Sunday, January 5, 2014

Artifacts from Known Space

I'm a huge fan of Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe.  Thanks to collaborations and the popular "Man-Kzin Wars" collections there are now hundreds of stories and over a dozen novels that take advantage of the setting.  They vary wildly in quality, but even the lesser entries are usually entertaining, if not thought provoking.  If nothing else, the creation of the Ringworld and the "Kzinti Lesson" ensures their place in science fiction's hall of fame. 

Given my fanboyism, you can imagine how much I enjoyed discovering that someone was producing props drawn from the stories.  As part of her Industrial Design classes, Lauren Gail Anderson has been making recreations of Niven's tasp, a Puppeteer disintegrator, and a Kzinti variable sword.

The tasp is a device that directly stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.  At first thought it's a wonderfully humane non-lethal weapon, but it's actually one of the most horrific technologies ever created.  Anderson's prop is a handheld model, designed for human pranksters. 

Her disintegrator rifle is the Puppeteer-manufactured model from "Ringworld". Which would actually make it an "excavator", since only Humans and Kzin see harmless tools as weapons. Heh.

Finally, she brings us one of my dream props- a variable sword. This is an oversized Kzinti model and features a light-up blade and marker ball. In the early stories the field reinforced monomolecular blade was invisible, hence the glowing red ball at the tip so the user didn't slice their own arm off. Later iterations used light to make the danger space of the blade visible.

If you head over to her blog she has a gallery of pictures capturing the design and build process for each item.


CoastConFan said...

I’m glad to see some classic SF props and the Larry Niven’s Known Universe is one of my favorite series. Not well known is the fact that parts of the Known Universe were attached to the Star Trek animated series briefly. It ran 1973 to 1974 and later in syndication. The episode in question “The Slaver Weapon” (Episode 3) based on “The Soft Weapon”. Interestingly it is the only episode where Kirk does not appear.

See the episode on YouTube:

Propnomicon said...

@ CoastConFan

That episode is what peripherally lead me to the Known Space series. I loved playing Star Fleet Battles when I was a kid, but couldn't remember ever seeing "Kzinti", the drone using race in the game, in any episode of Star Trek I'd ever seen. Eventually I stumbled across "Ringworld" at the library, and the rest is history.

Unknown said...


I LOVE the Ringworld series and the other books surrounding it like Protector or Rammer!

Beowulf Schaffer was a beast!

Its exciting to see these props and even more exciting that someone knew something about known space to make them :D

CoastConFan said...

Star Fleet Battles brings back memories. I played it a number of times, but actually having been working for Gamescience Corp at this time, we played another Star Trek ship battle game, The Star Fleet Battle Manual which we published in the summer of 1977 after lengthy play testing over a couple of years. We also produced the model ships used to play SFBM.

If I recall correctly it was Paul Rivoche who as a very young man, made the great cover for the 77 version of our SFBM. If he is the same person, he is working now as a comic illustrator. The game was based on a 72 version called the Star Trek Battle manual – which had no license so it “went away”. The mechanism resurfaced as Alien Space Battle manual starting in 1973.

We also published Space Patrol, later Star Patrol a RPG that covered nearly all genres of SF role playing in 1977, and premiered it at World Con that year. We play tested that one for years prior also. To cut to the chase, we put Larry Niven’s Known Universe weapons into the combat matrix as well. So yes, I too am a long-time admirer of Niven’s hard science work, especially the Ringworld series. But here, I am blathering on again.

Anonymous said...

Another Known Space fan here! It's so nice to see some props and stuff from this overlooked universe. :)

I discovered Larry Niven when I tried to find some good non-humanoid aliens. He's one of my favourite writers now.