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The Color of Sunfire by Larry Niven

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“The Color of Sunfire” is a 1993 science fiction short story by Larry Niven. It is about a man who tells the story of discovering the elusive Puppeteer home world.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

A sunflower fieldAfter his contract on the planet Silvereyes ends, the narrator of this story celebrates by dialing a random destination in a transfer booth. He ends up in Bradbury’s Landing and meets a fellow by the name of Mann. Mann invites him for a drink and a story-telling-swap. Ok. Mann goes first, and as he delves into his incredulous story we learn that he once knew the location of the Puppeteer home world. This is important because the Puppeteers have the biggest commercial empire in known space and are frightened of everything – meaning that whoever knew of their home world could blackmail the Puppeteers and become exceedingly rich. The narrator isn’t so sure that Mann really knew the location, but as his story continues he is constantly amazed by what he learns.

Richard Harvey Schultz-Mann tossed a jigger of vodka back over his palate. “Would you believe that I once had it in my power to blackmail the entire puppeteer species?”

“Certainly,” I said. “You’re my host.”

“Meaning I could tell you anything at all.” He laughed. “But this is true. Once I knew the location of the puppeteer home world. You may remember that that was the species’ most closely guarded secret, before their exodus.”

“I remember. They pulled up stakes about forty years ago.” My family had gone broke in the crash. Half the interworld businesses in known space had folded for lack of the puppeteers. One day their commercial empire had offices on every known habitable world. The next, they were gone, their commitments paid off in cash.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • I enjoy reading Larry Niven’s stories – they are usually fun, well written and cool. “The Color of Sunfire” lives up to the Niven standards and doesn’t disappoint.
  • If you have read Ringworld or any other book set in Niven’s Known Space universe then you will most likely enjoy this story about the strange Puppeteers.

• The bad:

  • Although this is a separate, stand-alone story, if you have no prior knowledge of Niven’s Known Space universe (especially the Puppeteers) then you may not enjoy “The Color of Sunfire” as much.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 7
• Word Count: 3,032

Where you can find “The Color of Sunfire”:

  • This short story first appeared in the 1993 special publication for ConFrancisco (the 51st World Science Fiction Convention) entitled Bridging the Galaxies.
  • You can read a nice online version of this story at Larry Niven’s website.

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that Larry Niven has a degree in mathematics? Yep. You can learn more about this science fiction author by reading the biography page on his website.
  • Special thanks to Variety SF for pointing out this great story!

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?, about a man who agrees to investigate an abandoned experimental civilization around a distant red dwarf, by Ken MacLeod.

2 thoughts to “The Color of Sunfire by Larry Niven”

  1. Yeah,

    According to his bio page he did flunk out of Cal Tech, but later earned a BA in math from Washburn University. I guess it pays to keep plugging away!

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