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 On top of this, much of the science in Niven's early work is now severely out of date.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.
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?
on 11 November 2016
Kindle edition: My kindle copy of this is terribly edited. I think it must have been scanned in by a text reader, I've read the original a couple of times and I know it pretty well, so even though there are some words that are completely wrong (the result of the software mis-identifying a word), it didn't ruin the narrative much. Don't let the shoddy editing and spelling errors put you off though!
The book itself: It's from the 70's, so the science is a bit vague and somewhat lacking. But it's a good ride and a good introduction to one of my long-standing favourite series, and the Ringworld itself is always breathtaking. In his Known Space tales Niven created a universe that's part Starship Troopers, part Star Trek and part Outer Limits - a mix I really enjoy. The Ringworld novels get better as they go on (as does Niven's writing), but this is the starting point upon which the rest is built, so it's worth it.
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.
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.
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.
on 10 October 2005
Niven conjurs up some of the most imaginative characters I have ever read, but even they aren't quite enough to earn this book a place in the SF Masterworks collection. Of course that's only my opinion, and no doubt many will disagree with me, but looking back over the book it felt a little empty.
Louis Wu, a 200 year old man living in a future world, is the main character. A series of odd and unlikely events brings him and the other 3 characters together (only one of which is human - the other two are fascinating aliens that really make the read that much more interesting. Kudos to Niven for his imagination). The story moves along and they set off on their journey to Ringworld, but that's only the beginning as the majority of the book is actually on the Ringworld itself. Although it can be very interesting, at parts it can also be a little tedious, and sometimes you may find yourself having to re-read over certain passages to grasp what's going on - though in honesty it's not often, and for the most part it's very enjoyable, easy reading.
I feel that Niven goes beyond himself a little in the sense that he creates a world millions of times the size of earth - all through the book emphasising it's grand, unthinkable scale - and in the end it's quite beside the point. In fact, the end is what really let me down the most. Niven seems to be building up to something all the way through the book - right until the ending chapters - and when it finally does come you don't feel all that satisfied. Sure there's a good twist and some of your questions are answered, but then many of them aren't, and for a Masterworks I think Ringworld could have generally been a bit better. Perhaps it was too predictable, or the world just wasn't interesting enough? On occasion I found myself losing interest in the story - always expecting that all important twist to be just around the corner - though as I mentioned previously, it doesn't come until the end (and even then it's not all that mind blowing).
I realise that I'm just spilling out my thoughts and trying to be as critical as possible. Too often I come by reviews which just hail the book full of praise and when I finally read it, I end up being slightly disappointed. So here I've tried to highlight on the negatives in the hope that you will read it and see that in fact there are also many positives. It could have been better for a Masterwork, but it's a book I'm very glad to have read. Niven leaves it on a bit of a hanger which would suggest he wanted us to continue with the other Ringworld books, but I doubt I shall.
Overall, I would give it 7/10, saying it was enjoyable but had the potential to be so much better. If anything, it's worth reading for the characters, and the fact that the world they travel is bigger than any you're likely to ever come across. I don't know whether I'll ever get my mind round it's unimaginable size (something in the region of 300 million times bigger than earth).
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.
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.
on 8 September 2015
This story is about a human that is approached by an alien with an offer to join an expedition to explore a new found structure in space. The expedition hits a problem when their ship crashes on the structure and they have no way easily off the planet.
I hate to start any review on a bad note so lets focus on some good points in the book. For starters there is an eight foot warlike 'Garfield' the cat type character (how cool), killer sunflowers, drama within the group of explorers and an amazing idea of the 'new' structure itself.
The down side is the whole book is just dull. The characters were not developed enough in my opinion, they were very unbelievable and one dimensional. There were so many great ideas that were mentioned in the book but jut not followed through in my opinion. I wont be reading the rest.