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Known Space is the fictional setting of several science fiction novels and short stories written by author Larry Niven. It has been also in part been used as a shared universe in the Man-Kzin Wars spin-off anthologies sub-series. Template:TOCnestright
It is the name given by humans to an smallish area of the galaxy near the Earth which has been explored and settled several centuries in the future and is peopled by alien races such as Pierson's Puppeteers and the Kzinti. It is also the home of the many types of homids of the Ringworld, but they don't leave their world. Late in the series, this area is an irregularly shaped "bubble" about 60 light-years across. The stories span approximately one thousand years of future history, from the first human explorations of the Solar System to the colonization of dozens of nearby systems (and with some references to the far distant past).
The stories which now comprise the "known space" series were originally conceived as separate series, the "Belter" stories, featuring solar-system colonization and slower-than-light travel with fusion-powered Bussard ramjet ships, and the Neutron-Star/Ringworld series of stories, set much further into the future, which feature Faster-than-light ships using "hyperdrive". The two timelines were implicitly joined by Niven in the story "A Relic of the Empire," in which the background elements of the Slaver civilization (introduced in World of Ptavvs, from the Belter series) was used as a plot element of a story in the faster-than-light setting. Roughly 300 years separates the timeline of the last stories of the early setting (which are set roughly between 2000 and 2350), from the earliest stories in the later Neutron-Star/Ringworld setting (which are set in 2651 ("Neutron Star") and later). In the late 1980s, Niven opened up this gap in the known space timeline as a shared universe, and the stories of the Man-Kzin Wars volumes fill in that history, smoothly joining the two settings.
In the process of exploring space, humankind encounters several intelligent alien species, including the following:
- Kzinti: a large and very aggressive species of tiger-like aliens with whom humans fight several brutal interstellar wars. Kzinti tactics are somewhat cat-like in nature, 'Scream and leap' being the primary mode of attack. A saving grace is that the Kzinti are so aggressive that they always attack before they are ready. When the humans obtained the Faster-Than-Light drive, the wars came to an end, as the Kzinti couldn't win against FTL-drive warships. The Kzinti lost many of their slave planets and much of their empire as a result of the Wars. Some theories hold that the Kzinti were forced to evolve emotionally as a result of the wars, since they lost approximately 70% of their more conservative, aggressive, and intractable male population in each of the wars. Whatever the cause, Kzinti are now able to deal with other races diplomatically, rather than by attacking and eating them. Female Kzinti are not intelligent, although there are reports that the archaic Kzinti found on the map of Kzin on the Ringworld includes sentient females. This may indicate that the Kzinti in Known Space have bred intelligence out of their females.
Niven himself wrote little about the Man-Kzin wars, although many of his stories refer to them having taken place in the past. The Man-Kzin Wars short-story collections were primarily written by other authors. The Kzinti "crossed-over" in to the Star Trek universe in the animated episode "The Slaver Weapon", which was written by Larry Niven and is adapted from Niven's own short story "The Soft Weapon."
- Pierson's Puppeteers: a technologically advanced race of three-legged, twin-necked herbivores descended from herd animals, and noted for their so-called cowardice. Their commercial empire directly and indirectly controls events throughout Known Space and beyond, and Puppeteer plots are behind many of the larger events in Known Space.
- Outsiders: fragile, low-temperature (they are substantially composed of liquid helium) aliens that cruise through deep space. They are masters of very high technological advances, and trade information with the races they meet. They are responsible for selling (on credit) the FTL drive to the human mayor of We Made It (and to thousands of other races across the galaxy). They have some connection with the starseeds, a gigantic space-going animal which their ships follow as the starseeds travel from the galactic core to the rim where it lays it's egg, which then must find it's way across 50,000 light years to return to the core.
- Pak: interstellar ancestors of humanity whose life-cycle mimics the stages of human aging. A Pak who reaches the age of 30 to 45 years may become a 'Protector' of his descendants. Pak Protectors reportedly constructed the Ringworld. Protectors are xenophobic, hardy, very intelligent, and the fiercest fighters in Known Space.
