All the Myriad Ways

All the Myriad Ways is a collection of 14 short stories and essays by science fiction author Larry Niven, originally published in 1971. 3 of the stories takes place in the Known Space Universe.

In the eponymous story contained within, Niven attempted to craft a response to stories featuring the many-worlds interpretation as a key plot point, taking the social implications of infinite realities to a depressing conclusion. A police detective, pondering a rash of unexplained suicides and murder-suicides occurring since the discovery of travel to parallel universes, begins to realize that if all possible choices that might be made are actually made in parallel universes, people will see their freedom of choice as meaningless. The choice not to commit suicide, or not to commit a crime, seems meaningless if one knows that in some other universe, the choice went the other way. They therefore kill themselves or commit the crime, because they abandon the sense of choice.

Known Space stories in the collection

Becalmed in Hell, 1965
Jigsaw Man, 1967
Wait it Out, 1968

Becalmed in Hell

Short story by Larry Niven with story placed in the Known Space Universe. First appearance in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1965. Republished  in several collections: All the Myriad Ways (1969, coll), Inconstant Moon (1973, coll), Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975, coll), Playgrounds of the Mind (1991, coll), Three Books of Known Space (1996, coll)

A ship with a two-man crew, a normal human Howie and Eric – a disembodied brain of a previously injured man taking the part of ship’s computer, is exploring the upper atmosphere of Venus, using the empty fuel-tank as a dirigible device.

About to return to Earth, Eric reveals that something is wrong with the ramjet that propels the craft, necessitating a landing in order to fix the problem. When Howie can find nothing physically wrong with the system, he can only conclude that, disturbingly, the problem is with Eric. He believes Eric has a psychosomatic disorder preventing him from operating the ramjets, using the analogy of a traumatized soldier that can no longer feel his hand and pull the trigger of a gun.

After revealing his theory to Eric, Eric admits it is a possibility but insists that Howie keep inspecting the ship, reasoning that Howie is the only one that can check for mechanical problems. Howie agrees, but secretly has convinced himself that the problem is truly with Eric.

In an effort to cure Eric using a placebo, Howie creates buckets of ice-water using the ship’s freezer, and dumps it into the wiring panels on the wings, telling Eric that the heat and pressure of Venus might be affecting the ships function. Eric regains the use of the ramjets and the pair manage to escape from Venus and back to Earth.

On the trip back, Howie reveals his ruse to Eric. Eric insists that the cause was mechanical, and challenges Howie to a $5,000 bet that the problem will be found back on Earth. Howie accepts the bet. Back on Earth, the mechanics determine that, indeed, it was a mechanical problem due to the pressure of Venus’s atmosphere.

Jigsaw Man

“The Jigsaw Man” is a short story in the Known Space Universe by Larry Niven. The story was first published in Harlan Ellison’s anthology Dangerous Visions, and is included in Niven’s collections All the Myriad Ways, Tales of Known Space and Three Books of Known Space.

In the future, criminals convicted of capital offenses are forced to donate all of their organs to medicine, so that their body parts can be used to save lives and thus repay society for their crimes. However, high demand for organs has inspired lawmakers to lower the bar for execution further and further over time.

The protagonist of the story, certain that he will be convicted of a capital crime, but feeling that the punishment is unfair, escapes from prison and decides to do something really worth dying for. He vandalizes the organ harvesting facility, destroying a large amount of equipment and harvested organs, but when he is recaptured and brought to trial, this crime does not even appear on the charge sheet, as the prosecution is already confident of securing a conviction on his original offense: repeated traffic violations.

A graphic adaption of the story was published in 1993.

Wait it Out

Short story in the Known Space Universe by Larry Niven, first published in 1968. Published in the collections All the Myriad Ways (1971), Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975), Playgrounds of the Mind (1991) and Three Books of Known Space (1996)

Narrator, along with Jerome Glass & Sammy Cross, has traveled to Pluto on an exploration mission when Pluto was closest to earth. About 18 months one way trip.

Sammy will stay in orbit; narrator with Jerome goes down in a landing craft.

Something goes wrong after landing. I didn’t quite catch all the details of accident, but the two are now marooned. No way to go back to orbiting return vehicle.

Sammy quickly commits suicide – by removing his helmet, & quickly freezing to death.

Narrator does something similar but doesn’t die. He is now in a semi-stasis. Comes alive with very sluggish metabolism & thoughts during night; is pretty much dead during the day.

Story is told by this frozen narrator for whom the time has all but stopped. And he is awaiting rescue which will surely come some day!

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