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Bruce Spike R. MacPhee

Ringworld 40th Anniversary: Getting the Most out of Ringworld

The term “future history” was coined for editor John W. Campbell to describe a series of stories Robert Heinlein was writing for Astounding Science Fiction magazine in the 1940s. As used in the science fiction genre, the term implies more than just a series of stories set in the same universe. The term “future history” is applied to a series that spans an extended period of time. In fact, authors of future histories invariably report it is necessary to write down an outline of the events and changes to society and technology, which occur during various periods of the timeline. Heinlein started this trend with his famous chart. Other future histories include Poul Anderson’s Technic Civilization, Cordwainer Smith’s Lords of the Instrumentality, H. Beam Piper’s TerroHuman Future History, Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth, and Larry Niven’s Known Space.

A Niven Reading Experiment

“Spike” MacPhee (one of this article’s authors) ran the Science-Fantasy Bookstore in Harvard Square, Cambridge Massachusetts, from 1977 to 1989, and so was able to observe people’s reading patterns. In 1977, as a new bookstore clerk, he had many duties, but also time to observe human behavior puzzles. One of these was the case of readers new to Larry Niven’s worlds, who started to explore them by first buying Ringworld. Why then did only one-third of them try more of his books? The normal author continuation rate, he had observed, was roughly one-half. How could he improve this rate for Niven?

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Series: Ringworld 40th Anniversary