
  • A machine has no mind to read; you never know when it’s going to betray you—
    • p. 6
  • It does not destroy matter, which is reassuring. Rewriting one law of physics is worse than trying to eat one peanut.
    • p. 40
  • A thrint was master over every intelligent beast. This was the Powergiver’s primal decree, made before he made the stars. So said all of the twelve thrintun religions, though they fought insanely over other matters.
    • p. 85
  • Putting a monkey wrench in machinery is often the only way to force somebody to repair, replace, or redesign the machinery. Especially legal or social machinery.
    • p. 97

A Gift From Earth (1968)[edit]

Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ballantine Books, sixth printing, June 1976
Yes, the bleeding heart was something else again. … A signature.
He was sick of having to be afraid. … If he stopped being afraid, even for an instant, he could be killed!
  • A ramrobot had been the first to see Mount Lookitthat.
    Ramrobots had been first visitors to all the settled worlds. The interstellar ramscoop robots, with an unrestricted fuel supply culled from interstellar hydrogen, could travel between stars at speeds approaching that of light.
    • Chapter 1, “The Ramrobot“ (p. 7; opening lines)
  • Matthew Leigh Keller sat beneath a watershed tree and brooded. Other children played all around him, but they ignored Matt. So did two teachers on monitor duty. People usually ignored Matt when he wanted to be alone.
    Uncle Matt was gone. Gone to a fate so horrible that the adults wouldn't even talk about it.
    • Chapter 1, “The Ramrobot“ (p. 10)
  • The medical revolution that began with the beginning of the twentieth century had warped all human society for five hundred years. America had adjusted to Eli Whitney's cotton gin in less than half that time. As with the gin, the effects would never quite die out. But already society was swinging back to what had once been normal. Slowly; but there was motion. In Brazil a small but growing alliance agitated for the removal of the death penalty for habitual traffic offenders. They would be opposed, but they would win.
    • Chapter 1, “The Ramrobot“ (p. 11)
  • From the beginning there had been a revolutionary group. Its name had changed several times, and Matt had no idea what it was now. He had never known a revolutionary. He had no particular desire to be one. They accomplished nothing, except to fill the Hospital's organ banks. How could they, when the crew controlled every weapon and every watt of power on Mount Lookitthat? If this was a nest of rebels, then they had worked out a good cover. Many of the merrymakers had no hearing aids, and these seemed to be the ones who didn't know anyone here. Like Matt himself. In the midst of a reasonably genuine open-house brawl, certain people listened to voices only they could hear.
    • Chapter 2, “The Sons of Earth“ (pp. 33-34)
  • "You look like a girl with a secret," Matt said. "I think it must be the smile."
    She moved closer to him, which was very close, and lowered her voice. "Can you keep a secret?"
    Matt smiled with one side of his mouth to show that he knew what was coming. She said it anyway. "So can I."
    • Chapter 2, “The Sons of Earth“ (p. 38)
  • The organ banks would be supplied for years. Not only would the crew have a full supply, which they always did anyway, but there would be spare parts for exceptional servants of the regime; i.e., for civil servants such as Jesus Pietro and his men. Even the colonists would benefit. It was not at all unusual for the Hospital to treat a sick but deserving colonist if the medical supplies were sufficient. The Hospital treated everyone they could. It reminded the colonists that the crew ruled in their name and had their interests at heart.
    And the Sons of Earth was dead. All but one man, and from his picture he wasn't old enough to be dangerous.
    Nonetheless Jesus Pietro had his picture tacked to the Hospital bulletin boards and sent a copy to the newscast station with the warning that he was wanted for questioning.
    It was not until dawn, when he was settling down to sleep, that he remembered who belonged to that face. Matthew Keller's nephew...
    • Chapter 3, “The Car“ (pp. 49-50)
  • With all its horrors and all its failures, life was bearable where there were hot showers.
    • Chapter 3, “The Car” (p. 53)
  • Any citizen, with the help of the organ banks, can live as long as it takes his central nervous system to wear out. This can be a very long time if his circulatory system is kept functioning.
    But the citizen cannot take more out of the organ banks than goes into them. He must do his utmost to see that they are supplied.
    The only feasible method of supplying the organ banks is through execution of criminals.…
