PDA

View Full Version : Humanity's origin, according to Larry Niven's "Known Space" Universe



mapguy
2014-Jun-06, 09:03 PM
Thanks to those of you who have recommended reading sci-fi by Larry Niven. Over the past few years Iíve read much of his work, and for the most part enjoyed it immensely.

However, I do have one question that I canít seem to get straight. According to Niven's fictional Known Space Universe, what is the origin of humankind on Earth? As I understand it, there are two scenarios:


In some stories, it is said that the Thrintun race seeded planets all over the galaxy with yeast, in order to grow food for their slaves. When the Tnuctipun revolted, the method that the Thrints used to exterminate them also wiped out all other sentient life in the galaxy. Being deprived of their slave races, the Thrintun also died out. Over the next 1.5 billion years, the primitive life that had been seeded on Earth evolved into the complex lifeforms we know today, including ourselves.


But in other stories, it is said that Pak colonists arrived on Earth about 2.5 million years ago. These colonists were mostly Breeder-stage Pak, but when they arrived, they discovered that the plant which allowed them to mature into the Protector-stage could not be grown properly on Earth. So all the Protectors died, leaving only the Breeders. The Breeders are known to us today as Homo habilus, and they eventually evolved into modern humans.

I'm not able to see how these are compatible. Am I misunderstanding something? Can anyone clarify? ThanksÖ

cjameshuff
2014-Jun-06, 09:36 PM
What's the contradiction? The second scenario only slightly modifies the first: not only did mutated forms arise, but some forms of mutant yeast found ways to travel between stars.

grant hutchison
2014-Jun-06, 10:05 PM
This is made explicit in the Man-Kzin Wars story "Teacher's Pet". The Thrintun seeded planets throughout the galaxy with food yeast, billions of years ago. With the extinction of the Thrintun, the food yeast evolved into multicellular life on many planets - including the Pak homeworld, Kzinhome and Earth. Hence the common biochemistry that allows the Pak to colonize Earth, and the Kzinti to eat humans.

It's food yeast all the way down ...

Grant Hutchison

publiusr
2014-Jun-06, 10:12 PM
In some stories, it is said that the Thrintun race seeded planets all over the galaxy with yeast

Shades of "Gentlemen Broncos" Yeast Lords...
surveillance does

mapguy
2014-Jun-07, 12:35 AM
So, would it be accurate to say: while some complex lifeforms did evolve from food yeast on Earth, humanity's ancestors did not begin on Earth... they evolved from food yeast on the Pak homeworld, and later colonized Earth?

Nowhere Man
2014-Jun-07, 12:59 AM
Correct, or at least that's how I read it. But don't think too much about how much the Pak colonists resemble the native Earth life anatomically.

Fred

Noclevername
2014-Jun-07, 02:52 AM
Or about how closely we are related to other primates. Of course, the stories were written before genome mapping was a thing, and before how similar all Earth life is genetically was widely understood...

Noclevername
2014-Jun-07, 02:59 AM
So, like many aspects of the Known Space universe, the science is outdated. Niven himself wrote (I think in Playgrounds Of The Mind) that the KSU must now become an alternate universe where Mercury does not rotate, Bussard Ramjets work, and life on Earth began only 2 billion years ago.

cjameshuff
2014-Jun-07, 03:14 AM
Correct, or at least that's how I read it. But don't think too much about how much the Pak colonists resemble the native Earth life anatomically.

Particularly considering how different other aliens are. The Kzinti were one of the species that most closely resembled Earth life in external appearance, and even for them, internally it was obvious they weren't related (no spine and a radically different ribcage). And the whole thing about aging processes being vestigial remnants of the Pak transformation...despite them being shared with other Earth species...

Protohumans/breeders, Pak, and Tree-of-Life being someone's biological experiment would make a lot more sense, the latter two not surviving on their homeworld of Earth due to an intentionally engineered dependence on trace minerals toxic to most life descended from food yeast and rare on life-bearing worlds (hindering their expansion if they got out of control), but by chance surviving on at least one world where a compatible food yeast-derived biosphere developed tolerance of those minerals.

Noclevername
2014-Jun-07, 04:18 AM
Particularly considering how different other aliens are. The Kzinti were one of the species that most closely resembled Earth life in external appearance, and even for them, internally it was obvious they weren't related (no spine and a radically different ribcage). And the whole thing about aging processes being vestigial remnants of the Pak transformation...despite them being shared with other Earth species...

Protohumans/breeders, Pak, and Tree-of-Life being someone's biological experiment would make a lot more sense, the latter two not surviving on their homeworld of Earth due to an intentionally engineered dependence on trace minerals toxic to most life descended from food yeast and rare on life-bearing worlds (hindering their expansion if they got out of control), but by chance surviving on at least one world where a compatible food yeast-derived biosphere developed tolerance of those minerals.

In A Darker Geometry, a novel offshoot from the Man-Kzin Wars, the hominids of Ringworld were theorized to have been an experiment of the Outsiders, who manipulated the Pak into creating, essentially, an endless story factory for their never-ending information trade. Although Niven declared the novel non-canon with respect to the KS universe (for other reasons not having to do with that theory), it's still a plausible explanation for how all the Ringworld races became diverged. The Outsiders or somebody, fearful of a population of trillions of Pak protectors, sabotaged the Tree Of Life virus.

The reason I bring this up, is that Earth or the Pak homeworld may have been part of this experiment. Remember that Known Space is only about 60 light years across and Quantum II hyperdrive is a new invention even to the ancient Puppeteers; only a handful of humans and other species have gone beyond their comfort zones, usually in straight lines to specific destinations. So there is room in the Galaxy for many undiscovered human, hominid, or Pak worlds, all full of close cousins. One could ask the Outsiders what's out in the wilderness, but how much would they charge for answers like that?

