Pierson's Puppeteer

From Academic Kids

Pierson's Puppeteers, often known just as Puppeteers, are a fictional alien race from Larry Niven's Known Space books.


Biology and sociology

Physically, Puppeteers resemble a centaur with three legs ending in hooved feet and two snake-like heads instead of a humanoid upper body. The heads are very small, with a forked tongue, extensive rubbery lips, rimmed with finger-like knobs, and a single eye per head. The heads do not contain the Puppeteer's brain; it resides near the shoulder in a massive mane-covered hump from which the heads emerge. The sobriquet "Pierson's" comes from the name of the human who made first contact in the early 26th century in the Known Space timeline (http://www.chronology.org/noframes/niven/timeline.html). According to the Niven story "The Soft Weapon", Pierson was a crewman aboard a spaceship at a time when there was a camp revival of the ancient Beany and Cecil TV show featuring Cecil the seasick sea serpent (a former puppet). Pierson accordingly described the alien he had met as a Puppeteer, given some resemblance of the head and neck with Cecil. Most Puppeteers give themselves the names of centaurs in Greek mythology, such as Nessus and Chiron.

Biologically, Puppeteers are highly intelligent herbivores; a herd animal, Puppeteers prefer the company (and smell) of their own kind. Their cycle of reproduction is unusual, but Earth cognates exist in the form of digger wasps: the Puppeteers wrongly consider themselves to have three genders (two male, one female), except their two "male" genders are the cognates of human male and female (one has an ovipositor, the other a penis, of sorts) and the "female" is the parasitised host into which the ova and spermatozoa are deposited.

Technologically, the Puppeteers are very advanced, centuries or millennia ahead of most other species (including humans). For example, humans invented a method of cheap teleportation in the twenty-fifth century called a transfer booth, which requires an enclosed space at either end of the transmission. Puppeteers' version of the transfer booth is the stepping disk, which requires no enclosure — simply step on a disc and you are abruptly elsewhere, often thousands of kilometres away.

Socially, the three most notable traits of Puppeteers are their racial/cultural penchant for cowardice, their tendency to congregate in herds, and their steadfast honesty in honoring agreements. The cowardice is thought in Puppeteer society to originate with the Puppeteer instinct for turning one's back on danger. However, the trait is thought by many to actually originate from their herd instinct, as the instinct to turn one's back is linked to an instinct to kick the hind hoof at an attacker. In Ringworld, when Nessus and the expeditionaries are threatened, the Puppeteer defends himself quite effectively:

All in one motion, the puppeteer had spun on his forelegs and lashed out with his single hind leg. His heads were turned backwards and spread wide, Louis remembered, to triangulate on his target. Nessus had accurately kicked a man's heart out through his splintered spine.
(From Ringworld, Chapter 13, published 1970.)

Another noticeable behavioral trait is the coma state, broadly a cognate of the human fetal position — in the same way that ostriches are said to bury their heads in the sand, Puppeteers fold up into a ball, tucking their three legs and two heads underneath the padded cranial bulge. This is, in part, an explosion reflex, learnt from childhood. Their cowardice is also reflected in their architecture and object design, as all the Puppeteer-designed rooms and vessels have no sharp edges, everything curves into everything else, giving a "half-melted" look and meaning that objects are less likely to damage someone inadvertently, through their own carelessness.

In a later Known Space story, the Puppeteers explain that their cowardice is partly a result of a science experiment (the details of which are not given) that proves the Puppeteers have nothing equivalent to an immortal soul, and therefore death is, for their species, absolute and eternal. As a result, the Puppeteer race is fanatically devoted to its own safety.

A courageous puppeteer isn't merely regarded as insane (as Nessus, one of the protagonists of the book Ringworld, mentions "the majority is always sane"), though, but is insane, showing symptoms we would associate with human mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, homicidal tendencies, clinical depression and so on. Incidentally, though, aside from the crew of the Long Shot, in the novel Ringworld, no human has ever met a sane Puppeteer, as no sane Puppeteer would ever leave the safety of the Fleet of Worlds (see below), and even those who do would not venture out without a painless method of suicide, in case circumstances required it.

Politics and relations with other species

Politically, the puppeteers have a form of democracy with two major parties: the Conservatives and the Experimentalists. The Conservatives have held power for a majority of Puppeteer history; Experimentalist regimes only take power when a crisis threatens the safety of the Puppeteer race, and action is considered less dangerous than inaction.

The leader of the Puppeteers is known as the Hindmost. Since Puppeteers are concerned with their own safety and the survival of their species foremost, the most important Puppeteer is considered to be behind every other member of the species, or protected by them. It is a shortening from the more literal the one who leads from behind. A maddened, deposed Hindmost is responsible for Luis Wu's return to the Ringworld in the book The Ringworld Engineers.

General Products

The Puppeteers' renown for honesty in trading allowed the species to accumulate an expansive mercantile empire called General Products; since the human Bronze Age, the Puppeteers have ruled this empire including every race in the 60-LY sphere of Known Space. After the Puppeteer Exodus (see below), it is rumored that General Products is a front for Gregory Pelton, a character in the short story Flatlander. One of the most important items sold by General Products is the General Products Hull for spaceships. As one might expect from a Puppeteer, such a hull is completely impervious to everything except visible light (defined as visible to any of the species who are General Products customers) and gravity, and some very slow degradation by antimatter. The hulls are advertised as being capable of flying through the upper atmosphere of a star unscathed, although the contents will be cooked (although the Puppeteers also provide protection against this contingency, as well).