    A criminal's pirated body can save a dozen lives. There is now no valid argument against capital punishment for any given crime; for all such argument seeks to prove that killing a man does society no good. Hence the citizen, who wants to live as long and as healthily as possible, will vote any crime into a capital crime if the organ banks are short of material.
    Cite Earth's capital punishment for false advertising, income tax evasion, air pollution, having children without a license.
    The wonder was that it had taken so long to pass these laws.
    • Chapter 7, “The Bleeding Heart“ (pp. 122-123)
  • There were organ banks all over the world, inadequately supplied by people kind enough to will their bodies to medical science.
    How useful is the body of a man who dies of old age? How fast can you reach a car accident? And in 2043, Arkansas, which had never rescinded the death penalty, made the organ banks the official state method of execution.
    The idea had spread like a moral plague, as one critic of the time had put it.
    • Chapter 7, “The Bleeding Heart“ (p. 123)
  • Geoffrey Eustace Parlette had evidently imitated ancient bad taste in hopes of getting something new and different.
    • Chapter 7, “The Bleeding Heart” (p. 128)
  • Jesus Pietro wasn't used to dealing with ghosts.
    It would require brand new techniques.
    Grimly he set out to evolve them.
    • Chapter 8, “Polly's Eyes“ (p. 144)
  • He was shaking. A mass verbal attack can do that to a man, can smash his self-respect and set up doubts which remain for hours or days or forever. There are well-developed verbal techniques for many to use against one. You never let the victim speak without interruption; never let him finish a sentence. You interrupt each other so that he can’t quite catch the drift of your arguments, and then he can’t find the flaws. He forgets his rebuttal points because he’s not allowed to put them into words. His only defense is to walk out. If, instead, you throw him out…
    • Chapter 8, “Polly’s Eyes” (p. 146)
  • Jesus Pietro was worried. The Sons of Earth, if they got this far, would go straight to the vivarium to free their compatriots. But if Matthew Keller was his own agent...
    If the ghost of Alpha Plateau was not a rebel, but a thing with its own unpredictable purpose...
    Jesus Pietro worried.
    • Chapter 10, “Parlette’s Hand” (p. 171)
  • Our society depends entirely on its technology. Change the technology, and you change the society. Most especially you change the ethics.
    • Chapter 10, “Parlette’s Hand” (p. 174)
  • "I'm no historian," said Harry. "But morals are morals. What's unethical here and now is unethical anywhere, anytime.
    "Kane, you're wrong. It is ethical to execute a man for theft?"
    "Of course."
    "Did you know that there was once a vastly detailed science of rehabilitation for criminals? It was a branch of psychology, naturally, but it was by far the largest such branch. By the middle of century twenty-one, nearly two-thirds of all criminals could eventually be released as cured."
    "That's silly. Why go to all that trouble when the organ banks must have been crying for — Oh. I see. No organ banks."
    • Chapter 10, “Parlette’s Hand” (pp. 175-176)
  • Parlette, if you have something to say, say it. If we jump to the wrong conclusions, please assume that you’re expressing yourself badly, and don’t try to shift the blame.
    • Chapter 10, “Parlette’s Hand” (p. 185)
  • Parlette spoke slowly and evenly. "I am trying to prevent a bloodbath. Is that clear enough for you? I'm trying to prevent a civil war that could kill half the people in this world."
    • Chapter 10, “Parlette’s Hand” (p. 185)
  • Yes, the bleeding heart was something else again. A gruesome symbol on a vivarium floor. Fingers that broke without their owner noticing. An ink drawing appearing from nowhere on a dossier cover, like a signature. A signature.
    • Chapter 12, “The Slowboat” (p. 210)
  • He kept the gun in his hand. It felt good. He was sick of having to be afraid. It was a situation to drive a man right out of his skull. If he stopped being afraid, even for an instant, he could be killed! But now, at least for the moment, he could stop listening for footsteps, stop trying to look in all directions at once. A sonic stunner was a surer bet than a hypothetical, undependable psi power. It was real, cold and hard in his hand.
    • Chapter 12, “The Slowboat” (p. 215)
  • I have a kind of psychic invisibility. As long as I can stay scared, I can keep people from seeing me. That's what we have to count on.
    • Chapter 12, “The Slowboat” (p. 216)
  • “I don’t doubt you’re serious,” he said wonderingly. “What I doubt is your sanity.”
    • Chapter 14, “Balance of Power” (p. 246)


