17 June 2008

[liff] Niven's Laws


Larry Niven is one of the greatest living SF writers today. I always felt as though he was my generation's Robert Heinlein and Frederik Pohl all rolled into one iconoclastic-y guy (his Known Space futhistory cycle is part of SF canon today, but back in the '70s it was category-defining. And Ringworld is one of the great ones).

As SF writers are wont to do, he too distills his wisdom into a set of witty axioms (and in that observation, to be sure, is perhaps a great grand unifying Law of SF Writers). I find Niven's Laws particularly entertaining, because they seem to come from a place that gives Larry Niven his value: he differs with you without making you his adversary. Everyone fancies that their observations "make you think"; most of those people are just obnoxious boors looking for an excuse to be blunt and angry at you without having to account for being a twit. Niven's observations are the kind of actual "think-making" that everyone thinks they are doing but really aren't.

Niven's Laws, updated in 2002 in Analog magazine, run as follows (if you wan't the author's equally-witty (and equally-required reading) commentary on his laws, go hither):

  • 1a) Never throw crap at an armed man.

  • 1b) Never stand next to someone who is throwing crap 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.

  • 5) Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.

  • 6) It is easier to destroy than create.

  • 7) Any damn fool can predict the past.

  • 8) History never repeats itself.

  • 9) Ethics change with technology.

  • 10) Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. (It falls apart at a touch)

  • 11) There is a time and place for tact.

  • 12) The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.

  • 13) When your life starts to look like a soap opera, it's time to change the channel.

  • 14) The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently.
    Niven's corollary: The gene-tampered turkey you're talking to isn't necessarily one of them.

  • 15) Fuzzy Pink Niven's Law: Never waste calories.

  • 16) There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

  • 17) No technique works if it isn't used.

  • 18) Not responsible for advice not taken.

  • 19) Think before you make the coward's choice. Old age is not for sissies.

  • 20) Never let a waiter escape.

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Rav`N said...

*lol* I'm more of a fantasy buff than a sci-fi buff but Niven's Laws are great. (Just blogexploded my way by, if you were wondering)

Iron Fist said...

Sweet. Niven was one of the first science fiction authors I was introduced to. Thanks for digging this up.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

You're welcome, fellahs!

@ Rav'n: You might want to check out Niven's The Magic Goes Away. It's his take on fantasy, and it's written in that unique voice of his. It's a lot of fun. He had this fantasy side-thread that he exploited from time to time. Also, it's actually quite cool that you copped to stopping by from BlogExplosion. You're the first BE surfer who's left a comment, and I'm thrilled.

@ iron fist: What's more interesting than the laws themselves is his commentary, particularly for the 4th Law, which has evolved in the light of this security-state society we're living in these days. Originally it was just a dry observation that as security increases, freedom decreases, giving neither credence nor critcism. The updated 4th Law seems to be a bit more critical.

LaurenMarie - Creative Curio said...

Hehe, never let a waiter escape.

I want to read Ringworld; I've heard nothing but good things about it. Right now I'm reading the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Book one is called His Majesty’s Dragon. If you haven't heard of it, it's fantasy meets history--dragons for aerial combat during the Napoleonic wars. So far I absolutely LOVE it. The characters are just wonderful and you connect with them right away. I particularly like Temeraire's personality (he's the dragon).

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

I might check that out. Thanks for the reccommendation.

If you really want good Niven to start with outside of Ringworld, look for a short-story collection called Inconstant Moon and start your journey through Known Space with A Gift From Earth.

Those books are musts, man. No Niven shelf is complete without them.