JohnD
2014-Jun-07, 11:45 AM
mapguy,
It's a "story", also known as "fiction".
There is no requirement, except within the same 'story' for there to be a consistent history.

Just suspend disbelief, or as Will put it;
"Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times, 30
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass"

And enjoy some very good stories!
JOhn

Noclevername
2014-Jun-07, 12:21 PM
mapguy,
It's a "story", also known as "fiction".
There is no requirement, except within the same 'story' for there to be a consistent history.

Just suspend disbelief,

Some people actually like consistency in their fiction; it helps us "just" suspend disbelief when the disbelievable parts of a story are more believable, See Paul Beardsley's quote in my signature. A story that does a poor job of making the untrue have verisimilitude can throw a reader right out of the story; that's why there's an art to it.

Some of us even like the act of discussing this stuff, too. Let us have our fun.

grant hutchison
2014-Jun-07, 04:45 PM
mapguy,
It's a "story", also known as "fiction".
There is no requirement, except within the same 'story' for there to be a consistent history.
Actually, it's a "future history" that has been deliberately constructed over the course of fifty years with the intention of making it consistent. Niven and various collaborators have devoted a lot of work to making that so.
So in this case there is a default assumption of consistency, it is perfectly reasonable to ask about a perceived inconsistency, and discussion of the matter is of interest to many here.

Grant Hutchison

Van Rijn
2014-Jun-13, 10:55 PM
This is made explicit in the Man-Kzin Wars story "Teacher's Pet". The Thrintun seeded planets throughout the galaxy with food yeast, billions of years ago. With the extinction of the Thrintun, the food yeast evolved into multicellular life on many planets - including the Pak homeworld, Kzinhome and Earth. Hence the common biochemistry that allows the Pak to colonize Earth, and the Kzinti to eat humans.

It's food yeast all the way down ...

Grant Hutchison

Didn't that also have the Tnuctipun creating the Pak? I seem to remember seeing that idea somewhere, at any rate. As I recall, like Bandersnatch, they were designed to be able to resist Thrintun mind control, but were as intelligent as Tnuctipun. Pak Protectors would weed out any Pak Breeders that didn't smell right, stalling evolution. Their tendency to fight each other was a control measure - they fought each other so much they rarely managed to reach another planet, but put them on a Thrintun world, and soon there wouldn't be any Thrintuns.

Oh, in whatever I was reading, I think it was also said that the Pak were made so they would protect Tnuctipun.

cjameshuff
2014-Jun-13, 11:20 PM
Didn't that also have the Tnuctipun creating the Pak? I seem to remember seeing that idea somewhere, at any rate. As I recall, like Bandersnatch, they were designed to be able to resist Thrintun mind control, but were as intelligent as Tnuctipun. Pak Protectors would weed out any Pak Breeders that didn't smell right, stalling evolution. Their tendency to fight each other was a control measure - they fought each other so much they rarely managed to reach another planet, but put them on a Thrintun world, and soon there wouldn't be any Thrintuns.

Oh, in whatever I was reading, I think it was also said that the Pak were made so they would protect Tnuctipun.

That fails to explain the commonality between humans and Earth life, though. Pak as an experiment makes a fair amount of sense, but the experiment would have to be far too recent to be Tnuctipun work. (unless it was survivors who took shelter in stasis fields, anyway)

Van Rijn
2014-Jun-13, 11:40 PM
That fails to explain the commonality between humans and Earth life, though. Pak as an experiment makes a fair amount of sense, but the experiment would have to be far too recent to be Tnuctipun work. (unless it was survivors who took shelter in stasis fields, anyway)

If I'm remembering this right, in whatever story I read, the Pak are supposed to have existed during the time of the Thrintuns, made as another weapon against them. There is a lot of commonality of life between planets in Niven's stories, and there are separate story references to planetary seeding, and hints of other contact (like the stasis box that had been on Earth for over a billion years). Realistically, I'd agree the idea breaks down when you look at too closely, though. I never thought the idea of a recent introduction of Pak/protohumans to Earth made much sense if it was supposed to fit real world evidence.

cjameshuff
2014-Jun-14, 01:14 AM
If I'm remembering this right, in whatever story I read, the Pak are supposed to have existed during the time of the Thrintuns, made as another weapon against them. There is a lot of commonality of life between planets in Niven's stories, and there are separate story references to planetary seeding, and hints of other contact (like the stasis box that had been on Earth for over a billion years). Realistically, I'd agree the idea breaks down when you look at too closely, though. I never thought the idea of a recent introduction of Pak/protohumans to Earth made much sense if it was supposed to fit real world evidence.

The native life on Earth, the Kzinti, and the Puppeteers are all supposedly descended from "food yeast". The Kzinti don't have spines and the Puppeteers have three legs and two brainless heads, you wouldn't ever mistake either of them as coming from Earth. While there is a shared basic biochemistry, Known Space aliens tend to have radically different physiologies...the only exception I know of being the Pak breeders, provided the given explanations are taken as truth.

Van Rijn
2014-Jun-14, 01:40 AM
Which is why the idea of a recent introduction of Pak to Earth doesn't make much sense to me. Humans match other Earth life too well, probably too much even if you go back to body forms in the Permian.

grant hutchison
2014-Jun-14, 06:49 PM
Didn't that also have the Tnuctipun creating the Pak?You're right. In fact, skimming the story, I'm now not sure it's the one I thought I recalled.

Grant Hutchison