Why I hate

Larry Niven

In the United States today one must be careful what one says about another person. A single wrong word may result in a charge of slander (or if in print, libel). Happily, Americans are still free to pursue their own thoughts, as the government has not yet developed a satisfactory way to prosecute an individual for having an opinion. I am, thus, free to think whatever I wish to think.

That having been said, I think that Larry Niven is a big dickhead.

Mr. Niven is one of the most well-known science fiction authors alive. Winner of the Hugo, the Nebula, and a host of other awards, he is considered one of the pillars of the science fiction genre, right up there with the late Isaac Asimov. Sadly, where Dr. Asimov was a jovial, friendly, and unabashedly outgoing man, I found Mr. Niven to be arrogant, cold, and intolerably rude. In short, a right and proper bastard.

Let me tell you a story.

There was a time when I was a young and eager science fiction fan haunting the local conventions, seeking egoboo where it could be found and delighting in the occasional glimpse of or friendly discourse with some of my favorite writers. Now, a fan I may have been, but I tried very, very hard not to be a fanboy.

Do you know the difference? Let me illustrate it.

Case 1: "Dr. Asimov, I presume? I hope you won't think it idle flattery if I tell you that I have admired your work for many years. Do you have a moment? I'd love to talk with you about it."

Case 2: "Holy shit you're Isaac Asimov oh my god I've read every single one of your books six times I really like the one with the laws of robotics in it except I think there should have been five but it was still a good book I'm writing a book myself maybe you can read it someday and tell me what you think I really love your writing I wonder if you would come to a party I'm having at my place next week everyone would really think it was cool that I had Isaac Asimov at my party we're gonna play Yahtzee and maybe some Twister and we got a kickass intranet set up so anyway the laws of robots were cool and all but you kinda lost me on the second one robots really should have more independence from us maybe you could write a sequel where the robot falls in love with Laura Kroft and they get it on that would be hot do you mind if I get my picture taken with you and could you autograph it when you're done it would be really cool I watch a lot of Discovery Channel so I can probably talk science with you I know a lot about electronics there was an article in Electronics Weekly the other day that was about nanorobots you should write about nanorobots see nanorobots kick ass they are offshoots of



The person in Case 1 is a fan: an individual who admires the work of a creator and is extremely pleased to have the opportunity to meet that creator. The person in Case 2 is a fanboy: an individual who is so engrossed in the fact that a famous person is actually paying attention to him (and thereby validating his existence) that he fails to notice the strenuous efforts of that famous person to escape his company.

I dislike fanboys. I am certain many of the real pros do as well. I have therefore made every effort myself to be a fan. To that end, I try to speak normally around professionals. I try to stick to topics that are not inane and at least of moderate interest to all parties present; I wear deodorant; I allow pauses in the conversation, and occasionally insert, "I understand you are busy and shouldn't keep you. If the response is "no, not at all, please continue," I continue. If the response is anything else, I politely excuse myself and wander off, content with whatever brief discourse I may have enjoyed.

Larry Niven was a guest at Worldcon in Boston in 1989. It was my first Worldcon, an eye-opening experience for a skinny, geeky young fan. Now, I had brought with me a little silly gadget that I had contrived, which consisted of an Irish pennywhistle inserted into the mouth of a rubber chicken into whose back I had cut strategically-located holes. By blowing into the beak of the chicken and alternately covering those holes with my fingers I was able to produce music.

It was a hit.

On the third day of the convention I happened to pass someone who was asking Isaac Asimov for his autograph. In a sudden fit of whimsy I approached, greeted him cordially, and asked if he would be willing to autograph my musical rubber chicken. He stared at me in great bewilderment, took the instrument from my grasp, and murmered, "This is the first time in my life a man has asked me to autograph his cock."

That was Isaac!

He very cheerfully autographed it and I thanked him and went on my happy way. Why stop at one autograph, though, especially from such a renowned man? I began to approach some other people whose work I had long admired: Frederick Pohl, Forrest Ackerman, Andre Norton, and others were quite happy to oblige a fan in this small, silly endeavor.

