Larry Niven is a great-grandson of oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, an important figure in the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s. He briefly attended the California Institute of Technology and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics (with a minor in psychology) from Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, in 1962. He did a year of graduate work in mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has since lived in Los Angeles suburbs, including Chatsworth and Tarzana, as a full-time writer. He married Marilyn Joyce "Fuzzy Pink" Wisowaty, herself a well-known science fiction and Regency literature fan, on September 6, 1969.
His best-known work is Ringworld (1970), which received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, and Nebula awards. His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics. It also often includes elements of detective fiction and adventure stories. His fantasy includes the series The Magic Goes Away, rational fantasy dealing with magic as a non-renewable resource. Niven also writes humorous stories; one series is collected in The Flight of the Horse.
Niven is the author of numerous science fiction short stories and novels, beginning with his 1964 story "The Coldest Place". In this story, the coldest place concerned is the dark side of Mercury, which at the time the story was written was thought to be tidally locked with the Sun (it was found to rotate in a 2:3 resonance after Niven received payment for the story, but before it was published).
In addition to the Nebula award in 1970 and the Hugo and Locus awards in 1971 for Ringworld, Niven won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Neutron Star"? in 1967. He won the same award in 1972, for "Inconstant Moon", and in 1975 for "The Hole Man?". In 1976, he won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for "The Borderland of Sol".
Niven has written scripts for various science fiction television shows, including the original Land of the Lost series and Star Trek: The Animated Series?, for which he adapted his early story "The Soft Weapon". He adapted his story "Inconstant Moon" for an episode of the television series The Outer Limits in 1996.
He has also written for the DC Comics character Green Lantern including in his stories hard science fiction concepts such as universal entropy and the redshift effect, which are unusual in comic books.
Many of Niven's stories take place in his Known Space universe, in which humanity shares the several habitable solar systems nearest to the Sun with over a dozen alien species, including the aggressive feline Kzinti and the very intelligent but cowardly Pierson's Puppeteers, which are frequently central characters. The Ringworld series is set in the Known Space universe.
The creation of thoroughly worked-out alien species, which are very different from humans both physically and mentally, is recognized as one of Niven's main strengths.
Niven has also written a logical fantasy series The Magic Goes Away, which utilizes an exhaustible resource called Mana to power a rule-based "technological" magic.
The Draco Tavern series of short stories take place in a more light-hearted science fiction universe, and are told from the point of view of the proprietor of an omni-species bar.
The whimsical Svetz series consists of a collection of short stories, The Flight of the Horse, and a novel, Rainbow Mars, which involve a nominal time machine sent back to retrieve long-extinct animals, but which travels, in fact, into alternate realities and brings back mythical creatures such as a Roc and a Unicorn.
- Neutron Star (1968 collection, republished in Omnibus 1991) (Neutron Star 1966, At the Core 1966, Flatlander 1967, Grendel 1968, The Handicapped, The Soft Weapon, A Relic of the Empire, The Ethics of Madness)
- The Shape of Space (1969 collection) (At the Bottom of a Hole 1966, The Warriors 1966, Safe at Any Speed 1967, How the Heroes Die 1966, The Organleggers 1969)
- All the Myriad Ways (1969, coll (Becalmed in Hell 1965, Jigsaw Man 1967, Wait it Out 1968)
- Inconstant Moon (1973, coll) (Becalmed in Hell 1965, Death by Ecstasy (Organleggers) 1969, At the Bottom of a Hole 1966, How the Heroes Die 1966)
- A Hole In Space (1974, coll) (There is a Tide 1968, The Hole Man?)
- Tales of Known Space: The Universe of Larry Niven (1975 collection) (The Coldest Place 1964, Becalmed in Hell 1965, Eye of an Octopus 1966, The Warriors 1966, How the Heroes Die 1966, At the Bottom of a Hole 1966, Safe at Any Speed 1967, The Jigsaw Man 1967, Intent to Deceive 1968, There is a Tide 1968, Wait it Out 1968, Cloak of Anarchy 1972, The Borderland of Sol 1975)
- The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton (1976 collection) (Death by Ecstasy (Organleggers) 1969, The Defenseless Dead, ARM 1976)
- N-Space (1990, coll) (Cloak of Anarchy 1972, Down in Flames?, The Hole Man, (Madness Has Its Place 1990, Shall We Indulge in Rishatra? (cartoons by William Rotsler), part from World of Ptavvs, from Ringworld, from Protector, from A Gift from Earth)
- Playgrounds of the Mind (1991, coll) (Becalmed in Hell 1965, The Defenseless Dead, Wait it Out 1968, The Borderland of Sol 1975, part from the Patchwork Girl, part from Ringworld Engineers, The Soft Weapon, A Relic of the Empire)
- Bridging the Galaxies (1993, coll) ( The Color of Sunfire 1993, Procrustes 1993)
- Crashlander (1994, coll.) (Neutron Star 1966, At the Core 1966, Flatlander 1967, Grendel 1968, The Borderland of Sol 1975, Procrustes 1993)
- Flatlander (1995, coll.) (Death by Ecstasy (Organleggers) 1969, The Defenseless Dead, ARM 1976, Patchwork Girl 1978, The Woman in Del Rey Crater)
- Three Books of Known Space (coll, 1996) (The Coldest Place 1964, Becalmed in Hell 1965, Eye of an Octopus 1966, The Warriors 1966, How the Heroes Die 1966, At the Bottom of a Hole 1966, Safe at Any Speed 1967, The Jigsaw Man 1967, The Deceivers 1968, There is a Tide 1968, Wait it Out 1968, Cloak of Anarchy 1972, Tales of Known Space 1975, Madness Has Its Place, World of Ptavvs and A Gift from Earth)
Ringworld Prequel series (with Edward M. Lerner)
The Man-Kzin Wars (1988, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Dean Ing)
Man-Kzin Wars III (1990, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Jerry Pournelle and S.M. Stirling)
Man-Kzin Wars VIII: Choosing Names (1998, Larry Niven, Hal Colebatch, Jean Lamb, Paul Chafe and Warren W. James)
The Best of All Possible Wars: The Best of the Man-Kzin Wars? (1998)
Man-Kzin Wars IX (2002, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Hal Colebatch, Paul Chafe)
Man-Kzin Wars XI (2005, Larry Niven, Hal Colebatch and Matthew Joseph Harrington)
Berserker Base?: A Collaborative Novel (1984, with Poul Anderson, Edward Bryant, Stephen R. Donaldson, Fred Saberhagen?, Connie Willis, and Roger Zelazny)
Playgrounds of the Mind (1991, coll) (A Teardrop Falls?)
Robots and Foundation Universe (Asimov)