Niven's "Known Space." Worth reading? Where to start?

Is Larry Niven’s “Known Space” novels/stories worth getting into? I liked his “A World Out of Time” well enough. (Not so much his and Pournelle’s “Lucifer’s Hammer.” Totally hate in that and in AWOoT when he goes off on tangents about his personal enthusiasms, like Devo, horrible little songs, or the benefits of having a belly band on a hiking backpack.) If worth it, where should one start?


Ringworld is a good start, since it’s a stand alone novel. Really, any story with Louis Wu in it will be a good intro.

Tales of Known Space is a very good place to start. Remarkably, many of the early stories were written in the 1960’s. And Ringworld is a great novel to read as well.

Good luck and have fun. These are real gems (in my somewhat skewed opinion) even when the tech is outdated.

There isn’t really a preferred timeline in the Known Space stories. Ringworld is the best novel in that universe, and Neutron Star is the best collection, but you can pick up anywhere. Like Heinlein’s Future History and Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind*, they were not published with any grand plan in mind and the stories were created to be read on their own.

*The most imaginative of the three.

As mentioned, they are pretty much stand alone novels (and collections of short stories) but if you wish to proceed chronologically:

1966 world of ptavvs
1968 a gift from earth
1968 neutron star (collection)
1969 the shape of space (collection)
1970 ringworld
1973 protector
1975 tales of known space (collection)
1976 the long arm of gil hamilton
1980 the patchwork girl
1980 the ringworld engineers
1994 crashlander - the collected tales of beowulf shaeffer
1996 the ringworld throne
2004 ringworld’s children
2007 fleet of worlds
2008 juggler of worlds
2009 destroyer of worlds
2010 betrayer of worlds

The best place to start is anywhere other than Protector or any of the Ringworld sequels. The rest of the stories are much better if you pretend those don’t exist at all.

Oh, and do read the Man-Kzin Wars anthologies, too, at some point.

You don’t have to stick with Niven, obviously. Some others have added to his Known Space. Start with him, tho.

For my taste, I find Niven without Pournelle to be a bit of a slog. I get the impression that Niven provides the ideas, while Pournelle provides a plot.

I generally liked Ringworld, but at times the combination of world-building and philosophical argument felt like reading a Sim City strategy guide crossed with the Name of the Rose.

My advice would be to start with one of the collections and see how you feel about Niven’s style before committing to Ringworld.

+1. I’ve read them all.

Gil “The Arm” Hamilton is my recommendation to start.

I would not start with Ringworld. That’s where I started with Niven and found it somewhat confusing and not a particularly good read. I would suggest starting with Neutron Star and then going into novels.

Agreed. Neutron Star before Ringworld, both of these and maybe Protector before Tales of Known Space. I also have *Limits *and Inconstant Moon and recommend either or both.

Agreed with the views above: the “Neutron Star” collection is the best place to start.

And be warned: the three (?) Ringworld Novels follow a vast story arc that not everyone will admire. Me, I love 'em, but I know a LOT of readers who really hated the revisionism of “The Ringworld Engineers” and who screamed in bloody outrage at “The Ringworld Throne.”

(Authors have the right to break their own toys. Ursula K. LeGuin broke Earthsea in some of the later books. So it goes. We, for our part, have the right to gripe about it!)

Also +1 to JerrySTL’s shout out to Cordwainer Smith. Smith’s collections of short stories are the place to start; don’t jump straight into the deep-end of the pool with “Norstrilia.” But once you’ve met the Kittons and seen the Gold Spaceship, you’ll be ready for that utterly haunting science-fantasy epic. “You Will Never Be The Same.”

I started with Ringworld. Then, I found everything else Niven had written. It’s a valid place to start. My sci-fi reading experience did not suffer at all.

What I should have done is made sure to add (as I usually do); “This IS the SDMB, so, as always, YMMV!” :slight_smile:

They would probably agree with you. I think Pournelle once observed that while he created a hundred-foot tall tsunami wiping out Los Angeles, Niven put a surfer on top of it.

Pournelle created an invasion of elephant-like aliens. Niven put them under hang gliders, wearing pink slippers.

Pournelle is the sane one, Niven the nut case.

On the other hand, the combination of Niven and Pornelle together seems to have a lot more ludicrously implausible politics than Niven alone ever does.

From my observation of their individual behaviors at SF conventions, Dr. Pournelle is a stuck-up blowhard and Mr. Niven is a gentle and self-effacing genius.

And, yes, he can be something of a nut.

Looking at standingwave’s chronological list, chronological order seems pretty reasonable, although I didn’t think anything past The Ringworld Engineers was particularly worth reading. (I really liked The Ringworld Engineers, even though the plot revisionism didn’t make much sense.)

Don’t forget the animated Star Trek episode, too.

I like Niven by himself MUCH better than Pournelle, who likes to stick his right wing politics into everything he writes. I find that all the books Niven wrote himself are much better than the Niven-Pournelle collaborations, and in fact that Pournelle is such a baleful influence that everything written by Niven alone after collaborating with Pournelle are not as good as Niven used to be. Pournelle is, quite simply, a hack, a hack with a tendency to politicize his work as well. Best avoid him entirely.