To my mind, my namesake, science fiction writer Larry Niven, is the king of science fiction ideas. Not only are some of his ideas great, but he has a large amount of them.
In the short story, “What Can You Say About Chocolate Covered Manholes?” he offers many ideas purported to be from the same character. The character (we are told) is usually a hit at parties with his interesting conjectures. But we are also told about one of his ideas that fell flat. That would be the chocolate covered manholes that the story is named for.
I haven’t read this story in 25 years but still remember one of the so called gems. That was where instead of strapping blades on your feet and skating on ice, you could instead make a “track” of metal blades and strap blocks of ice to your feet and thus skate in a reverse way. Twenty-five years later I began thinking this idea through. I imagined things I’d like to share with you.
Firstly, I think that a single blade track for your foot’s ice block would be too hard to balance on. Instead, I suggest you make each blade track be doubled up a few inches apart. I can actually see someone skating like this.
Secondly, to stop quickly, like a hockey player, I think you would need to put many blades perpendicular to your skating tracks. Stopping like this would allow you places to rest in the dangerous business of reverse skating.
Now I don’t know enough of the mechanics of figure skating to know how anyone could do turns and jumps – I’ll leave this for the readers that might know. Instead, I will point out that falls are very dangerous on this course and almost certainly going to happen while the reverse skater is learning.
So instead of our guinea pig being seriously injured in her first attempt(s) at skating, I suggest making a protecting suit out of (what else?) – ice.
One solid piece of ice would make movement of our skater impossible, so, there will have to be pieces that might fit together like a suit of armour. Hopefully when our guinea pig wipes out, her suit will be complete enough that ice hits the blades and not her soft flesh. She will, after a fall, slip for a distance but not too far. Getting back up when you are in a suit of ice I leave for my intelligent readers.
Some of you have likely guessed my next tack. Instead of a suit of ice, how about using a suit of armour? You need to still have the blocks of ice on your feet to skate. But this way falling wouldn’t be deadly. Suits of armour are, however, heavy. Our guinea pig might only skate in short bursts and is unlikely to do any graceful jumps with any height.
With every fall will come the sound of steel on steel. And without slipping, each fall might likely result in injury.
So let me just say it. Humans are just too fragile to do this type of skating so let’s make our skaters AI robots. Here’s a way for AIs to enter the sports industry without putting any actual humans out of work. I imagine humans would be interested in watching and setting up the blade tracks in an arena. Why not? Humans watch RCs battle it out under the name of robots. In reverse skating, the robots may even survive the competition.
There is much to discuss in Niven’s throwaway idea. He even identified it as such. Now if that isn’t proof that he is king of the science fiction idea, I don’t know what is.