I thought it would be fitting to include Mr. Niven's autograph amongst the others.

He was to have an autograph session that afternoon. Dutifully I situated myself in line, and stood there patiently for the better part of an hour, slowly making my way forward. When I finally stood before the Great Man himself, I laid the chicken before him and said in as clear a voice as I could, "Good afternoon, Mr. Niven. I wonder if I might ask you to add your autograph to the others that I have collected on this novel musical instrument."

Yes, I talked that way even then.

He stared at it and heaved a somewhat impatient sigh. Seizing it in one hand, he clicked his pen and began to sign. L...A...R...and then he stopped, and abruptly struck a line through the partial signature and threw the chicken back at me. "I'm not signing this," he said brusquely. "Get out of here."

I was stunned. "But, Mr. Niven," I began.

"No," he said, cutting me off. "I don't want to look like a fool. Now get out."

I gathered the chicken up and, still rather dazed, slunk away. Such a dreadful feeling in the pit of my stomach cannot be adequately conveyed in words. I felt hurt. I felt insulted. I felt terribly sad, but most of all I felt guilty that somehow I had offended the Great Man. I took my woes to Jim Groat, who kindly comforted me with such words as, "Eh, everyone says that the guy is an asshole."

Another artist standing nearby, a Mr. Gallacci, I believe, added his own words of wisdom. "[Mr. Niven] forgets that you, I, we are the scum upon which those precious lilies precariously float."

I was grateful for their efforts, but I still felt the need for some sort of closure. An opportunity arose not too much later when I happened to see Mr. Niven walking by himself. Gathering my courage, I joined him and, in as deferential a tone as I could manage, I said, "I beg your pardon, Mr. Niven. I wanted to offer an apology for earlier. I realize that I offended you inadvertently. It certainly wasn't my intention to make you look..."

He turned to face me. Placing his hands behind his back, he closed his eyes and bowed toward me, and with an impatient smile he loudly said, "Please go away!"

It felt rather like a physical slap. I nodded and said, "As you wish, Sir." And I went away.

The hurt that he caused me never did.

A number of years have passed. The chicken, sadly, has gone the way of all things. Being made of rather cheap latex it slowly crumbled to pieces despite my efforts at preservation. The autographs are gone, leaving me with only the story, which to me is almost as good.

Somewhere in those intervening years Uncle Kage came to be. People started referring to me as "famous." They started crowding me at conventions, asking for my autograph, wanting to have their picture taken with me. Somehow, without realizing it, I had joined the rank of "precious lilies." I do not float on scum, however. I float on the great sea of creative energy and good will that is Furry Fandom. I make a very conscious effort to try to remember the names of the people I speak to, even briefly. I greet those that I recognize with a cheerful smile. I like to listen to them. They think of me as approachable, which is something I treasure and encourage. Yes, I sometimes have to be rescued from fanboys who latch onto my arm and will not let go, but I will always chat with them for at least a few moments before excusing myself, and I will never, ever tell any one of them to go away.

That is Larry Niven's legacy to me. As Uncle Kage I try to be jovial and approachable and considerate and respectful of even the worst of fanboys, all because inside of me still lives that sad little fan who can still feel the sting of Mr. Niven's rebuff. The very notion of causing someone such pain as Mr. Niven did to me fills me with an insufferable dread. I do not for one moment believe that I am "better" than these people. If all they want is to be in my company, if a few words from me will make them happy, then who the hell am I to look down on them for it?

Clearly, Larry Niven is directly responsible for making me what I am today, and I am happy with who and what I have become. Despite the bitterness and anger that I harbor toward this man, I still owe him a grudging debt of gratitude. Through his arrogance, he molded me into a better person. His self-deification led to my own apotheosis. So, to Mr. Larry Niven, I shall only offer these few simple words:

"Thanks, Asshole."