62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2001
Niven is not wthout his problems as a writer. His characters are thin, his prose undistinguished to the point of brevity, and anybody reading him expecting the depth of Banks or even Hamilton will be sorely disappointed. On top of this, much of the science in Niven's early work is now severely out of date. So having dissed the guy utterly, why should I recommend this book? Well, because it's fab, that's why. This, for me is Nivens most successful novel; he does actually have a way with language and he is the master of the classic guy-in-a-situation short story - this is what his technique is built around - his strengths are speed, clarity, economy. This novel dumps you into the thick of known space intrigue. It's actually as sixties a universe as anything by Moorcock, but in a totally different way; a free swinging californian universe full of, well, fun. Mind battering super-science sits so happily with the surreal aliens, humorous touches, and sheer zest of the book, that it's just impossible not to like it. The plot is simple, but perfectly effective, and frames a simple road-journey/travel narrative through one of SF's most singular domains. For those tired of po-faced 'literary' SF on one hand, or multi-volume doorstop space-opera on the other, why not put your literary snobbery in stasis, and go have some fun in Niven's playground.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This was hailed to me as a classic by several pals who, like me, enjoy hard scifi. My friends were truly passionate about the book, with all its quirky detail and humor, so I agreed to read it. No this is personal, but it just didn't work for me that well.
The plot takes place on a massive belt that is build around a sun, kind of like a ribbon Dyson sphere. As it spins, it creates an artificial gravity for the inhabitants, who are unknown. An unlikely team - an Asian, a felinoid Kzin, a girl gifted with luck, and an alien prostitute - enter and try to unlock its secrets. They go on a long journey and there are many funny asides, such as when the Kzin gets all his fur burned off with the exception of the bush he was sitting upon and a band around his shielded eyes. There are also some very interesting details, such as the medical advances of the time but also the notions that some people are genetically lucky. However, by the end, I did not like the explanation of what had happened: rather than awe, I felt disappointment that it wasn't more clever.
Recommended. It is good hard scifi. I just expected more after so many enthusiastic endorsements.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2005
Larry Niven's Ringworld has a mundane plot. A party of adventurers crash on an alien artefact and attempt to escape from it. The plot, however, is to all intents and purposes irrelevant. I am gripped by the conviction that Niven envisaged the artefact in question and simply wanted to come up with a vehicle to describe it over the course of 280 pages or so. The construction in question is a solid band circling a planet, a million miles in radius which has been terraformed by architects whose presence is still felt despite their absence, and which has now fallen into decay. Niven muses over the intricacies of its form and function, from the foundation material to the cloud squares which separate night from day, and constructs a wholly convincing environment in so doing. A few paragraphs of scant description will not do his successes in this regard justice, and I would recommend reading it for these evocations of a vast alien environment alone. Ringworld's habitats remind us of our own, yet are described as being of such a scale as to make the reader feel insignificant even within the pages of the book. On closing it, our own world seems rarer and less familiar, increasing in magnitude as we ourselves diminish, overturning the familiar trope of 'the shrinking world' and letting us once again revel in the scale of nature. Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas reworks the idea of the ringworld to great effect, but Larry Niven got there first.
Winner of the 1971 Hugo Award, Ringworld is also noteworthy for some (but not all) of its characters. The four adventurers are (ostensibly) led -- or, more accurately, hired by -- Nessus of the Puppeteers, who resembles a large semi-plucked turkey with two necks, a brace of python heads, and bipolar disorder. Speaker To Animals is an oversized brawny ginger tom cat of the warlike Kzin race, which has battled mankind for centuries and been overthrown as a consequence of the Puppeteers technological intervention on behalf of humanity. As it turns out, the Puppeteers have been manipulating both races for their own ends, a fact which Niven (hilariously) tries to deploy as a plot twist; but the clue is in the name, isn't it? The two humanoids, Louis Wu (chosen for his experience) and Teela Brown (chosen for her supposed luck) are, frankly, tedious, and the exposition regarding their relationship slows the book to down to a crawl in a places.
