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Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

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Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

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CLASSIC REVIEW | Ringworld by Larry Niven

Ringworld is one of the best known Sci-Fi novels of the last fifty years. It is often cited along side Ender's Game as a must read member of the Sci-Fi canon long before its inclusion in the Masterworks series. This review was originally intended for the SFF Masterworks Blog, but it just didn't feel right to put it there as I didn't have as much to say as I thought I would.

So, this two hundred year old human, a sexy young blonde, and two aliens crash land in this bar I mean on this flat ring world object....

That is about the gist of Ringworld if a bit on the glib side. Ringworld is an adventurous style Sci-Fi read that has been lauded for generations now ever since it won the Nebula in 1970. Ringworld is hard Sci-Fi, but comes off feeling of a much lighter variety than most even amongst the discussion of genetic breeding, advanced propulsion, and the physics behind moving worlds. Humans have been proliferating dozens of worlds for generations in Known Space to the point that nearly the whole race is pampered all day round and few have any sense of adventure and desire to explore.

Cue human Louis Gridley Wu who at 200 is one of the few with the spirit to leave the comforts of his home and the non-stop party that is everyday life for most humans. After a mysterious two-headed alien from the cowardly and technologically advanced Puppeteer race asks him to journey on a covert mission he acquiesces along with his latest nubile sex partner Teela and a cat-like bi-pedal alien from a warlike race that has been decimated over generations. The group is than off to investigate a mysterious ring around a star and be cannon fodder for the Puppeteer who is basically scared of his own shadow.

In many ways the species names give far too much away to the point of not being veiled at all. Nearly all the characters have ulterior motives for going on the adventure and one in particular is holding back a lot of knowledge. Niven's greatest weakness is the lack of explaining the emotions that the characters are going through. They come off as either two willing or too stilted given some of the revelations that come up. Teela especially comes off as just a sex object and is given very little depth.

Overall, the ideas of evolution are the most interesting aspect explored and many of the other scientific concepts and races are appealing yet the actual story seems to be lacking that aspect that makes you care about it all. Ringworld is clearly an essential read if you're into Science Fiction, but it doesn't seem to hold up as well as other classics written in the same era such as The Left Hand of Darkness or Rendezvous with Rama which also won the Nebula around the same time.

Without Ringworld we probably wouldn't have the video game Halo it has also clearly influenced Banks' Culture novels. I give Ringworld 6.5 out of 10 hats.  I can see why some find Ringworld to be an such a wonderful read what with its massive universe building in such a small page count while telling a fairly original adventure story, but the characters were too one dimensional and the main story was not as grabbing as some of the underlying developments that are sure to be addressed in later volumes in this now long running series (eight books at last count in what is know as the Known Space universe). What Niven started with Ringworld does beg further exploration of the Universe as there are many unanswered questions about the Fleet of Worlds and other races that I'm more than a little curious about. The possibilities for this Universe are quite vast; hopefully they just don't end up as feeling as dated as this effort.

NOTE: After I started reading Ringworld the story seemed very familiar and first I wondered if I had read it before, but that wasn't exactly the case. My reading of Ringworld may have been hampered by Strata by Terry Pratchett which I read a few months prior during a rash of old Pratchett reading. Pratchett's Strata was intended as a comedic version of Ringworld so a lot of the setup, characters, and story were quite similar.

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4 comments:

dawn the glass beadmaker said...

there are quite a few novels set in this universe, exploring different aspect of it all.

Rabid Fox said...

Hard sci-fi has always been a genre I've been resistant towards. On the rare occasions I read it, a slim percentage of books wind up being pleasurable reads.

I've got a ratty old paperback of this book sitting in my closet somewhere--unread. And now knowing there is a Pratchett parody of it, I may go for that one, rather than Niven's.

That's just me.

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I just bought this novel the other day because I read the newer stuff in the Fleet of Worlds series. I really liked what I've read, hence why I've bought the original, so maybe you'll resonate better with newer like you said.

You learn tons about the Puppeteers and Gw'oth both pretty insane alien species.

Lynn S. said...

Your review is simply generous, 6.5 out of 10 hats. I'd say, it sounds like a softer 5. But still, it's quite intriguing.