- Neutron Star (short story)
"Neutron Star" is an English language science fiction short story written by Larry Niven. It was originally published in the August 1966 issue (Issue 107, Vol 16, No 10) of Worlds of If. It was later reprinted in Neutron Star, (New York: Ballantine, 1968, pp. 9-28, ISBN 0-345-29665-6), and Crashlander (New York: Ballantine, 1994, pp. 8-28, ISBN 0-345-38168-8). The story is set in Niven's fictional Known Space universe. It is also notable for including a neutron star before their (then hypothetical) existence was widely known.
"Neutron Star" is the first to feature Beowulf Shaeffer, the ne'er-do-well ex-pilot and reluctant hero of many of Niven's Known Space stories. It also marked the first appearance of the nearly indestructible General Products starship hull, as well as its creators the Pierson's Puppeteers. The star itself, BVS-1, is featured in the novel Protector (1973), where it is named "Phssthpok's Star". A prelude to the story is also included in the novel Juggler of Worlds.
Beowulf Shaeffer, a native of the planet We Made It and unemployed for the last eight months due to a stock market crash, is contracted by a Pierson's Puppeteer, the Regional President of General Products on We Made It, to pilot a General Products-hulled starship, in a close approach about neutron star BVS-1. The Puppeteers want to determine why two previous researchers, Peter and Sonya Laskin, were killed during the previous attempt on a similar mission. Shaeffer has no intention of even attempting the dangerous mission, but agrees anyway – he has other plans. He has the Puppeteers construct what he dubs the Skydiver to his precise specifications, supposedly to ensure he survives to return with the relevant data: an advanced sensor package, a high-powered thruster – and a high-powered laser. It is thus the only warship ever constructed by the cowardly and paranoid alien race - a prize beyond value and a perfect means of escape. However, he is forced into compliance by an operative of the U.N.'s Bureau of Alien Affairs, Sigmund Ausfaller, who has had the Puppeteers install a bomb somewhere inside the Skydiver. Ausfaller informs Schaeffer that if he does not attempt the mission he will be sent to debtors prison, and that if he attempts to escape in the ship the bomb will be detonated within a week – well before he could even reach another planet, let alone find a buyer for the ship. Shaeffer, realizing he is trapped, agrees to fly the mission.
The Skydiver reaches the neutron star, and the ship’s autopilot puts the Skydiver into a hyperbolic orbit that will take 24 hours to reach periapsis with BVS-1, passing a mile above its surface. During the descent Schaeffer notices many unusual things: the stars ahead of him began to turn blue from Doppler shift as his speed increases enormously; the stars behind him, rather than being red-shifted, were blue too as their light accelerated with him into the gravity well of the neutron star. The nose of the ship is pulled towards the neutron star even when he tries to move the ship to view his surroundings.
As the mysterious pull exceeds one Earth gravity, Shaeffer accelerates the Skydiver to compensate for the unknown X-force until he is in free fall (though the accelerometer registers 1.2 gees). Shaeffer eventually realizes what the X-force is: the tidal force. The strong tidal pull of the neutron star is trying to force the ends of the ship (and Shaeffer himself) into two separate orbits. Shaeffer programs the autopilot in a thrust pattern that allows him to reach the center of mass of the ship in effective freefall, though he nearly fails to do so. The ship reaches perigee where tidal forces nearly pull Shaeffer apart anyway, but he manages to hold himself in the access space at the ship's center of mass and survives.
After returning to We Made It, Shaeffer is hospitalized (he has received a sunburn by starlight blue-shifted into the ultraviolet) for observation at the Puppeteer’s insistence. While explaining tidal forces to the Puppeteer, Schaeffer realizes the alien had no knowledge of tides, something that would be elementary for a sentient species living on a world with a moon. The Puppeteers are extremely cautious when dealing with other races, and keep all details about their homeworld secret. When Schaeffer mentions that he can tell reporters the fact that the Puppeteer's world has no moon, the Puppeteer agrees to give Shaeffer a million stars (an incredible fortune in galactic currency) in return for his silence. Shaeffer asks the alien how he likes being blackmailed for a change.
- In the story "Ghost", including as framing story for the Crashlander collection, Schaeffer discovers that the Puppeteers were well aware of the tidal effect. The actual motive for them paying for Shaeffer's silence was that if they did not, he would realize this. By paying him, they could both shut him up and disseminate false information about the Puppeteer homeworld. (Puppeteers do not find blackmail unethical: if one lets information slip that is dangerous to them, they are so paranoid they must know how it occurred. They have thus developed technology that makes blackmail safe: the blackmailer has the sensitive information removed from their mind via a method of targeted memory erasure implemented after the blackmail is paid. Shaeffer did not receive this, and never thought twice about it.)