- Kdatlyno: a slave species of the Kzinti until humans free them. Kdatlyno "see" by way of sonar and create sculptures intended to be "seen" by Kdatlyno, but (when they have been advised on color and texture) which can be seen and felt by other species, such as humans and puppeteers.
- Pierin: A slave species of the Kzinti. At the time of their conquest, they occupied several planets near p Eridani. No description is given, but the Ringworld RPG suggests they resemble horned birds and that their homeworld has low gravity. Presumably freed by humans, but this is not attested.
- Chunquen: A slave species of the Kzinti, remarkable to their captors for the sentience of both sexes. ("They fought constantly.") Their homeworld is watery; they resisted the Kzinti invasion with missiles fired from submarine ships. Apparently exterminated before the Kzinti first encountered humans.
- Thrintun: an ancient species which ruled the galaxy through telepathic mind control about 1.5 billion years in the past. A technology created by one of their slave races was the stasis field, which makes its contents impervious to harm and provides indefinite suspended animation, which has figured in several Niven stories. Thrintun were small (approximately 1.25 meters tall), not particularly intelligent (but with their telepathic power, they didn't need to be), reptilian, with green scaly skin, pointed teeth, and a single eye.
- Grogs: sessile sentient creatures, shaped like furry cones. They are eyeless, earless, and have a prehensile tongue. They can also control animals telepathically. The Grogs are thought by some to be the descendants of the Thrintun species, after 1.5 billion years of atrophy.
- Tnuctipun: an apparently extinct ancient race of small carnivores contemporaneous with and enslaved by the Thrintun. They were known for their technological prowess, especially in genetic engineering. They secretly planned and executed the revolution to overthrow their Thrintun masters using many of their creations. When it appeared that the revolt would succeed, the Thrintun elders built and used a psychic amplifier that forced every sentient being in the galaxy to commit suicide, the signal repeating for centuries. The thrint that survived the revolt died out when all their slave races were dead.
- Bandersnatchi: colossal mountain-sized slug-like creatures, originally created by the Tnuctipun to be grown as a food source by the Thrintun. Believed by the Thrintun to be unintelligent, the Bandersnatchi were engineered by the Tnuctipun to be highly intellight spies for their war on the Thrintun. At one time found on every Thrint estate throughout the Thrintun empire, the only known survivors in Known Space are on the planet Jinx, though they are later found on the Ringworld and on a forested planet called Beanstalk. The bandersnatchi were the only intelligent species which were immune to the Thrint mental power.
- Trinocs: named for their three eyes; they also have three fingers, and a triangular mouth. Methane breathers and culturally paranoid, at least by human standards. First encountered by Louis Wu in the short story "There is a Tide".
- Martians: primitive but intelligent humanoids who lived beneath the sands. Martians burst into flames when brought in contact with water. Martians killed many of the early human explorers on Mars, principally because they concealed their existance, and they weren't suspected. In the novel Protector, the Martians were wiped out when Jack Brennan caused an ice asteroid to crash into the surface of Mars, raising the average humidity content of the atmosphere. Some Martians still exist on the "Map of Mars" on the Ringworld.
- Jotoki: sentient octopus-shaped beings formed by the joining of the lobes of five non-sentient eel-like life forms into a single brain. Former rulers of an interstellar empire, they used Kzinti as bodyguards, but the Kzinti took over the Jotoki empire and built their own upon it, making the Jotoki slaves and food animals.
- Morlocks: semi-sentient humanoid cave dwellers on Wunderland. They, like humans, descended from a failed attempt by Pak Protectors to colonize Sol and nearby star systems. Named by humans for the creatures in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.
- Whrloo: Meter tall insectoids with long eyestalks, their homeworld has low gravity with a thick, high density atmosphere. They never saw the stars until they were enslaved by the Kzinti.
Also figuring in some stories are dolphins and other intelligent cetaceans, and various offshoots of Homo sapiens including the associate lineage of the hominids of the Ringworld. Most life in Known Space shares similar biochemistries, since they evolved from the Thrintun practice of seeding barren worlds with food yeast which they used to feed their slaves. Over a billion years, the Thrintun food yeast evolved into the different life forms in Known Space.
