Ringworld by Larry Niven

I hadn’t read Ringworld in at least a decade, and probably closer to two, when I picked it up again a couple of weeks back.

Originally published in 1970, the book has held up terrifically. Not for Niven, one of those far-future societies that’s a replication of the author’s own era. The use of “men” and “man,” where, today, “humans” and “humanity” would be more likely stuck out as slightly anachronistic. And the invented swear words were odd, too, though they may also be a bit of a joke on Niven’s part. The things that humans swear by and about and with are pretty consistent across time and culture; inventing something in this department may have been the author thumbing his nose at residual prudery in the publishing of his era.

I was also impressed by a couple of science references, particularly neutrinos, but a little Wiki research shows they were first detected in the mid-1950s, so maybe that’s not so unusual. Still, for all that Niven has to engage in hand-waving to get faster-than-light travel, the rest of the science seems respectfully handled.

One structural question, though. Clearly the initial impetus for the book was the idea of the Ringworld itself. It’s not a character-driven novel; at most, it’s driven by the intersection of the characters with the setting. Given the setting, though, why tell the particular story that Niven does? Is it just that the first encounter story is the crucial one? Maybe it does work backward from there: setting, contact, what makes for an interesting encounter, and so forth.

I’ve changed a lot since I first read the book, and I like to think that I’ve gotten more sophisticated in how I read things, so I was all the more pleased at how well Ringworld withstood grown-up scrutiny.

Incidentally, correspondence on the internal afoe discussion list also showed that a large share of our contributors are sf-nal people. I don’t know that that should have surprised me, but it did just a little bit. I suppose it’s the tech geek factor (of having a blog) outweighing the policy geek factor (of writing about politics & such).

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture, Not Europe and tagged , , by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

4 thoughts on “Ringworld by Larry Niven

  1. I’m in the middle of reading Ringworld right now. I’ve only got about 30 pages or left to go. I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, but I think I may fall on the other side of the spectrum, in regards to being a science fiction fan. Some of the long, drawn out science-jargon sections really frustrated me, mostly because I didn’t really understand what was being said. A section that comes to mind is the one where they’re approaching the Ringworld for the first time.

    There have been a few other things that I just kind of shook my head at, like the genetic luck, but besides that, it’s been a pretty enjoyable read. I enjoyed Lucifer’s Hammer by Niven and Pournelle more, though.

  2. Yeah, the genetic luck is odd, and it’s also a big deal for the structure of the book. It’s hard not to read “author’s intention” for “Teela’s luck.” And I also remember the approach scene as being hard to follow. The other Known Space novels and, especially, the short story collections show Niven taking an aspect of either science or his future history and pushing it to its limits. Neat stuff. (And thanks for chiming in; the book reviews tend to draw few comments, so I often wonder if they get read.)

  3. I’m going to be checking out the rest of the Ringworld series, but probably not right after finishing this one. There are some other things on my reading plate at the moment. But, I do want to check them out.

    Not sure how far I’ll get in them though if they’re extremely similar to the Ringworld approach. That just made my brain hurt. 🙂

    And actually, I came across the post (and the blog) by running a blog search on Ringworld. 🙂 I think I’ll be visiting regularly though, and will be reading the book posts.

  4. I suspect anyone who wants to enjoy the Ringworld series should read all four rather soon one after the other, and maybe take notes. I recently read Ringworld’s Children, and found I remembered almost nothing of The Ringworld Throne, it had been so long since I had picked it up.
    Of interest might be the fact that when the original version appeared the Earth was rotating in the wrong direction, and Louis Wu was having his birthday party by skipping via teleport booth from east to west! Regrettablt, Niven corrected this in later editions, rather than using it as the launch point for another story which might have explained the phenomenon.
    Might I also recommend Jack McDevitt’s books, especially his most recent one, Seeker, the third in the series which began with A Talent for War.

Comments are closed.