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Land of the Lost Scribe Larry Niven Advises Against Firing Lasers at Mirrors

Land of the Lost Scribe Larry Niven Advises Against Firing Lasers at Mirrors” width=”560″/>

One of science fiction’s most celebrated writers discusses his work on the Land of the Lost television series — out this week on DVD — and explains how a scifi story developed at his house brought down the Soviet Union.

Q: What was the appeal to Land of the Lost?

A: It’s a nice basic idea, open to any kind of fantasy. It could have gone in any direction, starting with the notion of an open door to another land cited in a place nobody can get to easily.

Q: Is that why so many scifi writers like yourself and Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana were attracted to it?

A: For starters there was the idea, which is basically very easy to work with. There’s lots of open space to play with your imagination, which writers like. But second, David Gerrold worked on the show — we all knew David. He’s talkative, he’s persuasive. His ideas were the ideas for the three Land of the Lost episodes I worked on.

Q: Which one is your favorite?

A: I think “Downstream.” It’s one of those neat ideas — a river that runs in a circle. David summoned me into his office one day and said, “Let’s work on a story,” and that’s what we came up with.

Q: Why do you think there’s a renewed interest in the story?

A: Remaking old stories seems to have become a habit with Hollywood. It was there, half the work was already done, so I guess they just ran with it. I haven’t seen enough of the remake to see anything but pratfalls, which is nothing against the movie. It’s gotta be more elaborate than that.

Q: You’re known for writing science fiction that’s well-grounded in actual science. How solid were the scientific concepts in Land of the Lost and Star Trek, which you also wrote for?

A: [Laughs] Ridiculous! Land of the Lost was an option for fantasies, and the same with Star Trek. It’s a vehicle with which you can stick with scientific facts if you like. And a lot of us do like to do that. But there’s still lots of room for fantasy in both.

Q: Your novel series Ringworld has been optioned several times, most recently by the SciFi Channel for a mini-series. Have there been any updates?

A: I don’t think SciFi Channel has any further involvement. My belief is they let their option lapse. I don’t know where it’s at now — you’d have to ask my agent.

Q: The video game Halo borrows heavily from your concept of a Ringworld. How did you react when you saw it?

A: Of course I had to deal with that in my head, and the answer is, if it were possible to copyright spin gravity I’d be paying royalties to somebody — maybe Isaac Newton. The Halo looks a lot like the Ringworld. But it’s not a coincidence — it’s inevitable. They’re both spin-like space stations, and all you do is take the cover off.

Q: You were recruited by Homeland Security to come up with ways terrorists might attack the United States. What did you come up with?

A: All I can tell you is that most of the people working for them are better at this than I am. I think my imagination doesn’t run paranoid enough. I can reach deep into the imagination, but that isn’t terribly helpful when you’re trying to predict what Osama bin Laden is going to do. I was only coming up with things he’d never come up with.

Q: The government also called on you in the ’70s to help develop Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program.

A: Yeah. Those meetings were held at my house. I was very pleased to have participated in that. The Soviet Union was brought down by a science fiction story written at Larry Niven’s house [Laughs]. So that was fun. I met a guy who worked with mirrors and beams. The basic idea was to fire a mirror into orbit, aim it, and fire a laser from the ground to take out an incoming missile. This was not the version I favored, but it was one of the versions we discussed at my house.

Q: You have a list of rules called Niven’s Laws, one of which is “Never fire a laser at a mirror.”

A: Yes [Laughs]. That one certainly worked out because every mirror they gave him, the laser went right through it.

Q: Your last Law was written in 2002. Have you thought of updating them?

A: I don’t have anything new. When I find something I think is wisdom it goes into Niven’s Laws. And I hate to admit it, but I haven’t learned anything since 2002.

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