February 25, 2018

Ringworld by Larry Niven

Larry Niven has a way of presenting hard science in an entertaining light. While much of Sci-Fi opted to go the way of fantasy after the 60s’, Nivens’ work carries on the traditions of Clarke and Asimov in that much of his premises are grounded in real science. Ringworld is his crowning work. Several sequels were written, but again, as with Dune and Rama, the original stands on his own. The story is one of Nivens’ first “tales of known space” stories that weaves its thread through much of his later work. Some of the first concepts of the Man-Kzin wars are also introduced here.

The central theme is the discovery of a distant Ringworld found orbiting a remote star by the Pierson’s Puppeteers while on their exodus to the Large Magellanic Cloud. A flat ribbon of a world encircling the star, it is obviously artificial in nature and a sort of scaled down version of a Dyson sphere, which entirely encapsulates its host sun, and along the lines of an Alderson disk. The cast of characters, two humans, one puppeteer, and one Kzin, are sent to investigate. They find technology that is truly stupendous but no sign of the original constructors. Orbiting shadow squares create a simulated night and day cycle, and mountains along the rim keep the atmosphere from spilling out into space. The current inhabitants seem rather primitive.
Other asides are revealed, such as the fact that the cowardly Puppeteers have been manipulating both humanity and the Kzin for specific traits, the Kzin to be more docile and humanity to be more “lucky”! The puppeteers also fear space flight and instead have opted to move their entire worlds during their migration. As with his other noteable works, The Integral Trees and Out of Time, Niven has a knack for presenting a fully fleshed out world with intriguing characters. Ringworld is a must to read when embarking on a journey through “Known Space”.