- In the "Afterthoughts" section of the Tales of Known Space collection, Niven writes: "I keep meeting people who have done mathematical treatments of the problem raised in the short story 'Neutron Star', .... Alas and dammit, Shaeffer can't survive. It turns out that his ship leaves the star spinning, and keeps the spin." If this is true, it does more than kill Shaeffer: it kills the entire story premise, for the Laskins' ship also would have acquired and kept a similar spin, which the puppeteers could hardly have failed to notice. It is also unclear how the Laskins' ship returned to its starting point; unless the puppeteers sent another ship to retrieve it, it would have had to do so through normal space, a journey of years.
- ^ The science in science fiction. BenBella Books, Inc. 2005. p. 197. ISBN 1932100482. http://books.google.com/books?id=LH2gqgGm7DEC&pg=PA197. "The first science fiction story to feature a neutron star is Larry Niven's "Neutron Star", published in Worlds of If, October 1966."
- ^ Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood encyclopedia of science fiction and fantasy: themes, works, and wonders. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 751–752. ISBN 0313329524. http://books.google.com/books?id=3JXnz9x9sO4C&pg=PA751#v=onepage&q=&f=false. "Neutron stars are featured in a number of science fiction stories. These are the small remnants of supernovae, a few kilometers in diameter, which are made up exclusively of neutrons. Larry Niven's "Neutron Star" (1966) describes the dangers of flying a spaceship too close to such an object"
Larry Niven Books
World of Ptavvs (1966) · A Gift from Earth (1968) · Neutron Star (1968 collection) · The Shape of Space (1969 collection) · Protector (1973) · Tales of Known Space (1975 collection) · Flatlander (1976 collection, originally The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton) · The Patchwork Girl (1980) · Crashlander (1994 omnibus)RingworldMan-Kzin
Wars**collections by Niven or mostly others: Man-Kzin Wars (1988) · Man-Kzin Wars II (1989) · Man-Kzin Wars III (1990) · Man-Kzin Wars IV (1991) · Man-Kzin Wars V (1992) · Man-Kzin Wars VI (1994) · Man-Kzin Wars VII (1995) · Man-Kzin Wars VIII: Choosing Names (1998) · Man-Kzin Wars IX (2002) · Man-Kzin Wars X: The Wunder War (2003) · Man-Kzin Wars XI (2005) · Destiny's Forge (2007 novel) · Man-Kzin Wars XII (2009) · Man-Kzin Wars XIII (2012)Fleet of
WarlockNot Long before the End (1969) · What Good Is a Glass Dagger? (1972) The Magic Goes Away (1978) · The Magic May Return (1981 collection) · More Magic (1984) · The Time of the Warlock (1984)Golden
PournelleHeorot (with Steven Barnes
and Jerry Pournelle)Dream
novels**with various: The Flying Sorcerers (1971, with David Gerrold) · Berserker Base (1984, with Poul Anderson, Edward Bryant, Stephen R. Donaldson, Fred Saberhagen, Connie Willis, and Roger Zelazny) · Fallen Angels (1991, with Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn) · Rainbow Mars (1999) · Building Harlequin's Moon (2005, with Brenda Cooper)Other
collectionsAll the Myriad Ways (1971) · The Flight of the Horse (1973) · Inconstant Moon (1973) · A Hole in Space (1974) · Convergent Series (1979) · Niven's Laws (1984) · Limits (1985) · N-Space (1990) · Playgrounds of the Mind (1991) · Bridging the Galaxies (1993) · Scatterbrain (2003) · Larry Niven Short Stories Volume 1 (2003) · Larry Niven Short Stories Volume 2 (2003) · Larry Niven Short Stories Volume 3 (2003) · The Draco Tavern (2006) · Stars and Gods (2010) · The Best of Larry Niven (2010)Comics*
and novellas"At the Core" · "The Borderland of Sol" · "Death by Ecstasy" · "The Defenseless Dead" · "Flash Crowd" · "Flatlander" · "Grendel" · "The Handicapped" · "The Hole Man" "Inconstant Moon" · "The Jigsaw Man" · "The Magic Goes Away" · Neutron Star · "Procrustes" · "The Return of William Proxmire" · "The Soft Weapon"
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