Known Space

From Academic Kids

Known Space is the fictional setting of many of Larry Niven's science fiction stories. In general terms it is the name given by humans to the collection of stars and planets near the Earth, out to some 60 light years, which have been explored and settled in the books set in it. The Known Space stories span approximately a thousand years of history, from the first human explorations of our solar system to the colonization of dozens of nearby systems (and with references to events some billion years ago).




In the process of exploring space, humankind encounters several intelligent alien species, including the following.

  • The Kzinti, belligerent giant cat-like aliens with whom the humans fight several brutal wars – mostly offstage until the release of the Man-Kzin Wars short-story collections, largely by other authors.
  • Pierson's Puppeteers, a technologically advanced race of three-legged, two-headed creatures descended from herd animals, and noted for their cowardice.
  • The Outsiders, fragile low-temperature aliens that cruise deep space and trade information, introducing FTL travel to humans. They have a mysterious connection with the starseeds.
  • The Pak, interstellar relatives of humanity whose life-cycle evidences the purpose of human old age.
  • The Kdatlyno, a species enslaved by the Kzinti until humans freed them. Kdatlyno "see" by way of sonar and create sculptures intended to be "seen" by Kdatlyno, felt by humans and licked by Puppeteers.
  • The Thrintun, a long-extinct species which ruled the galaxy through telepathic mind control.
  • The Grogs, sessile furry cones, which can control animals telepathically. The Grogs turn out to be the mutated survivors of the Thrintun species.
  • The Tnuctipun, used by the Thrintun as genetic engineers.
  • The Bandersnatchi, colossal sluglike creatures, originally created by the Tnuctipun to be grown as a food source by the Thrintun;
  • The Trinocs, named for their three eyes; they also have three fingers, a triangular mouth etc.
  • Martians, primitive humanoids who lived beneath the sands. Recently extinct, except on the "Map of Mars" on the Ringworld.
  • The 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 body guards, but the Kzinti rebelled and used the Jotoki technology to create their own empire.
  • They Who Pass, entities from an other-dimensional universe who view the universe through cosmic strings but are unable to enter; non-canon.
  • Morlocks, semi-sentient humanoid cave dwellers on Wunderland. Named for the creatures in The Time Machine.

Also figuring in some stories are intelligent cetaceans and various offshoots of Homo sapiens lineage. Most life in Known Space share similar biochemistries, since they evolved from the Thrintun practice of seeding barren worlds with food yeast.


An amusing and interesting aspect of the Known Space universe is that most of the planets colonized by humans are suboptimal for Homo sapiens. The planets were measured and declared habitable by "dumb" robot probes who were then followed by sleeper ships who had to make the best of a bad situation.

  • Down is the home world of the Grogs (see above), notable for the bussard ramjet that remains in orbit to destroy the Grog population should they take threatening action against humanity.
  • Fafnir is a former Kzin colony covered almost entirely in water captured by humans during the Man-Kzin Wars.
  • The Fleet of Worlds are 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 energy from an explosion of the galactic core sweeps towards the outer reaches of the galaxy.
  • Home was one of Earth's most distant colonies, decimated by war with the Pak, but re-colonized in later centuries.
  • Jinx, orbiting Sirius, is a massive moon of a gas giant, stretched by tidal forces into an egg shape, with gravity near the limits of human habitability. The poles lie in vacuum, the equatorial regions are Venus-like (and inhabited by the Bandersnatchi); the zones between have atmosphere breathable by humans. Jinx's poles become a major in vacuo manufacturing area.
  • Kobold was an artificial world created by Jack Brennan, a human Protector. Composed of a small sphere in the center ringed by a larger torus. Gravity generators facilitate movement between the two sections and are used in games and art.
  • Mars, fourth planet in our solar system and the first planetary colony in Known Space. Native Martians were exterminated by the Brennan Monster to protect the colonists.
  • Plateau in the Tau Ceti system is Venus-like, with a plateau half the size of California rising high enough into the dense atmosphere to be habitable.
  • Ringworld, an artificial planet-like structure, formed in the shape of a giant ring orbiting its sun.
  • Sheathclaws a planet colonized by humans aboard Angel's Pencil and Kzinti telepaths.
  • Warhead was an uninhabitable Mars-like world being used as a military outpost by the Kzinti, until it was hit with an experimental weapon which tore a long, kilometers-deep, but narrow hole into the crust. Most of the planet's atmosphere fell into this artificial canyon, resulting in a breathable environment. The planet was then renamed Canyon, for the crater, and settled by humans in a huge city running up the crater wall.
  • We Made It orbiting Procyon, got its name because the first colony ship crash-landed. The planet's axis is pointed along the plane of the ecliptic, creating ferocious winds 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.
  • Wunderland is an inhabitable planet circling Alpha Centauri, and was the earliest extra-solar colony in Known Space's human history.

Asteroid belts are usually extensively colonized in Known Space, as well. Sol's is known as the Belt, while Alpha Centauri's is known as the Serpent Swarm.


The series also features a number of "gee whiz" 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, transporter booths (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 milieu can be viewed as representing the climax of the pre-cyberpunk era of science fiction, as the cyberpunk themes of information technology and competition of various sub-governmental groups do not figure in the stories.


The ARM are the armed forces of the United Nations. Their jurisdiction is limited to the EarthMoon system; other human colonies have their own militia. ARM used to be an initialism for the Amalgamation of Regional Militia, though this is not a term in current usage by the time of the Known Space novels.

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 were also later re-released as part of collections. Due to the large number of stories, it is particularly difficult for a completionist fan of the series to have read the entire span of the work.

