Larry Niven and a Star Trek (TOS) animated episode

It’s at moments like this that I realize I’m not as cool as I think I am…

I was reading Larry Niven’s Ringworld (and enjoying it more than I thought I would, although it is strictly an idea book, and there is very little character development after the beginning sections). On page 11 of my copy I came across the following, and realized this was referring to a Niven short story that an animated Star Trek (TOS) was based on:

The puppeteer answered immediately, and without a tremor in its voice. “It was I who, on a world which circles Beta Lyrae, kicked a kzin called Chuft-Captain in the belly with my hind hoof, breaking three struts of his endoskeletal structure. I have need of a kzin of courage.”

Kzinti: Star Trek the animated series (1973)Nessus, the puppeteer in the quote above, was referring to an event in a Larry Niven short story, The Soft Weapon, which was adapted into an animated Star Trek episode, The Slaver Weapon (1973). There is much more back-story in Niven’s short story (in Niven’s story the artifacts were created by the Tnuctip, who revolted against the Thrint , the so-called  ‘Slavers,’  a telepathic race that ruled the galaxy through mind control).  In The Soft Weapon, there is a human couple (replaced in the Star Trek episode with Nyota Ohura and Hikaru Sulu), a puppeteer (two-headed, three-legged, sentient beings, more intelligent than humans, but with an intelligence ruled by a ‘logical’ cowardice. In the Star Trek episode, Commander Spock is placed in the role of the puppeteer), and a spaceship with kzinti pirates (Niven’s kzinti look like rotund, eight-foot tall orange cats, and they are fierce, muscular warriors: their depiction in the Star Trek episode is done poorly, and their pink uniforms are a ghastly mistake).

Apparently, Larry Niven was asked to write an episode for the animated series, but had difficulties creating a story that satisfied the producers; Gene Roddenberry suggested adapting The Soft Weapon, and the rest is history.

When I watched the Star Trek episode with my daughter, I knew it was based on a Larry Niven story, but the details were foggy; it filled my inner geek with joy when I came across the passage in Ringworld serendipitously, thereby releasing the memory (with some help from google). I was also struck by the delicate balance between cool and geek ; alas, I’m quite proud of my inner geek…

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