Ringworld (1970)[edit]

The universe is too complicated a toy for a sensibly cautious being to play with.
Page numbers from the Del Rey mass market paperback
  • Louis knew a few xenophobes, and regarded them as dolts.
    • p. 9
  • The Gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools.
    • p. 96
  • The perversity of the universe tends towards a maximum. The universe is hostile.
    • p. 142
  • One mark of a good officer, he remembered, was the ability to make quick decisions. If they happen to be right, so much the better.
    • p. 152
  • Seen through the glow of a building orgasm, a woman seems to blaze with angelic glory.
    • p. 165
  • The majority is always sane.
    • p. 177
  • Tell them the universe is too complicated a toy for a sensibly cautious being to play with.
    • p. 314

The Ringworld Engineers (1980)[edit]

There is never no hope left. Remember.
Page numbers from the Del Rey mass market paperback
  • We learn only to ask more questions.
    • p. 59
  • Forget the infinities: Concentrate on detail.
    • p. 68
  • Sometimes there’s no point in giving up.
    • p. 282

Protector (1973)[edit]

Nominated for the 1974 Hugo Award.
Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ballantine Books, Fourth printing, April 1975
All italics as in the book
  • The stars are far from eternal, but for man they might as well be.
    • Section 1, Phssthpok, Chapter 1 (p. 7)
  • Brennan was an optimist. He didn’t expect to be caught.
    • Section 1, Chapter 1 (p. 16)
  • I’m being chauvinistic, he told himself. I can’t judge an alien’s sanity by Belt standards, can I? His lip curled. Sure I can. That ship is badly designed.
    • Section 1, Chapter 1 (p. 21)
  • The Perversity of the Universe Tends Toward a Maximum.
    • Section 1, Chapter 1 (p. 23)
  • “For letting us examine their silly records they want to charge us a flat million marks!”
    “Pay it.”
    “It’s robbery.”
    “A Belter says that? Why don’t you have records on Mars?”
    “We were never interested. What for?”
    “What about abstract knowledge?”
    “Another word for useless.”
    “Then what makes you want useless knowledge enough to pay a million marks for it?”
    Slowly Nick matched his grin. “It’s still robbery. How in Finagle’s name did Earth know they’d need to know about Mars?”
    “That’s the secret of abstract knowledge. You get in the habit of finding out everything you can about everything. Most of it gets used sooner or later.”
    • Section 1, Chapter 2 (pp. 45-46)
  • “How did you come to represent the belt?”
    “Aptitude tests said I had a high IQ and liked ordering people around. From there I worked my way up.”
    “We go by the vote.”
    “Popularity contests.”
    “It works. But it does have drawbacks. What government doesn’t?”
    • Section 1, Chapter 2 (p. 57)
  • What’s the justification for ancestor worship? You know what happens to a man without modern geriatrics: as he ages his brain cells start to die. Yet people tend to respect him, to listen to him.
    • Section 1, Chapter 3 (p. 86)
  • And the air was full of the smell of burning bridges.
    • Section 2, Vandervecken (p. 166)

The Mote in God's Eye (1974)[edit]

