Today we’re interviewing science fiction author Larry Niven. Mister Niven has been cranking out the tales since his first short story was published in 1964. Since then, he’s won Ditmar, Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards, as well as becoming more-or-less the grand master of mega structure-based SF, such as the Ringworld series and the current Fleet of Worlds series. Without question, the author to have had more influence over my own tastes and talents than anyone apart from Philip K. Dick. I’m an unabashed fan. Mister Niven, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us today.
No sweat. Electronic interviews are a lot easier than writing.
You invented the Kzin back in 1966. They’re arguably the most archetypical uber-sexists in the history of speculative fiction. They are fierce meat-eating predators, they all act like alpha males, the females of their species are non-sapient sex kittens, and their government is--by definition--an Old Boys’ Club that they have the temerity to openly call “The Patriarchy.” They’re just as bold as brass about that, too. Something I’ve wondered about for years: Were the Kzin intended as a parody of the Radical Feminist view of men? If so, it’s a really sly dig because nobody seems to notice it until I point it out to them.
The Kzinti evolved over many years. I started with a story that needed a villain. I used them in several subsequent stories, and they took on detail. By now there are a dozen volumes of THE MAN-KZIN WARS, stories mostly written by folk other than me, and four RINGWORLD volumes. Some of what has become of the Kzinti has surprised me.
But I did definitely intend to see what would happen to a sapient race with only one functional gender. Yes, it was all deliberate. If I’d chosen a sapient female instead, Ghod knows what the feminists would have done to me.
As long as we’re talking about sex: There’s a hell of a lot of it in your Known Space stories. When I first read these as a teen, I didn’t think about it twice because free love is kind of a staple of SF, and has been since HG Wells. I just skimmed over whatever offendeth my virgin eyes at the time, no biggie. In the last couple years, I’ve come across some fans who’ve argued fairly convincingly that the 24/7 orgies were actually a political statement. They say that earth was basically a dystopia, and that the government was keeping people in check with bread and circuses. Was this what you had in mind at the time, or just something people have kind of read into it as morals have drifted over the decades?
The Pill was new. Panels argued at conventions: was this new freedom a major change in human nature? I assumed failsafe birth control and victory over disease. Sexual freedom would be pretty much a given. You see a lot of heterosexual activity in my futures because homosexuals, given perfect freedom, don’t breed (enough for replacement.)
I tend to write flawed utopias, or futures as a work in progress.
But also, you don’t know a character until you know his/her sexual proclivities.
Expanding from tht idea, an inherent assumption of your work is that Technology Changes Morality. This seems self-evident to me, and is really fascinating, yet no one really touches on it much excepting yourself and John Varley on a less overt level. I’ve used your arguments on Republibot a few times, and generally been shouted down, so I guess it’s kind of a hard idea for some to really accept.
Yes! Technology alters morality! What you and your neighbor/enemy can do changes what how you must respond.
Why do you think it is that some people seem so opposed to the concept?
It’s not a pleasant idea for anyone who teaches. Teachers would rather see absolutes in morality. But—example. Was it moral to fight total war against the Axis in WW2? Sure. You’re rescuing whole subcultures from extinction. And in the Cold War, when the weapons could have wiped out humanity? Then, no.
Another example. Hitler and Stalin murdered around 18,000,000 each. (Not counting war, and the numbers are arguable.) Now is assassination moral? But those numbers would be impossible without 20th century levels of organization and communication.
Another: condoms and