Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Niven, Larry

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Working name of US writer Laurence van Cott Niven (1938-    ), extensively honoured for his contributions to sf (> SFE). Occasional fantasies use the same imaginatively analytical approach to good Rationalized-Fantasy effect. Thus "Convergent Series" (1967 F&SF as "The Long Night") amusingly employs a logical Quibble to trap a Demon in infinite mathematical regress. "Not Long Before the End" (1969 F&SF) launches the prehistoric Magic Goes Away sequence, with its premise that the mana (LN also spells it manna) which fuels Magic is an exhaustible natural resource: a wasteful Spell designed to squander mana will drain all magic in the vicinity, destroying even "invincible" demons. Thinning is thus inevitable; even the spells which hold off the tectonic instability of Atlantis must fade. This notion has been used as a Playground by other writers. In The Magic Goes Away (1978) the Moon is considered as an outside source of mana, the Midgard Serpent proves to have degenerated (> Debasement) into a still world-circling but barely alive mountain range, and Earth's last major mana-focus is an uncontrollable God who threatens the End of the World. LN wrote other more or less related Magic Goes Away stories, some assembled as The Time of the Warlock (coll 1984); Shared World additions from others appear in The Magic May Return * (anth 1981) and More Magic * (anth 1984).

The Svetz Science Fantasies collected in The Flight of the Horse (coll 1973) assume that Time Travel is logically impossible and therefore pure fantasy – so a future sf time machine trawling the deep past for now-extinct horses, whales, etc., finds Pegasus, Leviathan (> Sea Monsters) ...

Inferno (1975) with Jerry Pournelle (1933-2017) is a Recursive Fantasy revisiting the Inferno of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy (1472) and, with resolute tastelessness, extending Dante's own habit of allocating political enemies their place in Hell: inter alia, LN and Pournelle damn fanatical book collectors, environmentalists and Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007). The story moves well, with the protagonist desperately rationalizing demonic horrors as Technofantasy constructs despite advice from his Virgil-like guide, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945). Hell is explained as "the violent ward for the theologically insane", with its brutal sadism being intended to shock Souls awake from self-obsessed self-damnation (as C S Lewis's arguably less compassionate God does not) and ready them for Purgatory. By the time Mussolini escapes along the route taken by Dante, the protagonist has learned better (> Learns Better) and voluntarily returns to be the Virgil for others – a moral conclusion partly redeeming earlier crassness.

The Dream Park series – Dream Park (1981), The Barsoom Project (1989) and Dream Park: The Voodoo Game (1991 UK; vt The California Voodoo Game 1992), all with Steven Barnes (1952-    ) – is sf featuring fantasy role-playing Games of post-Disneyland realism, drawing on unusual Myth systems: e.g., Melanesian and Eskimo. [DRL]

other works: Much sf. > SFE.

Laurence van Cott Niven


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.