Co-written with Jerry Pournelle
Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Pocket Books ISBN 0-671-74192-6
  • Rod privately suspected the Scots studied their speech off duty so they’d be unintelligible to the rest of humanity.
    • Chapter 2 “The Passengers” (p. 15)
  • Species evolve to meet the environment. An intelligent species changes the environment to suit itself. As soon as a species becomes intelligent, it should stop evolving.
    • Chapter 3 “Dinner Party” (p. 31)
  • “Perhaps I was expecting too much.”
    “Perhaps. We’re all waiting as fast as we can.”
    • Chapter 13 “Look Around You” (p. 107)
  • “It’s a nitwit idea.”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Nitwit ideas are for emergencies. You use them when you’ve got nothing else to try. If they work, they go in the Book. Otherwise you follow the Book, which is largely a collection of nitwit ideas that worked.”
    • Chapter 18 “The Stone Beehive” (p. 157)
  • He liked everything about the university except the students.
    • Chapter 19 “Channel Two’s Popularity” (p. 162)
  • And that’s another reason I don’t want contact between your species and mine. You’re all Crazy Eddies. You think every problem has a solution.
    • Chapter 37 “History Lesson” (p. 370; spoken by an alien to an earthman)
  • I sometimes wonder why the aristocracy isn’t extinct, the lot of you seem so stupid sometimes.
    • Chapter 40 “Farewell” (p. 397)
  • As I said, it was inevitable, and I don’t let laws of nature upset me.
    • Chapter 47 “Homeward Bound” (p. 445)
  • She waited for him to explain a universe in which there was so much injustice.
    • Chapter 51 “After the Ball Is Over” (p. 486)
  • It had been a long dull evening, with only the thought of leaving the party early to look forward to.
    • Chapter 51 “After the Ball Is Over” (p. 491)
  • Doctor, you keep asking me to see your point of view, which is based on ethics. You never see mine, which isn’t.
    • Chapter 53 “The Djinn” (p. 516; spoken by a politician to a scientist)

A World Out of Time (1976)[edit]

All page numbers from the Del Rey mass market paperback ISBN 0-345-25750-2, first Ballantine Books edition, July 1977

  • “Can you take orders?”
    “I was in the army.”
    “What does that mean?”
    “Means yes.”
    • Chapter 1 Rammer, Section 1 (pp. 4-5)
  • You’re insane. Imagine my amazement.
    • Chapter 2 Don Juan, Section 3 (p. 52)
  • He felt good. At worst he had found a brand-new way to die.
    • Chapter 2 Don Juan, Section 4 (p. 54)
  • He’s a computer. Perfect memory, rigid logic, no judgment. I forgot. I talked to him like a human being, and now—
    • Chapter 2 Don Juan, Section 4 (p. 59)
  • My self-centeredness is as human as your fanaticism.
    • Chapter 4 The Norn, Section 1 (p. 94)
  • Too much imagination and I’ll scare myself to death. Too little and I’ll get myself killed.
    • Chapter 4 The Norn, Section 1 (p. 95)
  • Suddenly Corbell missed Mirabelle terribly. He mourned her, not because she was dead, but because she was gone.
    • Chapter 5 Stealing Youth, Section 3 (p. 126)
  • War between the sexes had always seemed silly to Corbell. Too much fraternizing with the enemy, ha-ha.
    • Chapter 5 Stealing Youth, Section 4 (p. 135)
  • Civilization must have become awfully stereotyped before its collapse.
    • Chapter 6 The Changelings, Section 1 (p. 144)

Dream Park[edit]

Dream Park (1981)[edit]

Co-written with Steven Barnes
Page numbers from the first mass market edition, published by Ace ISBN 0-441-16727-6, second printing
  • Griffin shook his head. How could Millie be so cheerful every morning? He ought to steal a cup of her coffee and send it to R&D to be analyzed…
    • Chapter 1, “Arrivals” (p. 11)
  • There’s a fine line between sensible emotional restraint, and the withdrawal symptoms of a stimulus junkie denied her fix.
    • Chapter 2, “A Stroll Through Old Los Angeles” (p. 13)
  • The Gamers are so out of touch with reality that they were never considered a serious threat.
    • Chapter 10, “Neutral Scent” (p. 140)
  • “I am Yali, and I would like to welcome you to Heaven. I hope you will enjoy your stay.” He laughed heartily, as at a private joke. “Yes, I most certainly hope you do. After all, some of you may stay forever. It is a nice place, actually, one of those infinitely rare situations where one is rewarded commensurately to one’s efforts. Surely that is Heaven by any man’s definition?”
    • Chapter 19, “Neck Riddles” (p. 258)
  • “It looks as if this whole place was designed by pulling random pages out of 1950’s women’s magazines.”
    “Frightening, isn’t it?”
    • Chapter 19, “Neck Riddles” (p. 258)
  • Have you been wondering just where we are? After all, theologians have debated for centuries over the exact location of Heaven. Some have said that Heaven can be found beyond the stars. Some say it exists in the heart of Man, and others claim that it does not exist at all, that God is dead, or at least unemployed.
    • Chapter 19, “Neck Riddles” (p. 260)
  • It was a light, brief kiss, but it was less an ending than a promise, and he was happy.
    • Chapter 31, “Departures” (p. 429)

