Skip to main content

Neutron Star by Larry Niven

* Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate and sponsored links. Learn more on my Disclosure page.

“Neutron Star” is a 1966 science fiction short story by Larry Niven. It is about a man sent to investigate the mysterious deaths of two space explorers who were studying the galaxy’s only known neutron star.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

A “stellar quake”Beowulf Shaeffer has been out of work since Nakamura Lines folded eight months ago, so when he is approached by a puppeteer who works for the most famous spaceship company in the galaxy it seems his luck has finally turned. General Products, however, has some disturbing news – it seems that something has damaged one of their so-called “indestructible” ships, and they want to find out what it was. They make Beowulf an offer he can’t refuse, set him up with the best ship possible and send him off to the scene of the crime. Sure, he is ultra prepared, but is he smart enough to figure out what happened to the doomed explorers before the same thing happens to him? Hmm… let’s hope so.

Curdled stars, muddled stars, stars that had been stirred with a spoon.

The neutron star was in the center, of course, though I couldn’t see it and hadn’t expected to. It was only eleven miles across, and cool. A billion years had passed since BVS-l burned by fusion fire. Millions of years, at least, since the cataclysmic two weeks during which BVS-l was an X-ray star, burning at a temperature of five billion degrees Kelvin. Now it showed only by its mass.

The ship began to turn by itself. I felt the pressure of the fusion drive. Without help from me my faithful metal watchdog was putting me in a hyperbolic orbit that would take me within one mile of the neutron star’s surface. Twenty-four hours to fall, twenty-four hours to rise… and during that time something would try to kill me. As something had killed the Laskins.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • I am a big Larry Niven fan, and I really enjoyed the Ringworld books. If you are a Niven fan too then you will enjoy this story and its references to familiar aliens and places in the Known Universe.
  • The idea behind “Neutron Star” is pretty cool. Seriously, wouldn’t it be totally fascinating to orbit a neutron star and study its peculiar effects?

• The bad:

  • You’ve got to remember that this story was written in the 60’s, and as such there are some outdated expressions and ideas. Nothing so serious that you shouldn’t read this otherwise great story though!

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 12
• Word Count: 6,836
“Neutron Star” garnered the following awards:

  • It won the 1967 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
  • It placed 30th in the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll for best novelette.

Where you can find “Neutron Star”:

  • This short story first appeared in the October 1966 issue of If.
  • “Neutron Star” is included in Larry Niven’s famous collection of Known Space stories: Neutron Star .
  • You can read a free online version of “Neutron Star” at the Real Pulp Fiction website.

Some Interesting Links:

  • You can learn more about science fiction author Larry Niven at Wikipedia.
  • Special thanks to Free SF Reader for pointing out the link to this story.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you’ll probably enjoy The Color of Sunfire, about a man who tells the story of discovering the elusive Puppeteer home world, also by Larry Niven.

17 thoughts to “Neutron Star by Larry Niven”

  1. Yeah,

    This is a great Larry Niven story! I have been wanting to read it for quite a while, and was happy to find a free online version of it. Let us know what you think of it.

  2. I just sat and read this story over my lunch time. Very entertaining. I must admit to knowing next to nothing about this type of science. Possibly odd for a science fiction fan, but that is the way of it. What I have always been able to do is read this kind of fiction and still understand the meat of the story behind it. Doesn’t really matter to me that I do not understand all the science, it is still fascinating and the story was entertaining. A World Out of Time is my favorite Niven novel…though that probably means little as I have only read short stories by him besides that novel. I really want to get into the Ringworld stories at some point. I wouldn’t be disappointed if you either shot me an email or commented here regarding your feelings on them, especially these more recent pre-Ringworld collaborations that he is writing.

  3. Carl,

    One nice thing about SF is the ability to read and enjoy a story without completely understanding the science part of it. Thank goodness too, or I would have flunked out of all the Greg Egan stuff I’ve read! 🙂

    I have only read the first two Ringworld novels. I enjoyed them both, but I thought the first one was spectacular. The story was good, and the idea of “a slice of a Dyson’s Sphere” was totally cool! I’ve heard that the science part behind the Ringworld doesn’t hold up, but who cares? The story was excellent, and it won both the Hugo and Nebula award in the early 70’s – reason enough to read it, I think.

  4. I have read Ringworld and I had no idea that Niven had written more stories set in the same universe. I dozed a little through some of the technical stuff, but I loved the conclusion and what the character does with the knowledge. The puppeteers were always interesting to me. The image of the puppeteer bartender mixing the drink, though… ick.

  5. Kim,

    I also didn’t know that Niven had written some stories set in the Known Universe, but since reading this one I have come across a couple more too – ones I plan on reading soon. You’re right though, the bartending scene was a little bit disturbing!

  6. This is the only thing I have ever read by Larry Niven! Terrible, I know! I really must remedy that, though. I see him at the second hand bookstore all the time, so I think I will be picking up some books. 🙂

  7. Kailana,

    Larry Niven has written some great stuff. While this story is good, I don’t think it is his best work. I have only read two of his Ringworld novels, but I really liked both of them – especially the first one. I’d recommend giving it a try.

  8. Yeah, I have no idea what the Ringworld series is. I am a fantasy nerd and pretty clueless when it comes to sci-fi! Off to find out what you and Carl are talking about. 🙂

  9. Hey Rusty, I just finished Ringworld! Spent the day reading and got through it all in one day. Good stuff, I really enjoyed it. I am really curious now about the other Ringworld novels. It was great to see a reference early on in Ringworld to Beowulf Shaeffer! I’m so glad I read this or the reference would have completely escaped me.

    Several elements in the story reminded me of elements in A World Out of Time and now I am really wanting to read that book again.

  10. Carl,

    Very cool! I am glad you enjoyed it, I think that it was a great book. There was a reference to Beowulf Shaeffer? I honestly don’t remember that, guess I’ll have to read it again. I have only read the first and second Ringworld novels, and I thought the second was pretty good too – not as good as the first, but still good. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about it on your website. And one day? Wow!

  11. Just put up my review if you are interested. The reference to Shaeffer is that the reward for them participating is the ship Long Shot, that Shaeffer took to the galactic core. Searching wiki indicates that this event is told in the story At the Core.

  12. I am all alone. I must come clean, and though I might be throwing myself into a tank of electric eels without paying a gas bill, I must be truthful: I didn’t like Ringworld very much. At all in fact.

    I know you must be punching the screen by now, but that’s just the way I am.

    I read the novel and I couldn’t believe it even got published, nevermind won awards.

    The cardboard characters, the deus ex machinas, the hollow plot, the overload of pointless technical data, and, most troubling of all, the promise of the death which dosen’t happen. But worst of all was the ending; it just cuts off. In mid-paragraph, in the middle of a conversation. I was so sure my edition had a printing error that I went to Waterstones especialy just to check the last page, but no, it was no printing error, that really was the end. Looking over it, I think Niven just wrote it to start off a run-of-the-mill series and, the reason why it became so popular was the concept of the ringworld itself and nothing more.

    Whoo! Glad I got that out of my system. I know you’re all too depressed now so’ll just stop.

  13. Ha! That was pretty funny scatterbrain! Actually, I’m not too surprised – I have met some other people who really didn’t like it, but usually their complaint was the stupid aliens (the Puppeteers.)

    I can see your point on several of those items, but overall I enjoyed the story – and yeah, I liked the whole concept of the ringworld (even though there are several scientific fallacies in it.) Oh well, to each their own right?

Comments are closed.