One aspect of the Known Space universe is that most of the early human colonies are on planets suboptimal for Homo sapiens. During the first phase of human interstellar colonization (i.e., before humanity acquired FTL), simple robotic probes were sent to nearby stars to assess their planets for habitation. The programming of these probes was flawed: they sent back a "good for colonization" message if they found a habitable point, rather than a habitable planet. Sleeper ships containing human colonists were sent to the indicated star systems. Too often, those colonists had to make the best of a bad situation.
- Earth, the human homeworld, is oppressive to an extent that would be unbelievable to most twentieth-century humans. The entire world is under the rule of the United Nations, which wields its power by means of a global police force. For centuries, due to the perfection of organ transplant technology, all state executions are done in hospitals to provide organ transplants, and to maximize their availability, nearly all crimes carried the death penalty. This period ended when Jack Brennan, who had consumed the Tree-of-Life root and become a human version of the Pak Protector, used his superior intelligence to engineer social change in medical technology and social attitudes that eventually reduced the use of organ banks to reasonable levels. Part of Brennan's manipulation was the development of a science known as 'psychistry'. Psychistry was used to 'correct' all forms of 'mental aberration'—the populace is incredibly docile. To combat overpopulation (one estimate is 18 billion people), a licence is required to procreate, only available after exhaustive testing has determined that a prospect is free of 'abnormalities'; failure to acquire one before procreating is a capital crime. This policy, in addition to the existence of the transfer booth and a one-world language and economy, has led to the populace eventually becoming fairly genetically homogeneous. To prevent the development of new WMDs, all scientific research is regulated by the government and all potentially dangerous technology (which is effectively ALL technology) is suppressed; there have been very few real breakthroughs in science since the twentieth century. A common title for people born on Earth is 'Flatlander'; they are considered naïve and a bit helpless by the rest of the galaxy, having been born and raised in the only environment in Known Space without inherent dangers.
- The Moon is a separate entity, but is under the control of the same government as Earth. It, however, has its own distinct culture. Humans native to the Moon are called "Lunies", and tend toward tall, lean body types regularly reaching eight feet in height. They are frequently referred to as looking much like Tolkien's Elves due to their physiques and alien allure.
- Mars, fourth planet in our solar system and the first planetary colony in Known Space. Native Martians were exterminated by the Brennan Monster. No one goes there, as resources are plentiful in the Belt and Jovian moons.
- The Sol Belt possesses an abundance of valuable ores, which are easily accessible due to the low to nonexistent gravity of the rocks containing them. Originally a harsh frontier under UN control, the Belt declared independence after creating Confinement Asteroid, a habitat with spin gravity that permitted safe gestation of children, and Farmer's Asteroid, the Belt's primary food source. Almost immediately a lively competition began between the fiercely independent Belters and the technology police of the UN. Several years of tension and economic conflicts followed, but soon settled into a relatively peaceful trade relationship as the Belt has so many resources that the UN and the Earth needs.
- Down is the home world of the Grogs and a former Kzinti colony. It orbits a K-type star, significantly redder and cooler than Sol. Grogs, though friendly, are feared by humanity, due to their telepathic ability to control the minds of animals (and possibly sentient species as well). Because of this fear, humans have placed a Bussard ramjet field generator in close orbit around Down's sun, thus enabling them to destroy the Grog population should they ever take hostile action against any sentient species. If this ramjet is turned on, Down's sun will begin acting very strangely.
- Jinx, orbiting Sirius, is a massive moon of a gas giant, stretched by tidal forces into an egg shape, with surface gravity near the limits of human habitability. The poles lie in vacuum, the equatorial regions are Venus-like (and inhabited only by the Bandersnatchi); the zones between have atmosphere breathable by humans. Jinx's poles become a major in vacuo manufacturing area. Jinxian humans are short and squat, the strongest biped in Known Space. But they tend to die early, from heart and circulatory problems.
