Thursday, December 20, 2007

Larry Niven's "Safe at Any Speed" (short story): Folklore adapted as a science fiction story

Quote from Safe at Any Speed by Larry NivenI first heard a story similar in plot when I was a child - Indian folklore; I now know there are many Indian variants. There probably will be more variants elsewhere in the world. A sea monster eats a man, but the man survives by some heroics - normally but not always after killing the monster.

Story summary.

Narrator is on "Margrave, a world in the first stages of colonization". He is a taking a 2 hour trip by an air car, on autopilot with preprogrammed route. Part way through the flight, the machine & its human occupant is eaten by a local flying monster called "roc"! This eating process has destroyed external communication devices but not life support in the car.

The beast is less powerful than car. Can neither digest it, nor take it anywhere. Instead ends up going where the machine is going! Because external sensor devices are dead, they have an accident - hit some kind of a hill.

For 6 months, the man will live inside the car inside the beast's stomach (car apparently can synthesize food). Will eventually emerge when animal's flesh has sufficiently degenerated, & call for help using flares.

In a settlement with "General Transportation" (the car maker), he will actually get compensation for his pains. Because car makers had not accounted for the fact that car could be eaten by a beast!

Collected in.

  1. Larry Niven's "Tales of Known Space".

Fact sheet.

First published: F&SF, May 1967.
Rating: B
Related: Stories of Larry Niven.