#13 – Ringworld Review – Larry Niven

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Any book that begins with the main character teleporting to different time zones in order to prolong his 200th birthday party is worth giving a chance. And while Ringworld doesn’t exactly live up to its intriguing opening, it’s still a fun read with its share of interesting ideas and characters. The most interesting of those ideas is the titular Ringworld, a colossal artificial ring orbiting a distant star. The architects of the Ringworld and their purpose in building it form the central mystery of the novel, although the shallow characters and improbable circumstances threaten to overshadow it.

Ringworld Summary: The book tells the story of Louis Wu (our birthday boy!) and his fellow companions on a mission to the Ringworld to investigate its origins. Joining him on the journey are Nessus (a two-headed herbivore with a cowardly streak), Speaker-to-Animals (a Tiger/Human hybrid-like alien with a nasty temper) and Teela Brown, a fellow human. While it’s not immediately apparent, each of the members of the crew have been selected for a specific reason. After crash landing on the mysterious world, the group sets out on a mission to the edge of the ring where they hope to find some sort of technology that will help them get back into space. Along the way, the group encounters a number of strange things, including a primitive human-like civilization and a field of sunflowers that somehow shoot laser beams at the intruders (don’t ask).

Ringworld Review: Although the basic premise of the novel should have made for a great read, I felt like the book got bogged down in the middle with too much exposition and technical minutiae. While I wouldn’t exactly call this “Hard” Sci-Fi, I do think that Niven spent way too much time explaining the mechanical workings of the Ringworld (including exact measurements of its radius, gravity and spin velocity) and not enough time painting a vivid picture of what was actually happening to the main characters – or why we should care about them at all. I often found myself not being able to tell which of the two alien species were talking at any given moment. I’m as much of a fan of otherworldy awe and spectacle as the next guy, but if its not supported by someone I can relate to (or at least root for), then it often falls flat.

In its defensive, Ringworld actually seems like an introduction to a much larger (and more interesting story), and with three sequels and three prequels currently available, I’m betting that the characters and story eventually get fleshed out even more. And while I may not be clamoring to figure out exactly who these mysterious Ringworld Engineers were (and how the hell they built it), I’m sure that there are plenty of people who are.

Ringworld Series: Ringworld | The Ringworld Engineers | The Ringworld Throne | Ringworld’s Children

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September 18, 2010

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