- Wunderland is a planet circling Alpha Centauri, and was the earliest extra-solar colony in Known Space's human history. It has a surface gravity of 60% that of Earth's and is hospitable to human life. Wunderland was invaded and its population enslaved by the Kzinti during the first Man-Kzin war. It was freed near the end of the Fourth war by the human Hyperdrive Armada from We-Made-It. The system has an asteroid belt in the shape of a crescent, which gives it its name—the Serpent Swarm. The capital asteroid, Tiamat, houses one of the largest Kzin populations in Known Space.
- We Made It orbiting Procyon, got its name because the first colony ship crash-landed. Gravity is about three-fifths Earth's. The planet's axis is pointed along the plane of the ecliptic (like Uranus), creating ferocious winds of as much as 1,500 mph during half of the planet's year, forcing the people to live underground. Natives are known as Crashlanders, and tend to be very tall albinos. Their capital, which was the site of their colony ship's landing, is called Crashlanding City. We Made It also has one ocean.
- Plateau in the Tau Ceti system is Venus-like, with a plateau (called Mount Lookitthat), half the size of California, rising high enough out of the dense atmosphere to be habitable. Inhabitants (mountaineers) are divided into two rigid hereditary castes, the crew and the colonists, depending on whether their ancestors piloted the colonizing vessel. The crew are the upper caste, and hold power through their monopoly on organ transplantation and control of the police. The original colonists signed the "Covenant of Planetfall", agreeing that this outcome was just recompense for the labors of the crew during the voyage; that they signed at gunpoint as they were awakened from hibernation was kept secret from later generations, and also that those who refused, died . This repressive system was overthrown in A Gift From Earth, and the former inequality appears to have disappeared by the time "The Ethics of Madness" takes place.
- Home was one of Earth's most distant colonies, orbiting the star Epsilon Indi. The planet was so named by the colonists, due to its remarkable similarity to Earth. It's day was nearly 24 hours long, and its surface gravity was 1.08g. Oceans, mean global temperature, seasons, and moon were also similar. The first colonists originally wanted to call their world "Flatland" as a sort of perverse joke, but eventually decided on the name "Home" out of sentimentality. Home was decimated by war with the Pak, but re-colonized in later centuries.
- Canyon was once an uninhabitable Mars-like world known as Warhead. It was used as a military outpost by the Kzinti for over a thousand years, until the planet was hit by a weapon called the "Wunderland Treatymaker" during the Third War. The attack tore a long, narrow, kilometers-deep crater into the crust approximately the size of the Baja peninsula. The air and moisture in the thin atmosphere gathered at the bottom of this artificial canyon created a breathable environment, complete with a sea at the bottom. The planet was then renamed for the crater, and settled by humans in a huge city running up the crater wall. Archaic (hyper-aggressive and intractible) Kzinti were entombed in statis field shells during the attack and are still beneath the lava, and someday, somebody will have to deal with them.
- Gummidgy is a jungle world popular with hunters. It is home to the Gummidgy Orchid-Thing, a sessile carnivore which hangs from trees and is a popular trophy for the wealthy.
- Fafnir is a former Kzin colony covered almost entirely in water. It has one continent, called Shasht. It was captured by humans during the Man-Kzin Wars.
- Margrave is a late addition to the family of Human colonies. In the Ringworld era it is still a frontier world, and is home to enormous birds the inhabitants have dubbed rocs.
- Silvereyes is, at the time of Ringworld, the furthest Human world from Earth (60 days at Quantum-I hyperdrive speeds). In Niven's obscure story "The Color of Sunfire" it has entire continents covered with Slaver sunflowers, giving it an appearance from orbit of having "silver eyes". The Man/Kzin Wars books, conversely, have it entirely covered by a world ocean, with groves of sunflowers growing up from the bottom of the ocean.
- The Fleet of Worlds is a Klemperer rosette consisting of the five planets that are home to the Puppeteers (see above), presently being moved in formation at sub-light speeds out of the galaxy to avoid destruction as the wave of radiation from an explosion of the galactic core sweeps towards the outer reaches of the galaxy.
- Hearth, the homeworld of the Pierson's Puppeteers, it has a population of around one trillion and is covered by arcologies, most over one mile tall. It generates so much waste heat it no longer requires a star for warmth.
