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Teela Brown is a fictional character created by Larry Niven in the Ringworld novels. Teela was a member of the crew recruited by Puppeteer Nessus for an expedition to the Ringworld. Her sole qualification was that she was descended from "lucky" ancestors, six generations of whom were born as a result of winning Earth's Birthright Lottery. The consequence of her state was that she'd led such a charmed and worry-free life that she was emotionally immature and unprepared for "harsh reality." The Puppeteer saw this as a kind of artificial selection, tending to breed for a psionic power of good luck. He hoped Teela would bring luck and success to the entire expedition.
Teela is a descendent of a former lover of Louis Wu. Her age in Ringworld is given as twenty, though there are conflicting data in later books. She joins the Ringworld expedition, and eventually becomes separated from the group. She meets a Ringworld native called "Seeker," and decides to remain with him on the Ringworld while the remainder of the crew returns to human space.
In The Ringworld Engineers, when a second expedition returns to the Ringworld, it is revealed that Teela has become a Protector-stage human. Her new instincts force her to protect the Ringworld population. When she realizes those instincts are driving her toward an unacceptable choice, she manipulates the other characters into killing her.
Further details of her life become sketchy as the Ringworld story continues through three more novels. Her story is a matter of guesswork and deduction on the part of the characters, and are subject to retconning from one work to another. The influence of Teela's luck is a significant factor in the story.
The Luck of Teela Brown
According to the story in Ringworld (expanded in the Known Space novel Juggler of Worlds), the Puppeteers intervened with human reproduction beginning several generations in the past, with the intention of breeding humans for luck. This would be possible because they believed luck to be an inheritable psionic ability. They suspected such an ability was latent in humans already, having come to regard humanity as an unusually lucky species.
The plan worked by manipulating the reproductive laws of Earth. To stem overcrowding, the planet had strict birth control laws, limiting the number of children each person could have. The Puppeteers caused the further adoption of a Birthright Lottery, whereby any person could win the opportunity to reproduce more often. Since reproduction could be affected by pure chance, luckier people would have more children, who would inherit that luck. Therefore, the power of luck should become stronger and more widespread in each generation.
In Ringworld's Children we learn that Teela Brown and Seeker had a child, who remained on the Ringworld after the end of the Fringe War. Louis speculates that Teela's luck might work for the survival of her genes, rather than Teela herself.
The existence and nature of Teela's luck is debated back and forth by the characters throughout the four-book series. For most of the first book, Louis believes her to be only a statistical fluke. That is, he believes that Nessus only picked a person who had been lucky in her life so far, not one who actually causes luck to happen. But by the end of the series Louis says he believes the luck is real, because he sees no other explanation for the appalling coincidences that have swirled around her life.
Niven has described the problems that such a character and such a trait pose to his story and to his fictional universe. He calls it "Author Control" to illustrate the plot and story limitations it imposes on the creative process. The story "Safe at Any Speed" is set in a time when the Teela Gene is more common among humans. Niven says there will not be more stories from this time: "Stories about infinitely lucky people tend to be dull." This indicates that the author felt constrained to develop story lines around Teela consistent with the view that luck is genetic and inheritable—any hardship inflicted upon Teela which appears unlucky on first glance must thereafter be revealed as concealing a silver lining of greater import in order to maintain indeterminacy, at the expense of dissipating plot tension (Teela was never in any danger really)—regardless of the views expressed by various characters within the narrative.
Teela can also be viewed as a lampshade trope, by bending narrativium to function as a plot device ("a hero will always win when outnumbered, since million-to-one chances are dramatic enough to crop up nine times out of ten").
- Introduction to "Safe at Any Speed" as published in Tales of Known Space (Del Rey Books 1975)