Larry Niven's 'The Soft Weapon'

Science Fiction author Larry Niven wrote a short story entitled "The Soft Weapon" which first appeared in Worlds of If in February 1967. That story concerned the crew of the spaceship Court Jester who had in their possession a stasis box and who were captured by a group of Kzinti pirates. The persons aboard the Court Jester were Jason Papandreou, a human male, his wife Anne-Marie and Nessus a Pierson's Puppeteer.

Years later, Niven would rewrite the short story as the script of an Animated STAR TREK episode. The episode was entitled "The Slaver Weapon" and originally aired on December 15, 1973. "The Slaver Weapon" was one of the best STAR TREK stories ever to air on television. The story was exciting, intelligent and thought provoking and is one of the chief reasons why the Animated STAR TREK series should be taken seriously as a science fiction series.

I encourage anyone who has not read Niven's original short story, to do so. The story was reprinted in 1968 in Neutron Star a collection of Larry Niven's stories. Neutron Star was published in April 1968 by Ballantine Books (ISBN# 0-345-33694-1). It is now out of print, but the following book, that is in print, contains the story.

Playgrounds of the Mind by Larry Niven (published by Tor Books in 1991) is a great treat for fans of the geatest science fiction author of our age. It is Niven's second volume of notes, exerpts and essays related to his long and storied career, the first being N-Space. This is an excellent book that I only discovered recently. In a section devoted to lost story ideas, Mr. Niven describes that originally he wrote three treatments for the animated STAR TREK series. In 1973, Dorothy C. Fontana had asked Niven to write an episode of the animated STAR TREK series. His first story treatment involved quantum black holes and the Outsiders - a very alien species which were built like a black cat-o'-nine-tails and had photoelectric metabolisms. Fontana advised him that the story wouldn't work for the series. His second attempt proved to be "too bloody." While at Gene Roddenberry's house one afternoon, Gene suggested that Larry Niven rewrite his short story "The Soft Weapon" which had been reprinted in 1968 in Neutron Star a collection of Larry Niven's stories. This third attempt became the finished episode "The Slaver Weapon." Interestingly, Niven's first idea - which involved quantum black holes - formed the basis for his later story "The Borderland of Sol" which was first published in the January 1975 issue of Analog magazine. "The Borderland of Sol" was such an excellent story, that it won the 1975 Hugo award for best novelette.

The Kzinti, which featured in the episode and short story, were first mentioned in the short story "The Warriors" written by Larry Niven which was published in the February 1966 issue of Worlds of If magazine (pictured right). The Slavers and their empire first appeared one year earlier in the 1965 novella "World of Ptavvs" by Larry Niven which was published in the March 1965 issue of Worlds of Tomorrow magazine (pictured left). The actual name of the Slaver species, which was not mentioned in the animated episode, was the Thrint.

Below is a table containing a side-by-side comparison of the short story "The Soft Weapon" and the Animated STAR TREK episode "The Slaver Weapon." Only the differences between the two stories are listed below.


The Soft WeaponThe Slaver Weapon
Short Story Animated STAR TREK episode
First published in Feb. 1967 First aired in Dec. 1973
Court Jester spaceship Copernicus shuttlecraft
Crew: Jason Papandreou, Anne-Marie and Nessus Crew: Sulu, Uhura and Spock
Kzinti talked to Jason Papandreou because he was a carnivore Kzinti talked to Sulu because he was a carnivore
Kzinti underestimated Nessus because he was a herbivorous pacifist Kzinti underestimated Spock because he was a herbivorous pacifist
Kzinti ignored Anne-Marie because she was a female Kzinti ignored Uhura because she was a female
Stasis box was made by the Tnuctipun Stasis box was made by the Slavers
The stasis box was obtained by Nessus from the Outsiders The stasis box was found on the planet Kzin
Boxes are found by deep radar scan Stasis boxes can detect other boxes
Box contained severed Slaver hand as a trophy Box contained photo of a Slaver
One setting of the device was a projectile-firing weapon (No such setting)
Weapon had seven settings Weapon had nine settings
Device learns then speaks the Kzinti language Device speaks English (Federation standard) immediately
Court Jester crew wore Space Suits Starfleet personnel used Life-support belts