In summary, whilst I could hardly recommend Ringworld for the telling of its story alone, Niven's peerless description of an alien artefact of almost incomprehensible enormousness is what makes this book so satisfying. Take his conjuration of some of that wonder from it and see your own world through it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2013
Niven has a prodigious imagination, particularly when it comes to hardware, which is both a strength and a weakness of this book. The universe on display is impressively cogent. There are wonders a plenty, lovingly described, through authorial asides and pages where the characters speculate on their observations. All of which makes the pace rather pedestrian. In fact, much of the book reads like a travelogue. By page 100 I was wishing they'd land the bloody spaceship and get on with things. Eventually they do and the pace does pick up towards the end.
Generally, though, this is a not a book of action but of ideas. Central among these is the ring world itself, which has become an icon of science fiction. Much of the impact of this book depends upon your reaction to this artefact and the less you know about it before you start the better.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2006
Ringworld is an adventure/discovery book. It tells the story of 200 year-old Louis Wu who is contacted by a curious 2 headed turkey-like alien called Nessus who wants to assemble a team to explore the eponymous Ringworld his species has recently discovered. The other members of his team include an 8 foot high, orange cat-like alien called Speaker-To-Animals and a naïve, 20 year old girl called Teela Brown we learn is chosen for her luck. The book then proceeds to follow their journey to the Ringworld itself and subsequently across it.
The idea itself, the Dyson sphere, is both imaginative and awe-inspiring. Its humongous scale is exemplified by the huge rim walls and a colossal mountain (over a 1000 miles high) called the Fist-Of-God. It would have been impossible for Niven to flesh out the entire world as there would be too much to cover so it is told from the viewpoint of the four members’ expedition through a limited section of the ‘artifact’. In this respect it succeeds admirably in world-building in a supposedly ‘hard’ science context.
But I gave this 3.5 stars because a good idea itself is not enough to make it REALLY good. The characters for one thing are atrociously developed and two dimensional. This would be forgivable if Niven focussed on furthering the plot but he delves too much into the character’s relationship with each other including a rather odd romance (if that) between a 200 year old man and a girl one tenth his age. Similarly Nessus suffers from seemingly bipolar disorder which seemed completely out of place. The most interesting being for me was Speaker. An angry, violent, 8 foot orange cat sounds ridiculous but his species’ history with humans, his interactions with Nessus and his Samurai-like ways make him, for me, the best of the bunch. As for Louis Wu there’s nothing redeeming about him whatsoever. As a protagonist he’s just too boring! The author attempts some ill-advised sex scenes to spice things up but erotica this is not. Something about Teela being ‘impaled’ did not endear me to his writing.
Therefore it makes it very difficult to read this story if you really couldn’t care less whether a character was killed or not. And apparently neither do the characters themselves when such an occasion does arise. However the novel does have several revelatory moments which make you think “hmm…that was conceptually stimulating” but because the people populating it are so dull and lifeless it is just not a classic SF book in my opinion. I’m all for hard science but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to display dodgy character development and simplistic writing.
Makes you think who were the other contenders for the Hugo and Nebula awards when this managed to snatch them both?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2010
This is a book in Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe. His works in this series are generally free standing, in that you don't have to have read any one to read any other, it is just that if you have read another, you get a slightly broader background. This isn't always good, sometimes flaws of logic in one book make the whole scheme less plausible, but on the whole it's perhaps better that way than not, even so.
Ringworld is developed from an earlier story where the centre of our galaxy is discovered to be going bang! in a big way, with a shockwave coming our way at the speed of light, we have FTL travel so that's theoretically no problem, and it's due to become urgent many millenia from the "now" of the story, but anyway somebody wants some exploring done.
I read a lot of science fiction as a youth, from a local library, this is science fiction. As such it's about ideas more than character development. I can read Ian M Banks, but I'd prefer Niven for tech ideas.
The puppetters are not turkeys, they occur in many of Niven's stories, they are devious intelligent herbivores, and devout cowards, with two front legs, one hind leg, a brain in their torso and two necks that function as arms and mouths that are also hands, they are among the most interesting semi-plausible but really alien intelligent aliens in science fiction.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2009
Ringworld is, on it's surface, a fun space opera with some "real science" thrown in. The worlds are imaginatively built, the pace is good and there is a nice feel of mystery and fun.