- Kobold was a tiny artificial world created in the outer Solar System by Jack Brennan, a human Protector, composed of a small sphere in the center ringed by a larger torus. Gravity generators facilitated movement between the two sections and were used in games and art. Brennan destroyed Kobold just prior to leaving for his war with the Pak Protectors.
- The Ringworld, an artificial world three million times larger than Earth, built in the shape of a giant ring orbiting its sun, a million miles across and with a diameter of 186 million miles. It was built by the Pak, who later abandoned it, or else died out. It is inhabited by a number of different evolved hominid species, as well as Bandersnatchi, Martians and Kzinti.
- Sheathclaws, a planet colonized by humans aboard Angel's Pencil and descendants of a rogue Kzinti telepath. It orbits an as-yet-unspecified star 98 light years from Earth, and kept its existence secret for several centuries.
- Kzin, translates as Home-of-the-Kzinti or Kzinhome in the Hero's Tongue. It orbits 61 Ursa Majoris and has higher gravity than earth and more oxygen in the atmosphere. It has two moons, known as the Hunter's Moon and the Traveler's Moon.
The series feature a number of "superscience" inventions which figure as plot devices. Stories earlier in the timeline feature technology such as Bussard ramjets, and explore how organ transplantation technology enables the new crime of organlegging, while later stories feature hyperdrive, invulnerable starship hulls, stasis fields, molecular monofilaments, transfer booths (teleporters used only on planetary surfaces), the lifespan-extending drug boosterspice, and the tasp which is capable of stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain from a distance.
The impact of inventions and technology on society is a recurring theme in Niven's work. For example, addiction to electric brain stimulation resulting in wireheads, or the effects of the invention of teleportation.
The milieu can be viewed as representing the last gasp of Campbell-era science fiction, as the iconoclastic, counterculture influences of "new wave" science fiction of the sixties play no part in most of the stories. However, there are notable exceptions in the "Gil the ARM" stories; and "Jigsaw Man" first appeared in Harlan Ellison's landmark "new wave" anthology, Dangerous Visions.
On Earth in the mid 21st century it became possible to transplant any organ from any person to another, with the exception of Brain and central nervous system tissue. Individuals were categorized according to their so-called "rejection spectrum" which allowed doctors to counter any immune system responses to the new organs, allowing transplants to "take" for life. It also enabled the crime of "organlegging" which lasted well into the 24th century.
Faster Than Light (FTL) propulsion, or hyperdrive, was obtained from the Outsiders at the end of the Fourth Man-Kzin wars. In addition to winning the war for humanity, it allowed the re-integration of all the human colonies, which were previously separated by distance. Standard hyperdrive covers a distance of one light year every three days (121.75 x c). A more advanced Quantum II Hyperdrive introduced later is able to cover the same distance in one and a quarter minutes (420,768 x c).
In the vast majority of Known Space material, Hyperdrive requires that a ship be outside a solar system's gravity well to use. However, in Niven's first novel, World of Ptavvs, the hyperdrive used by the Thrint required that a ship be going faster than 93% of the speed of light. This is the only time that Hyperdrive is described this way.
A Stasis Field creates a bubble of space/time that runs separate from the rest of the universe. Time slows effectively to a stop for an object in stasis, at a ratio of some billions of years outside to a second inside. An object in stasis is invulnerable to anything occurring outside the field, as well as being preserved indefinitely. A stasis field may be recognized by its perfectly reflecting surface, so perfect in fact that it reflects 100% of all radiation and particles, including neutrinos.
The Puppeteer firm, General Products, produces an invulnerable starship hull, known simply as a General Products Hull. The hulls are impervious to any type of matter or energy, with the exception of antimatter, gravitation and visible light. While invulnerable themselves, this is no guarantee that the contents are likewise protected. For example, a high speed impact with the surface of a planet or star may cause no harm to the hull, the occupants however will be crushed if they are not protected by additional measures, such as a stasis field, or a gravity compensating field.
