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Book Reviews by Kristie Groves: Retro Reviews

Larry Niven

Review by Kristie Groves


If you love science fiction, odds are you have read or seen some of Larry Niven?s work. Niven is the author of numerous science fiction short stories and novels, beginning with his 1964 story "The Coldest Place". He won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story with ?Neutron Star? (1967) and ?The Hole Man? (1972). He also won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette with ?The Borderland of Sol? (1976). Niven has also written for television scripts, such as Star Trek: The Animated Series, Land of the Lost, and The Outer Limits.

Many of Niven's stories take place in his Known Space universe, in which humanity shares the several habitable solar systems nearest to the Sun with over a dozen alien species, including aggressive felines Kzinti and super-intelligent but cowardly Pierson's Puppeteers, which are frequently central characters. The Ringworld series is set in the Known Space universe.

FileWhen finished, click Save or Cancel below. Change PermissionsReadWriteIn the year 2855, four adventurers explore a mysterious "ringworld": an enormous, artificial, ring-shaped structure that surrounds a star. The story is set in an extremely technologically advanced universe, where instant teleportation and almost indestructible spacecraft hulls are commonplace. Niven brings us the protaganist, Louis Wu, from his short story series ?Tales of Known Space? and expands him within the novel format.

Louis is likable enough, a two hundred year old man who is drawn into an adventure with 3 other sentient beings, two aliens and one human. The alien characters bring in some interesting interactions. There is Nessus, a puppeteer, who is a trembling coward with a built-in survival pattern of nonviolence. He has, however, been called insane by his peers.

And then there is Speaker-To-Animals, who is a Kzin. He is large, orange furred and carniverous and belongs to one of the most savage species in the known universe. And then there is Teela Brown, a young human female who is wide eyed and innocent, but has all the luck in the world.

Ringworld begins with the celebration of Louis Wu's two-hundredth birthday. Bored, Wu begins traveling around the globe, always ahead of the midnight line, in order to extend the event and finds himself in the company of a puppeteer, a strange alien race unseen by humans for several centuries. This puppeteer, Nessus, recruits Wu, Speaker-to-Animals and Teela Brown to go on an expedition.

When their ship crash lands on the Ringworld, after being hit by the powerful meteor defense system and then striking one of the near-invisible shadow-square wires, the adventurers must set out to find a way to get back into space. They cross vast distances, witness strangely evolved ecosystems, and interact with some of the Ringworld's varied primitive civilizations. They attempt to discover what caused the Ringworld's inhabitants to lose their technology, and puzzle over who created the Ringworld and why.

Although Niven attempts to weave various subplots into the story, none of them are as interesting or as well thought out as world itself. The idea that puppeteers were breeding humans for luck, resulting in Teela Brown, never really becomes believable, even though the three males on the expedition all buy into the theory eventually. The relationship between Wu and Brown lacks chemistry. Wu?s connection is better with the kzin and puppeteer.

The creation of thoroughly worked-out alien species, which are very different from humans both physically and mentally, is recognized as one of Niven's main strengths. However, the criticism has been made that once the basic characteristics of Niven's alien species have been defined, all subsequent actions by members of that species seem predictable. The dialogue seems to be more like a monlogue, with one train of thought driving the interaction between the characters.

The strength of the book is clearly the Ringworld itself. The idea's genesis came from Niven's attempts to imagine a more efficient version of a Dyson Sphere, which could produce the illusion of surface gravity through rotation. I have included the following table, for all you Math junkies out there (information from Wikipedia).

All in all, I found this book to be enjoyable. Although the characters left me personally a little flat, I enjoyed immensely the concept of the world and see much potential in the sequel books. From what I hear, to fully appreciate the Ringworld concept, one should read the follow-up books, including Ringworld Engineers, and The Ringworld Throne. These books allow Niven to ellaborate on the concepts he clearly could not fit into one book.

Ringworld parameters
Height of rim walls
Surface area
Surface gravity
Spin velocity
Sun's spectral class
Day length
Rotational time
9.5?07 miles (~1.5?08 km) (~1 AU)
6?08 miles (~9.7?08 km)
997,000 miles (1,600,000 km)
1,000 miles (1,600 km)
2?027 kg (1.8?024 short tons) (1,250,000 kg/m?, e.g. 250 m thick, 5,000 kg/m?)
6?014 sq mi (1.6?015 km?); 3 million times the surface area of Earth.
0.992 gee (~9.69 m/s?)
770 miles/second (~1,200,000 m/s)
G3 verging on G2; "barely smaller and cooler than Sol"
30 hours
7.5 Ringworld days (225 hours, 9.375 Earth days)

On Ringworld, time longer than a day is measured in falans, with 1 falan being 10 turns or 75 Ringworld days (93.75 Earth days), so 4 falans is slightly longer than 1 Earth year.

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