The Barsoom Project (1989)[edit]

Co-written with Steven Barnes
Page numbers from the trade paperback edition, published by Tor ISBN 978-0-7653-2668-3, November 2010
  • Massive success and massive inertia are two sides of a coin.
    • Chapter 1, “The Barsoom Project” (p. 19)
  • Mankind had come so far in some ways, and in others remained up in the trees, chittering and throwing rocks at each other.
    If only the trees weren’t so close together. If only the rocks were smaller.
    • Chapter 1, “The Barsoom Project” (p. 21)
  • “We go and pray! Gods must help,” Alura said almost calmly.
    “Have they ever helped before?” Max asked hopefully.
    “No.” Her shaggy blond head gave a mournful wag. Then she smiled ingenuously. “But maybe we pray wrong!”
    • Chapter 3, “The Tower of Night” (p. 38)
  • She may look like a flake, but there’s somebody home in that head.
    • Chapter 3, “The Tower of Night” (p. 39)
  • Perhaps the lines of nationalism and factionalism and every other goddamn “ism” in the world had reduced the chances for this weary planet. Or not. Nuclear devices had existed for over a century, and only four of them had ever been used in anger. This could be interpreted as proof of divine intervention, good luck, a sign that the human race was growing up, or ominous portent, depending upon one’s standing in the “half-empty, half-full” school of cocktail-party philosophy.
    • Chapter 4, “The Psychology of Engagement” (p. 49)
  • “Ah…if it’s not a glitch, and Welles seems certain that it’s not a glitch, then…what is it?”
    “A glitch. People who say that they have all the bugs usually haven’t turned over enough rocks.”
    • Chapter 10, “I've Had Dates Like You” (p. 108)
  • Two thousand years of civilization does not undo a million years of genetics.
    • Chapter 11, “High Finance” (p. 117)
  • I want a scotch and water. If I can’t have that, leave out the water.
    • Chapter 12, “Breakfast Eggs” (p. 124)
  • “Last coffee I had was on the tube out from Denver.” He made a face.
    Hippogryph was willing. “That bad?”
    “Let’s put it this way. I had the concierge send it out to a lab. Got a call back saying ‘Congratulations, your moose is pregnant.’”
    • Chapter 17, “Butterflies” (p. 166)
  • “What’s it like being dead?” Hebert asked.
    “Not bad, really,” Wood Owl answered after a moment’s consideration. “Like waiting for a tax refund, only slower.”
    • Chapter 17, “Butterflies” (p. 167)
  • “That’s pretty minor. What kind of Gods are these?”
    “Petty, like all Gods. On the other hand, there’s no penalty at all for masturbation.”
    “I’m changing religions,” Kevin said positively.
    • Chapter 17, “Butterflies” (p. 168)
  • “I didn’t know you were such a fighter,” Eviane said.
    “Yeah, well, neither did I.”
    She smiled shyly.
    “Does that make a big difference?” he asked hesitantly.
    “Always,” she said. She stared at that bank of fog as if it concealed answers to every important question. “Oh, girls say that they want strong sensitive men. When we can’t find both, we settle for strong.”
    Some part of him resented that. “Evolution in action?”
    She nodded. “Sure. Deep down inside, we all know that something like this could happen. That the civilization we’d spent so much time and money building up could all come toppling down. And if it did, what would get us through is strength.”
    “Not just physical strength, though.”
    • Chapter 23, “The Snowman’s War” (pp. 227-228)
  • One bad, stupid decision could twist a life completely out of true.
    • Chapter 25, “Madeleine” (p. 238)

The California Voodoo Game (1992)[edit]