The book hasn't aged well in the respect that it's plainly aimed at the adolescent male, brimful with reported or implied sexual encounters, none of which serve the plot in any way. The two female characters are both beautiful (what's the point of an ugly woman, right?) and shallow; one is a petulant brat whose charmed life has left her bereft of humanity, the other is a spaceship's doxy who sees herself as some sort of sexual ambassador -- I mean, really!? ...But at least Niven reveals that the hero is a little insecure about his sexual prowess.
Anyway, I'm making a big deal out the misogyny, which isn't all that bad, for sci-fi of the period. What really ticked me off was that, in-between all the naked swimming and humping, no-one says a sexual swearword! No, really; to avoid using obscenities, Niven invents "tanj", a catch-all swear-word that has no explicit meaning and is hugely irritating to read over and over again. Because casual sex is fine, as long as there's no dirty words.
Writers: for tanj's sake, use an honest-to-goodness four-letter word, use reported speech, or just don't have your characters swear at all. Please!
What else? Oh yeah! Remember I mentioned a character that has led a charmed life? Well, the big revelation at the end of the novel involves Teela (wasn't that the girl in He-Man?)and it explains why she's such an airhead. It is also utterly illogical and a massive anticlimax.
This book won both the Hugo and Nebula awards!? I much prefer Tower Of Glass (Gollancz SF collector's edition) by Robert Silverberg.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2006
Having read this 30 years ago I recently re-read it and I still like it. The science is consistent, the aliens are well thought out and the imagery of a ring 600 million miles in circumference and a million miles across is stupendous.
This is the story of Louis Wu who lives in the far future and his trip to this huge artefact. They have been hired to investigate by the Pearson's puppeteers, three legged and two headed cowards. They crash on the ringworld and there find out much about the puppeteers meddling with other races.
Other reviewers find the characterisation poor but I would say it is more primitive. Much of science fiction written after this shows its influence. The Kzinti have been described by some as samurai-like big cats on two legs. Speaker to animals commands well, a rare skill in samurai. He thinks on his feet too, making quick decisions. Nessus is a difficult character to portray being half mad and ancient to boot but the author has a stab at it. Teela Brown is shallow but this is part of the plot. Louis Wu shows human failings but do these detract or add to the character?
Is this a masterwork? Yes! Its bold and innovative, internally consistent and rapidly sketches out a scenario which has succesfully supported dozens of works by many other authors. For the affioncado there are glimpses of this everywhere. I once saw the cartoon version of Star Trek where instead of Warf the Klingon there was a kzinti.
This is a classic old style SF tale. Not everyone will like it but it is still worth a read.
on 9 December 2009
Ringworld still has the old magic. I had to buy a new copy as the old one from the 70's was long since given away/lent/lost. I must say I really enjoyed re-reading Ringworld. A sense of wonder abounds as the crew learn how the Puppeteers came to be and traverse Puppeteers' mobile home -- a Big Mysterious Object in and of itself, requiring stepping discs that traverse city blocks like seven league boots. They arrive at Ringworld only to be attacked by the ring's self-defenses against meteors, crippling their ship's ability to do anything but crash-land. Along their picaresque quest for knowledge behind the ring's mysteries, the motley crew of merry adventurers encounter flying castles, a huge eyeball suspended in the sky staring at them, prison cells that allow no escape but death, savage men, a god-like creature who seems to have only the merest handle on the ring's construction, and a mountain so large that it stretches beyond the ring's atmosphere. It's so very imaginative and the world created so very real.
on 3 June 2008
Without question this novel is one of the finest science fiction novels ever written. It completely fulfills the purpose of a science fiction novel without the slightest pretense or facade literary worthiness. It presents a traditional adventure - a classic journey on a epic scale. It is filled with tantalising mystery and hundreds of unanswered questions in the finest tradition of adventure writing. It rarely descends into fashionable populism and never expects the reader to indulge it nor assumes them to be a incapable of rational thought. It is meant to be entertaining and it has successfully entertained me every single summer since I first read it in 1984, when I always set aside time to read both this and Ringworld Engineers again.
One of the redeeming features of this novel (or any of its peers) is that it will never ever appear in the latest selection of recommended High School English novels - which I would regard as easily all the endorsement it needs.