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Inspiration: Giving Larry Niven Credit Where Credit Is Due


Ryan Anderson


Note: Ryan is a student of mine and wrote this in my Fantasy Literature class.  I really liked the thesis of his project and believe the piece turned out quite nicely.  Enjoy!


You may know the Magic: The Gathering card franchise and almost everyone knows about Halo the first-person shooter (FPS) game that has garnered a lot of popularity in the recent past, but have you ever wondered who inspired these great pop-cultural icons? The man is Larry Niven, and he’s probably science fiction/ fantasy’s unsung hero. Niven is a five-time winner of the Hugo Award and a very influential author.      

Niven's MasterpieceLarry Niven is an avid writer of “Hard Science Fiction.”  Hard science fiction is science fiction (SF) but with more realistic themes. Niven has strived to make his novels very grand and amazing but theoretically possible. In fact, Niven even has his own universal settings for his books. Some take place in the “Known Space” universe whilst others take place in the unknown parts of space. Amongst these grand novels is his most profound work, Ringworld. This is Niven’s crowning novel and probably his most popular work. Ringworld is about an artificially constructed planet, shaped as a ring around a star, in the middle of space. Sound familiar? It should, because the Ringworld series is what helped inspire Bungie to create the Halo videogame franchise. Halo, like Ringworld, takes place on a giant floating ring in space. The coolest concept behind Halo and Ringworld is that the physics behind the constructs are theoretically possible.

Larry Niven's DiscThe Magic Goes Away is a rare fantasy published by Niven in 1978. It, too, inspired a mega-hit franchise. The book is about magic that’s used much like natural resources: once it’s all gone, it’s all gone. This unique perspective towards magic inspired Richard Garfield, a college professor, to create a card game that could be played in the down-time at science fiction conventions. Niven’s book inspired the playing mechanics to the popular Magic: the Gathering franchise and in a sense, helped make the franchise. “Magic” was a mega-hit almost overnight and remains one of the most popular collectable card games (CCG’s) of all time. Niven was paid homage in the game and has a card based on him titled “Nevinyrral’s disk” which is a quite powerful card (and was reprinted recently).

Niven is not only a mega-franchise inspiration, but he’s also written and influenced many aspects of our lives that we’re not even aware of. For example, Niven served as an advisor to Ronald Reagan with the creation of the “Strategic Defense Initiative” anti-missile system. Also, In 2007 Niven helped advise future policies of the US Department of Homeland Security. Niven has also popularized the use of the SF term “stasis field” which is a suspended state of animation.

Niven has influenced many things, but his ultimate bane must be his professional impression on the public: few people have ever heard of him. When we look at some of the brightest minds of science fiction, we discuss Asimov and Heinlein, but rarely do we look at Niven, whose influence is as broad and as important as the other great minds of SF.

Niven is a truly wondrous individual. Not only has he inspired two very popular SF and fantasy franchises, but he’s influenced our government policies, our popular culture, and even our lives. Niven’s role in our society has given us much better days of reading, and playing. Hopefully Niven’s name will somehow become associated with the great franchises he has inspired. That way he will be able to live on through his works for a very long time and get the credit he rightfully deserves.


Quite Quotable

"Knowledge has a trick of paying off in unexpected ways."

Poul Anderson, The Boat of a Million Years


New Conan Trailer

The new trailer is out.  I'm still not quite convinced.  What are you all thinking?  Watch it here.


Are the proposed PSN reparations enough to bring gamers back?

Is Sony doing enough to compensate gamers for the PSN outage?  Are Playstation Plus members getting the shaft?


We have finally gotten word on what Sony plans to do to compensate PSN users for the recent outage caused by Sony’s decision to completely re-write their online security in the wake of an attack by hackers that lifted the information from over 70 million PSN accounts.  Here is the excerpt from the press release:

Central components of the “Welcome Back” program will include:

  • Each territory will be offering selected PlayStation entertainment content for free download. Specific details of this content will be announced in each region soon.
  • All existing PlayStation Network customers will be provided with 30 days free membership in the PlayStation Plus premium service. Current members of PlayStation Plus will receive 30 days free service.
  • Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity subscribers (in countries where the service is available) will receive 30 days free service.

Additional “Welcome Back” entertainment and service offerings will be rolled out over the coming weeks as the company returns the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services to the quality standard users have grown to enjoy and strive to exceed those exceptions.

 Let’s look at that list.  The free downloads bother me immediately.  When Microsoft had a hiccup with Xbox Live in 2008, they gave a free game (Undertow) away.  That was fine for people who didn’t own the game and wanted it, but all of us that had already purchased it or had no interest in it, got no compensation for the outage.  This could easily happen with Sony.  Clearly Microsoft should have offered free points to be spent on any content, but I don’t think that is an option with PSN since the transaction there are based on actual dollars, not points.  There are likely a number of issues involved with giving money away that don’t come up once those dollars are converted to “points.”  Still, I would hope Sony offers a variety of choices, and that every gamer has the opportunity to pick up games or DLC that they don’t have and actually want.

The next bulleted point tells us that each user will get a free 30 days of PS+ (Sony’s premium online service) and that current PS+ subscribers will get 30 days added to their account.  I’m a PS+ subscriber and have been since that program launched.  I would have been happy just to have the length of the outage added to the end of my subscription, so this is a bonus.  It isn’t mentioned here, but with the related Sony Online Entertainment takedown, Sony has said subscribers will get a free 30 days plus however many days are lost to the outage.  I would hope this is true for PS+ also.  Otherwise, while new users would get a full 30 days, current PS+ members would be getting 30 days minus however many days it turns out PS+ is down during the outage.  Sony should add the time missed to the end of our subscriptions and then add the 30 days to that.

I do not subscribe to nor am I curious about Qriocity, but the same points above apply.  If Sony doesn’t offer back the days the network was down, they are not really giving 30 free days.

So, for Nerdbloggers, the jury is still out on Sony’s reparations.  It will come down to the free content offered once the Marketplace comes back online.  If the offerings are good enough, I will be happy.  After all, Sony was the victim* in this crime; the users are just the collateral damage. 


* A victim much like a tourist walking down the street with gold chains and our money sticking out his pockets.


Quite Quotable

"What counts is not what other people think of you, but what you are and what you do."

 Jeanne Cavelos, The Shadow Within