When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS

Larry Niven is best known as author of Ringworld novels and creator of the Known Space universe — but did you know he also helped to reinvent the Green Lantern Corps and their masters, the Guardians?

You might have seen Larry Niven's Green Lantern graphic novel, Ganthet's Tale, which he co-created with artist John Byrne. (Copies are harder to find these days, but Amazon has it used for about $4.) But Niven's involvement with Green Lantern actually started before that.

Sometime — I'm guessing in the late 1980s, judging from the references to Green Lantern #200 in the document — DC Comics editors Denny O'Neil and Dan Raspler approached a few science fiction writers, including Niven, asking for help fleshing out the backstory of Green Lantern. And Niven agreed to create a document called the Green Lantern Bible, which nobody outside of DC has ever read in its entirety — but a big chunk of it is reproduced in Niven's 1992 book, Playgrounds of the Mind.

When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS

Among other things, Niven clarified that the reason the power ring is a ring is because "it'll stay on almost any shape of alien." And the Guardians are blue now, but "they evolved pink." And Krona, the scientist who tried to view the beginning of the universe and unwittingly unleashed evil on the cosmos, is reinvented as someone who unleashed entropy, not evil. But Niven's biggest contribution, judging from the excerpt in his book, was to flesh out the history of the Guardians, who came from the planet Maltus and migrated to the planet Oa, where they currently live.

According to Niven, the Maltusians developed mental powers, which granted them near-immortality because they could wipe out any impurities and ailments in their own bodies. But these runaway psi powers also made it too easy for the more immature Maltusians to wipe out any predators or irritants in the natural environment, trashing the ecosystem of their planet completely. Their careless use of mental powers reduced their world to a wasteland. So they launched a series of terraforming projects to see how they could fix Maltus — and Oa was one of these.

And in Niven's version, Oa had an indigenous species before the Maltusians arrived and became the Guardians. The Maltusians wiped the natives out, with the Maltusian males tricking the females into helping by boiling an ocean where the natives had a settlement. When this was discovered, the female Maltusians left the males forever, becoming a separate species: the Zamorans.

When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS

In the Ganthet's Tale comic, Niven fleshes out some of his history of the Maltusians, including the stuff about the scientist Krona who unleashed entropy on the cosmos. Krona tried to view the beginnings of creation by looking ahead, at the end of the universe, and looping around — but he inadvertently caused the universe's beginning and end to be connected, so that entropy was unleashed.

It's a well-established fact in the DC Universe that if you try to view the beginnings of creation, you'll see a giant hand, showing that the Guardians were there at the beginning of everything. But this is actually a lie, created to protect the Guardians from enemies who might try and travel back through time and attack the Guardians when they were just the puny Maltusians. But the existence of this illusion at the beginning of time goaded Krona into wanting to see the origin of the universe for himself, thus causing entropy, so one Guardian, named Dawlakispokpok, plans to remedy matters.

When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS

According to a recent review posted at The Indigo Tribe:

Hal and Ganthet are quickly defeated and captured, and "Dawly" explains to his prisoners that it was he who created the "giant hand" illusion in the first place simply to prevent other beings from seeing the true origins of the Maltusians. They were a weak and warlike race just like any other with no real claim to universal authority. Dawly plans to remove the illusion from the timestream so that Krona will not damage the universe in the past. Unfortunately, Dawly and his family end up causing the very accident that Krona was blamed for in the first place. Dawly is killed, but his wife and son surrender.

Apart from fleshing out the origins of the Guardians and explaining what really happened with Krona — who's still an important figure in the Green Lantern mythos today — Ganthet's Tale also introduces Ganthet, a Guardian who played an important part in the Green Lantern comics of the 1990s, including giving Kyle Rayner his ring.

When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS


When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS

The coolest moment in the comic comes when Hal is fighting Dawly's kids, who also have Green Lantern powers, and he flies away from the battle — but not because he's scared. The Green Lantern ring-beam is a standing wave of light, and if you get far enough away, it shifts from green to yellow — the one power that the Guardians have no power over. At least, not back in the day.

When Larry Niven reinvented the Green Lantern universeS


It's also been pointed out, over at Indigo Tribe that the cover and one interior page both show a bunch of alien members of the Green Lantern Corps — and one of them is a Pierson's Puppeteer, one of the aliens from Niven's Known Space books!

A lot of the stuff that Niven introduced to the Green Lantern universe has been tossed out since then, in the many waves of reinventions and reboots that Green Lantern has gone through. But his attempts to take some of the goofier aspects of Green Lantern lore and replace them with hard science (including the giant hand at the dawn of creation, and the idea that viewing the origins of everything unleashed "evil") have helped bring Green Lantern a lot closer to being one of the all-time great science fiction universes. [via Indigo Tribe and Scans Daily]