Co-written with Steven Barnes
Page numbers from the hardcover first edition, published by Del Rey ISBN 0-345-36598-4, first printing
  • Isn’t the history of human interaction the conversion of neighbors into enemies? Or into nonhumans, that we might deprive them of said chattels, or life itself?
    • Chapter 3, “Old Dreams” (p. 32)
  • We don’t break rules, but we bend the hell out of them.
    • Chapter 6, “Old Friends” (p. 64)
  • It was a bad omen. Glitches were a lot like cockroaches. If you didn’t catch them in time, they’d scuttle off into someplace dark and warm and begin to breed.
    • Chapter 10, “Nakagawa’s Law” (p. 101)
  • Whatever benefits voodoo conferred, intellectual agility was not among them.
    • Chapter 11, “Mallbeasts” (p. 112)
  • Nice to know that he had the gods on his side. Better make sure the lawyers were there, too.
    • Chapter 17, “Burning Love” (p. 163)
  • In certain video games, it is impossible to win. All you can do is survive as long as you can, piling up points, until you are eventually dragged down and killed.
    Much like life itself?
    • Chapter 18, “Puppy Chow” (p. 174)
  • “What the hell is this?” Acacia asked.
    Tammi examined a necklace of human teeth. “Looks like a cross between a santería minimart and a head shop.”
    • Chapter 27, “Alarums and Excursions” (p. 245)

The Descent of Anansi (1982)[edit]

Co-written with Steven Barnes
Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Tor, ISBN 978-0-8125-1292-2, 5th printing
  • As I said before, Mr. Fleming, we understand terrorists. There are two things to remember in dealing with them. First: we must never accede to their demands. Second: those of us who abhor their actions must be prepared to stand together against them.
    • Chapter 9, “The Good Neighbor Policy” (p. 130)
  • Everybody was talking and nobody was communicating.
    • Chapter 13, “Dove of Prey” (p. 179)
  • “You think that you are the great man because you know all of these things.” He waved his arms at the panels and the dials surrounding them, and out the windows to the stars beyond. He shook his head. “Poor foolish man. Do you really think that these things matter? No, you are nothing but a driver, a highly-paid, educated servant. The real decisions, the real power will always be with the men who understand money. And we will always own men like you.”
    • Chapter 16, “Maneuvering” (p. 234)

The Legacy of Heorot (1987)[edit]

Co-written with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes
Page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-671-64094-1
  • Sometimes you just have to be satisfied with what you are.
    • Chapter 7 “The Blind” (p. 91)
  • “Turning into a tradition, isn’t it?”
    “Around here, anything that happens twice is a tradition.”
    • Chapter 15 “Year Day” (p. 173)
  • “They should give medals for this, Martinez.”
    “By the time the paperwork goes through, we’ll both be dead and gone.”
    “Too true.”
    • Chapter 18 “Descent into Hell” (p. 200)
  • “I couldn’t sit here and tell you that I’m sorry it happened.”
    “Even with the death…?”
    “Everybody dies. The obstetrician slaps you on the ass with one hand and hands you a postdated death certificate with the other. What’s important is that our children have a better chance. It’s always been about the children. Always. Women have never loved being kept from education and treated as second-class citizens. Men have never enjoyed having their balls shot off in wars. Men and women didn’t fall into their roles accidentally, and each side doesn’t hate the other. It happened because for a thousand generations, that was the best way we knew to build a civilization, to build a better future for our children. The industrial revolution doomed slavery—racial, sexual, social. Civilization is worth fighting for.”
    • Chapter 21 “Killing Ground” (p. 229)
  • The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of cause.
    • Chapter 22 “The Last Grendel” (p. 231; quoting William James)
  • Avalon was neutral. The children of Earth might die, they might thrive. Avalon would embrace their bones or the progeny with equal warmth.
    • Chapter 29 “Holding” (p. 296)

Destiny's Road (1997)[edit]

Page numbers from the hardcover first edition published by Tor Books, ISBN 0-312-85122-7
  • Cooking was creation itself; It seemed to put the universe in perspective.
    • Chapter 6, “Oven Maker” (p. 69)
  • “I copied it.”
    “Sure you did, joker, but they drew what they thought you wanted and you copied what you thought you saw—”
    • Chapter 7, “The Old Surfer” (p. 75)
  • Sex was a game nobody lost.
    • Chapter 11, “Haunted Bay” (p. 123)
  • What’s intelligence for if not for seeking knowledge?
    • Chapter 30, “Hydraulic * Empire” (p. 299)
  • “It’s a joy,” she said, “watching you keep your mouth shut.”
    • Chapter 34, “The Autumn Caravan” (p. 342) interview (2000)[edit]

