“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:
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- You’ve got to remember that this story was written in the 60’s, and as such there are some outdated expressions and ideas.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!
• 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.