Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Larry Niven's "The Coldest Place": Niven's first published story

Quote from short story titled The Coldest Place by Larry NivenTechnical aspects of the story are dated, but it's a generally readable tale.

I did not know that it was once thought that a place on Mercury was the coldest in solar system; in fact, "it doesn't get colder than this even between the stars"! Story is based on the knowledge that Mercury always shows the same face to Sun, & there are places on the dark side that are this cold.

Story summary.
Narrator has gone to Mercury with Eric to look for native life forms, based on pictures from a previous mission. They ultimately catch one - a huge amoeba shaped blob made primarily of "Helium II". But aren't quite clear till end if it is alive:

"It's only helium!"
"Helium II. That's all our monsters are."
"Check them for contaminants."
"For what?"
"Contaminants. My body is hydrogen oxide with contaminants. If the contaminants in the helium are complex enough, it might be alive."
"There are plenty of other substances".


  1. This story employs a device that is now rather popular in modern fiction - nervous system of a human integrated into the space ship: "In all directions from his spinal cord and brain, connected at the walls of the intricately shaped glass and soft plastic vessel which housed him, Eric's nerves reached out to master the ship." See, e.g., Peter Watts' "Blindsight" for a simpler version.
Fact sheet.
The Coldest Place, short story, review
First published: If, December 1964
Rating: B
Series: "The Coldest Place", "Becalmed in Hell" (B).


Daniel said...

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