Foreign policy

The general foreign policy of Puppeteers consists of attempts to control the universe around them to ensure their own safety. As Puppeteers try to expose themselves to as little risk as possible, they try to use other beings as agents, utilizing a combination of bribes and blackmail to encourage cooperation. Blackmail is not immoral to a Puppeteer and Puppeteers have an established code of conduct surrounding the practice, making it perfectly safe for both the blackmailer and the victim, including that the blackmailer must turn over all their evidence against the victim and submit to a partial memory wipe, so they cannot betray the blackmail deal.

In Ringworld, it was revealed that the Puppeteer government meddled in human and Kzinti gene pools. They started a series of wars (the Man–Kzin Wars) between the warlike Kzinti and humans, and guaranteed that the Kzinti lose each time, not least by using a starseed lure to guide an Outsider ship into human space, introducing FTL travel to humanity. This was a mechanism to cause rapid Kzinti evolution, in order to suppress their racial instinct for aggression.

Another Puppeteer breeding experiment was the Lucky Human Project. The puppeteer government concluded that humans' most notable quality was luck, and decided to improve this trait. Manipulating politics on Earth through bribery and blackmail, the Puppeteers caused 'Birth Lotteries' on Earth around 2650, biasing human genetic selection (controlled, in the Known Space universe, by the Fertility Board of the United Nations) towards encouraging luck. The character Teela Brown, who journeys to the Ringworld, is an outcome of this Lucky Human Project, though not quite the outcome the Puppeteers would have liked. Her luck was highly selective, bending probability so that the outcome most beneficial to her would come to pass--which was contrary to the interest of the rest of the Ringworld expedition on more than one occasion.

Homeworld — The Fleet of Worlds

For centuries, the location of the Puppeteer homeworld was a great mystery. No entity in Known Space, outside the Puppeteer race, was aware of the location and extensive surveys failed to locate it. Puppeteers were willing to pay large sums of hush money in order to suppress even trivial details about their homeworld. In 2641 AD, it was discovered that the Puppeteers' homeworld had no moon, information deduced as a result of the single failing of General Products hulls — GP hulls are not impervious to tidal forces because the Puppeteers have no experience of tides.

The Puppeteers had to make some drastic alterations to their home system, during their history, as global warming and overindustrialisation was rapidly making their planet uninhabitable. They moved their planet further from their sun, to lessen the effects of global warming, but overindustrialisation forced them to move four of the other planets in their system closer to their world and terraform them into "farming worlds", arranging the five planets into a Klemperer rosette (though Niven misspelled "Klemperer" as "Kemplerer"). Nessus explains this to the Louis Wu and the crew of the Long Shot thusly:

"I had explained," said Nessus, "that our civilisation was dying in its own waste heat. Total conversion of energy had rid us of all waste products of civilisation, save that one. We had no choice but to move our world outward from its primary."
"Was that not dangerous?"
"Very. There was much madness that year. For that reason it is famous in our history. But we had purchased a reactionless, inertialess drive from the Outsiders. You may have guessed their price. We are still paying in installments. We had moved two agricultural worlds; we had experimented with other, useless worlds of our system using the Outsider drive. In any case, we did it. We moved our world.
"In short, we found that a sun was a liability rather than an asset. We moved our world to a tenth of a light year's distance, keeping the primary only as an anchor. We needed the farming worlds and it would have been dangerous to let our world wander randomly through space. Otherwise we would not have needed a sun at all.
"We had brought suitable worlds from nearby systems, increasing our agricultural worlds to four, and setting them in a Kemplerer Rosette."
(From Ringworld, Chapter 5, published 1970.)

Eventually, their sun converted from a yellow dwarf to a red giant, so the Puppeteers moved the Fleet of Worlds, the five planets, to their system's Oort cloud. This is one of the reasons the Puppeteers were so successful at keeping the location of their homeworld a secret — explorers would be looking for a yellow dwarf (as one could surmise that Puppeteers had evolved around a yellow dwarf from their biology and that they were comfortable on Earth-like planets without pressure suits) when their planet(s) were actually near a red giant.

In the short story At the Core, Beowulf Shaeffer, who made the discovery about tidal forces five years previously, in Neutron Star, discovers that the Galactic Core is exploding. This news prompts the Puppeteer Exodus, where the Fleet of Worlds flee the galaxy at just under light speed for the Magellanic Clouds, in the hope that by the time the explosion reaches the Fleet of Worlds, the Puppeteers will have found a way to protect their civilisation. This exodus prompts a major stock market crash in human society; in 2864, the Fleet of Worlds leaves Known Space.

It should be noted, however, that the speed at which the Fleet of Worlds is moving (.8c) would cause nearly as much damage as the Core explosion itself. This means that the Puppeteers may, in fact, have a means to deal with radiation affecting entire worlds. In Crashlander it is speculated that the Puppeteers are planning on moving to the uninhabited Core, isolated from potentially dangerous species. Crashlander also reveals that the Puppeteers may have feigned their ignorance of tidal forces.

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