After the mid-1970s, Larry Niven began to write significantly less Known Space stories. In his note that accompanies "Man-Kzin Wars", he indicates that it had become more and more difficult to be inspired to write in the universe as it had grown too difficult. At that point, he opened up the series to works by other authors.

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.

Stories by Niven himself

TitlePublishedFirst Appeared InCollection
The Coldest Place1964Worlds of IfTales of Known Space
World of Ptavvs1965Worlds of Tomorrow
One Face1965Galaxy MagazineThe Shape of Space
Becalmed in Hell1965The Magazine of Fantasy and Science FictionTales of Known Space
Eye of an Octopus1966Galaxy MagazineTales of Known Space
The Warriors1966Worlds of IfTales of Known Space
Bordered in Black1966The Magazine of Fantasy and Science FictionThe Shape of Space
Neutron Star1966Worlds of IfNeutron Star
How the Heroes Die1966Galaxy MagazineTales of Known Space
At the Core1966Worlds of IfNeutron Star
A Relic of the Empire1966Worlds of IfNeutron Star
At the Bottom of a Hole1966Galaxy MagazineTales of Known Space
The Soft Weapon1967Worlds of IfNeutron Star
Flatlander1967Worlds of IfNeutron Star
The Ethics of Madness1967Worlds of IfNeutron Star
Safe at any Speed1967The Magazine of Fantasy and Science FictionTales of Known Space
The Adults1967Galaxy Magazine
The Handicapped1967Galaxy MagazineNeutron Star
The Jigsaw Man1967Dangerous VisionsTales of Known Space
Slowboat Cargo1968Worlds of If
The Deceivers1968Galaxy MagazineTales of Known Space
Grendel1968(collection only)Neutron Star
There is a Tide1968Galaxy MagazineTales of Known Space
The World of Ptavvs1968(novel)
A Gift From Earth1968(novel)
Wait It Out1968Futures UnboundedTales of Known Space
The Organleggers1968Galaxy MagazineThe Shape of Space
Cloak of Anarchy1972Analog Science FictionTales of Known Space
The Defenseless Dead1973(collection only)The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton
The Borderland of Sol1974Analog Science FictionTales of Known Space
ARM1975EpicThe Long ARM of Gil Hamilton
The Ringworld Engineers1980(novel)
The Patchwork Girl1980(novel)
Madness Has Its Place1990(collection only)Man-Kzin Wars III
Procrustes1994(collection only)Crashlander
The Woman in Del Rey Crater1995(collection only)Flatlander
Ringworld Throne1996(novel)
Choosing Names1998(collection only)Man-Kzin Wars VIII
Fly-By-Night2002(collection only)Man-Kzin Wars IX
Ringworld's Children2004(novel)

† Additional Notes:

  • "World of Ptavvs" was expanded and republished as a novel in 1968.
  • "The Adults" was expanded and republished as "Protector" in 1973.
  • "Slowboat Cargo" was expanded and republished as "A Gift From Earth" in 1968.
  • "The Deceivers" was subsequently renamed "Intent to Deceive"
  • "The Organleggers" was subsequently renamed "Death by Ecstasy"

(Note that most stories appeared in more than one collection, though only one each is listed here.)

Man-Kzin Wars

Some fans consider these stories to be non-canonical.

TitlePublishedCollectionWritten By
Iron1988Man-Kzin WarsPoul Anderson
Cathouse1988Man-Kzin WarsDean Ing
Briar Patch1989Man-Kzin Wars IIDean Ing
The Children's Hour1989Man-Kzin Wars IIJerry Pournelle & S.M. Stirling
The Asteroid Queen1990Man-Kzin Wars IIIJerry Pournelle & S.M. Stirling
Inconstant Star1990Man-Kzin Wars IIIPoul Anderson
The Survivor1991Man-Kzin Wars IVDonald Kingsbury
The Man Who Would Be Kzin1991Man-Kzin Wars IVGreg Bear & S.M. Stirling
In The Hall Of The Mountain King1992Man-Kzin Wars VJerry Pournelle & S.M. Stirling
Hey Diddle Diddle1992Man-Kzin Wars VThomas T. Thomas
The Heroic Myth Of Lieutenant Nora Argamentine1994Man-Kzin Wars VIDonald Kingsbury
The Trojan Cat1994Man-Kzin Wars VIMark O. Martin & Gregory Benford
The Colonel's Tiger1995Man-Kzin Wars VIIHal Colebatch
A Darker Geometry1995Man-Kzin Wars VIIMark O. Martin & Gregory Benford
Prisoner Of War1995Man-Kzin Wars VIIPaul Chafe
Telepath's Dance1998Man-Kzin Wars VIIIHal Colebatch
Galley Slave1998Man-Kzin Wars VIIIJean Lamb
Jotok1998Man-Kzin Wars VIIIPaul Chafe
Slowboat Nightmare1998Man-Kzin Wars VIIIWarren W. James
Pele2002Man-Kzin Wars IXPoul Anderson
His Sergeant's Honor2002Man-Kzin Wars IXHal Colebatch
One War For Wunderland2003Man-Kzin Wars XHal Colebatch
The Corporal In The Caves2003Man-Kzin Wars XHal Colebatch
Music Box2003Man-Kzin Wars XHal Colebatch
Peter Robinson2003Man-Kzin Wars XHal Colebatch


Niven has described his fiction as "playground equipment", encouraging fans to speculate and extrapolate on the events described. Debates have been made, for example, on who built the Ringworld (Pak Protectors and the Outsiders being the front-runners), and what happened to the Tnuctipun.

A rough draft of a "final" Known Space story titled "Down in Flames" ( is in circulation, which includes a controversial revelation about the Tnuctipun.

External links

sv:Known Space


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