Boosterspice is a compound that increases the longevity and reverses aging of human beings. With the use of boosterspice, humans can easily live into hundreds of years and, theoretically, it can extend life indefinitely.
Humans have been led to believe it is made from genetically engineered ragweed (although early stories have it ingested in the form of edible seeds) but, in Ringworld's Children, it is suggested boosterspice may actually be adapted from Tree-of-Life, without the symbiotic virus that enabled hominids to metamorphose from Pak Breeder stage to Pak Protector stage (mutated Pak breeders were the ancestors of both homo sapiens and the hominids of the Ringworld in the Known Space universe).
On the Ringworld, there is an analogous (and apparently more potent) compound, but they are mutually incompatible; in The Ringworld Engineers, Louis Wu learns that the character Halrloprillalar died when in ARM custody after leaving the Ringworld, as a result of having taken boosterspice and previously having used the Ringworld equivalent.
Transfer Booths are an inexpensive form of teleportation. They are similar in appearance to an old style telephone booth: one enters, dials one's desired destination, and is immediately deposited in a corresponding booth at the destination. They are inexpensive: a trip anywhere on Earth costs only a "tenth-star" (presumably equivalent to a dime).
- Autodoc — Automated facility capable of various levels of medical intervention. Models range from small "desktop" devices that can perorm diagnostic procedures, administer medicine, and perform manicures; to highly sophisticated "coffin" style units that can perform major surgery and even rebuild a person from scratch using the patient's DNA (and sufficient raw material).
- Belter Crest — the hairstyle worn by most Belters. The sides the head are shaved, leaving a narrow strip of hair down the center 1-2 inches wide. Also known as a Strip Cut.
- Blind Spot — A visual and psychological effect of faster than light travel. Hyperspace produces no visual input to the brain at all. A transparent window of a ship traveling in hyperdrive will behave as the blind spot of one's eye (hence the name). The brain will attempt to fill this gap with surrounding detail, which can cause intense disorientation to an observer, and even insanity if the area of exposure is great enough.
- Bubble world — An artificial world created by melting a large iron-rich asteroid and "inflating" it with water placed in a central borehole. The asteroid is melted from the outside in, and the water flashes into steam as the rock melts around it. The world is spun for gravity and the inner surface is terraformed. Normally found in asteroid belt colonies, where they provide farmland and gravity for women to safely carry their unborn children to term.
- Corpsicle — a person in cryonic suspension (portmanteau of "corpse" and "popsicle"). Often used disparagingly.
- Droud — a device for direct electrical stimulation of the brain's pleasure center, plugged directly into a socket that is surgically attached to the skull. The user of a droud, known as a wirehead, suffers from current addiction. The operation to attach the droud's socket is performed by a specialized surgeon known as an ecstasy peddler.
- Free Park — a park where there are no rules, save that no one may harm another. The sole rule is enforced by floating monitor/stunners known as copseyes. (also called an Anarchy Park)
- Fusion tube — A cylindrical shield designed to confine a plasma undergoing thermonuclear fusion. It prevents the plasma heat from damaging the external components of the reactor (and also prevents the cold components from contacting the plasma, which would cause it to fail). The shield can be modulated to allow desired radiation (such as visible light) to pass through it. This is useful for when the fusion reactor is used as both a power source and a light source, such as in the Belt bubbleworlds: Confinement and Farmer's Asteroid.
- Grippy — All purpose hand tool used chiefly in space.
- Gravity Polarizer — a device which provides levitation and propulsion by creating a localized distortion of space-time curvature.
- Handicapped — when capitalized, refers to species with intelligence but no hands (or other appendages) with which to manipulate their environment. Examples are Earth's Cetaceans, the Bandersnatchi of Jinx, and the Grogs on Down.
- Mercy bullets — a form of non lethal ammunition. Thin slivers of anesthetic material are fired from a specialized gun or rifle. They are designed to easily pierce the skin and dissolve quickly in the bloodstream, causing immediate unconsciousness. Used by ARM agents and organleggers alike.
- Organlegger — a dealer in black market organ transplants (portmanteau of "organ" and "bootlegger").