An Interview with Larry Niven by S. James Blackman (10 February 2000)
The wealth of the universe is all over your head...
  • We follow the scientists around and look over their shoulders. They're watching their feet: provable mistakes are bad for them. We're looking as far ahead as we can, and we don't get penalized for mistakes.
    • On the relationship between science and science-fiction.
  • The wealth of the universe is all over your head. We need to take command of the solar system to gain that wealth, and to escape the sea of paper our government is becoming, and for some decent chance of stopping a Dinosaur Killer asteroid.
  • We've fallen way behind. Building one space station for everyone was and is insane: we should have built a dozen.
  • Cheap superconductors imply maglev trains everywhere. Computers could get big again, with RAM/ROM rising by powers of forty and fifty, if superconductors shed the heat.
    Laser handguns against superconducting armor. I'm not predicting; I just love playing with superconductors.
  • Here is where the predictions failed: We didn't take Cargo Cult mentality into account: "if somebody has something I don't, he must have stolen it."
    We didn't understand how good we could get at communication — when you have something that someone else doesn't, the whole damn planet knows it.

Niven's Laws[edit]

Original version, and the latest revision, of "how the Universe works" written 29 January 2002, published in Analog Magazine (November 2002)
It is easier to destroy than create.
History never repeats itself.
Stories to end all stories on a given topic, don't.
No technique works if it isn't used.
If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault.
  • 1a) Never throw shit at an armed man.
    1b) Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.
  • 2) Never fire a laser at a mirror.
  • 3) Mother Nature doesn't care if you're having fun.
  • 4) Giving up freedom for security has begun to look naive.
    Even to me. Many of you were ahead of me on this — Three out of four hijacked airplanes destroyed the World Trade Center and a piece of the Pentagon in 2001. How is it possible that those planes were taken using only five perps armed with knives? It was possible because all those hundreds of passengers had been carefully stripped of every possible weapon. We may want to reconsider this approach. It doesn't work in high schools either.
    • Earlier version: 4) F x S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.
  • 6) It is easier to destroy than create.
    Bin Laden tore down the World Trade Center? Let's see him build one. If human beings didn't have a strong preference for creation, nothing would get built, ever.
  • 7) Any damn fool can predict the past.
    • Unsourced variant: Any damned fool can predict the past. And most do.
  • 10) Anarchy is the least stable of social structures.
  • 11) There is a time and place for tact.
    And there are times when tact is entirely misplaced.
  • 16) There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
    To prove a point, one may seek out a foolish Socialist, thirteenth century Liberal, Scientologist, High Frontier advocate, Mensa member, science fiction fan, Jim Bakker acolyte, Christian, witch, or fanatical devotee of Special Interest Lib. It doesn't really reflect on the cause itself. Ad hominem argument saves time, but it's still a fallacy.
    • Also in Fallen Angels (Baen Books, 1992) as: "Niven's Law: No cause is so noble that it won't attract fuggheads."
  • 17) No technique works if it isn't used.
  • 19) Think before you make the coward's choice. Old age is not for sissies.

Niven's Laws For Writers[edit]

  • 1) Writers who write for other writers should write letters.
  • 2) Never be embarrased or ashamed about anything you choose to write. (Think of this before you send it to a market)
  • 3) Stories to end all stories on a given topic, don't.
  • 4) It is a sin to waste the reader's time.
  • 5) If you've nothing to say, say it any way you like. Stylistic innovations, contorted story lines or none, exotic or genderless pronouns, internal inconsistencies, the recipe for preparing your lover as a cannibal banquet: feel free. If what you have to say is important and/or difficult to follow, use the simplest language possible. If the reader doesn't get it then, let it not be your fault.
  • 6) Everybody talks first draft.


  • Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.
    • Anonymous saying, this is an inversion of the third of Arthur C. Clarke's three laws : "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." It has been attributed to Niven, and even called "Niven's Law" by some, and to Terry Pratchett by others, but without any citation of an original source in either case, and the earliest occurrence yet located is in Keystone Folklore (1984) by the Pennsylvania Folklore Society.

External links[edit]

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