The Shape of Space

A Shape of SpaceShort story collection published in 1969. Contain the short stories At the Bottom of a Hole 1966, The Warriors 1966, Safe at Any Speed 1967, How the Heroes Die 1966, The Organleggers 1969. All written by Larry Niven and set in the Known Space Universe.

How the Heroes Die

First appearance in Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1966. Republished in the collections The Shape of Space (1969, collection), Inconstant Moon (1973, coll), Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975, collection), Three Books of Known Space (1996, coll)

The 15-man team setting up the first base on Mars experience tragedy when a murder is committed. Carter, the murderer, in the process of escaping on one of the transportation buggies crashes through the plastic bubble which holds in the base’s atmosphere in an attempt to kill everyone else; however, it fails, and he is soon chased by Alf, the brother of the victim on another buggy.

The lethal chase, with the two combatants in constant radio communication, slowly reveals the community stresses which resulted in the murder. Alf wants to kill Carter in revenge for his brother, while Carter wishes the same and to try once more to destroy the base …. but with limited oxygen in their tanks, the two men must ensure that they have enough left to return to base.

At the Bottom of a Hole

Short story first published in Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1966. Republished in several collections: The Shape of Space (1969, collection), Inconstant Moon (1973, coll), Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975, collection), Three Books of Known Space (1996, coll)

A sequel to “How the Heroes Die”. Muller, a smuggler with a cargo of precious magnetic monopoles, attempts to use Mars (the ‘hole’ of the title; to spacers, planets are merely gravity wells to be avoided if possible) as a means to whip his ship to a new orbit that will enable him to escape the customs authorities who are chasing him. His plan fails, and he crashlands, close to the now-abandoned base. Over the next few days, he explores the ruins and finds out the terrible story of what happened. Unfortunately, he himself suffers the same fate as the original colonists – all of which he commits to his log, which is later recovered.

The two Mars stories do belong to “Known Space” and they are specifically referred to and to some degree influence the plot of “Protector”, which takes place a long time later. Also, the failure of Mars colonization as depicted here contributes to the generally-held opinion in that future history that planets (at least in the Solar System) are virtually worthless and it is asteroids which are the truly desirable real property.

The Warriors

Short story that takes place in the Known Space Universe in the era known as the Man-Kzin Wars. Originally published in Worlds of If. Later republished in the collections The Shape of Space (1969), Tales of Known Space (1975), The Man-Kzin Wars, Three Books of Known Space and The Best of All Possible Wars.

Earth’s “Golden Age” comes rapidly to an end as a human colony ship encounters the Kzinti for the first time.

Links: WikipediaThe Future worlds of Larry NivenSlow Reader,

Safe at Any Speed

Short story first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1967. Later published in collections The Shape of Space (1969), Tales of Known Space (1975) and Three Books of Known Space (1996).

Narrator is on “Margrave, a world in the first stages of colonization”. He is a taking a 2 hour trip by an air car, on autopilot with preprogrammed route. Part way through the flight, the machine & its human occupant is eaten by a local flying monster called “roc”! This eating process has destroyed external communication devices but not life support in the car.

The beast is less powerful than car. Can neither digest it, nor take it anywhere. Instead ends up going where the machine is going! Because external sensor devices are dead, they have an accident – hit some kind of a hill.

For 6 months, the man will live inside the car inside the beast’s stomach (car apparently can synthesize food). Will eventually emerge when animal’s flesh has sufficiently degenerated, & call for help using flares.

In a settlement with “General Transportation” (the car maker), he will actually get compensation for his pains. Because car makers had not accounted for the fact that car could be eaten by a beast!

Links: WikipediaVariety SF,

The Organleggers

First appearance in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1969 (as “The Organleggers”). Later published in collections The Shape of Space (1969, coll), Inconstant Moon (1973, coll), The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton (1976 collection), Flatlander (1995, coll.) Renamed to Death by Ecstasy when published in Inconstant Moon and that title was used from that time on.

Asteroid miner Owen Jennison is found dead in an apartment on Earth, apparently of suicide: He was a Wirehead, directly stimulating the pleasure center of the brain, and starved.

Gil Hamilton, an operative of the United Nations Police (and friend of Owen’s) must solve what appears to be a classic locked room mystery: he does not believe that Owen was the type to turn wirehead or commit suicide, so the death must have been planned by somebody else.

His investigations lead him to names associated with organlegging – the illicit handling and sale of spare body-parts. Eventually, he comes into contact with a West-Coast organlegging gang where his psychokinesis – in the form of a phantom “third arm” – becomes very useful.

Death by Ecstasy has been adapted as a graphic novel by Bill Spangler, Terry Tidwell, and Steve Stiles in 1991.

Gil Hamilton-stories

Novels and collections

The Organleggers (Death by Ecstasy) (1966)
The Defenseless Dead (1973). Published in 1973 in the Roger Elwood anthology Ten Tomorrows.
ARM (1976)
The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton (1976 collection)
The Patchwork Girl (1980)
Flatlander (1995, coll.) (Death by Ecstasy (Organleggers) 1969, The Defenseless Dead 1973, ARM 1976, Patchwork Girl 1978, The Woman in Del Rey Crater)


A.R.M. (1990, Adventure/Malibu Graphics), 3-issue mini-series, B&W. Based on the short story, “Death By Ecstasy” by Larry Niven. Written by Bill Spangler. Art by Terry Tidwell and Steve Stiles
“Death By Ecstasy” (September 1990, #1)
“The Organ Leggers” (October 1990, #2)
“Heart Attack” (November 1990, #3)

A.R.M.: The Defenseless Dead, (1991, Adventure/Malibu Graphics), 3-issue mini-series, B&W

Links: Wikipedia,