- Ramrobot — unmanned fusion driven spacecraft equipped with a Bussard ramjet, which provides a nearly limitless supply of fuel. Used as scouts during the early stages of interstellar colonization by Earth.
- Singleship — a small spacecraft occupied and flown by only one person. It is a term short for single occupant spaceship. The singleships are commonly used by Belters for mining and transportation. During the Man-Kzin Wars they were also used as warships, since the fusion jet (so the colloquial name a Torchship) which propels the vessel could be used like a miles-long flamethrower.
- Slowboat — human colony ship used prior to the invention of hyperdrive. Due to strong magnetic fields, humans were unable to ride the early ramscoop powered craft. Slowboats followed behind ramrobots and typically carried sufficient fuel only for a one way voyage.
- Stasis Box — refers to containers holding preserved relics of a billion year old war which killed every sentient race living in the galaxy at the time. Scattered across the galaxy, their contents are beyond value (and often very dangerous to the unwary).
- Tanj — expletive. Acronym for There Aint No Justice
- Tasp — a device for direct stimulation of the brain's pleasure center, like a droud, but which operates at a distance. To use a tasp on someone, e.g., in a public park, is known colloquially as 'to make someone's day'. As the kzin Speaker-to-Animals notes in Ringworld, only a sophisticate fears a tasp.
- Variable Sword — an ultra-thin wire of molecular monofilament, made rigid and protected by a stasis field, forming an nearly invisible (and extremely sharp) blade. The wire can be extended to varying lengths (hence the name) and has a glowing red ball to mark the end of the blade.
The ARM are the police force of the United Nations. ARM originated as an acronym for Amalgamation of Regional Militia, though this is not a term in current usage by the time of the Known Space novels. An agent of the ARM, Gil Hamilton, is the protagonist of Niven's sci-fi detective stories, a series-within-a-series gathered in the collection Flatlander (Confusingly, "Flatlander" is also the name of an unrelated Known Space story.)
Their basic function is to enforce mandatory birth control on overcrowded Earth, and restrict research which might lead to dangerous weapons. In short, the ARM hunts down women who have illegal pregnancies and suppresses all new technologies. They also hunt organleggers, especially in the era of the "organ bank problem." Among the many technologies they control and outlaw are all trained forms of armed and unarmed combat. Agents of the ARM are often known as Schizes, due to the artificially induced state of paranoid schizophrenia they are kept in to enhance their usefulness as law enforcement officials in a society that keeps most of its populace docile and naive through the aforementioned science of psychistry (see "Madness Has Its Place").
Their jurisdiction is limited to the Earth-Moon system; other human colonies have their own militia. Nevertheless, in many Known Space stories, ARM agents operate or exert influence in other human star systems through the "Bureau of Alien Affairs" (see "In the Hall of the Mountain King", "Procrustes", "The Borderland of Sol", and "Neutron Star"). These interventions begin following the Man-Kzin Wars and the introduction of hyperdrive, presumably as part of a general re-integration of human societies.
Stories in Known Space
Unlike many fictional universes, the component tales of Known Space were largely released as short stories or serials in various science fiction anthology magazines. These stories were generally subsequently released in one or more collection volumes. To add some further confusion, some of the shorter novels published in magazines were later expanded to, or incorporated in, book-length novels. Due to the large number of stories, it is particularly difficult for a completionist fan to read every story in the series. There are also two or three short stories which share common themes and some background elements with Known Space stories, but which are not considered a part of the Known Space Universe: "Bordered in Black" and "One Face" (see the collection "Convergent Series"), and perhaps "The Color of Sunfire."
In the Known Space stories Niven had created a number of technological devices (GP hull, stasis field, Ringworld material) which, combined with the 'Teela Brown gene', made it very difficult to construct engaging stories beyond a certain date—the combination of factors made it tricky to produce any kind of creditable threat/problem without complex contrivances. Niven demonstrated this, to his own satisfaction, with "Safe at Any Speed". After 1975, he began to write significantly fewer Known Space stories. However, Niven later invited other authors to participate in a series of shared-universe novels, with the Man-Kzin Wars as their setting.
Stories by Niven himself
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