Well. This book taught me something I can’t believe I didn’t know about myself until reading this book: I don’t like hard science fiction. Hard Sci-Fi waves technically accurate science into informed speculation by using intricate details to back-up the writer’s speculations. While reading, when I found that I was incredibly engrossed in some parts and not others, I started to question why. I discovered two reasons I didn’t adore this: 1) I don’t care about the actual science and 2) I need you to respect female characters.
Based on those two statements alone, you think I’d more-or-less avoid science fiction. But, that’s a topic of conversation for another day. Today is about Ringworld.
The gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools.
Larry Niven’s Ringworld is a science fiction classic. Niven took the idea of the Dyson Sphere and developed his own superstructure– the Ringworld. This gigantic artificial ring encircling a sun-like star contains a flat inner surface habitable to humans. A billion miles in circumference and a million miles across internally, a race known as the Pierson’s Puppeteer’s discover it but as too afraid to send out an exhibition. Instead one of their own (clinically insane, and therefore unafraid) recruits a kzniti (giant cat-man type alien) and two humans (because duh) to discover the people there and see if they are aggressive. In exchange, these two species will be given superior technology to help them escape the eventual collapse of the space systems their people inhabit.
Niven’s Ringworld is a game-changer in science fiction. Niven backs up this concept with actual science (hard science-y facts!) and has lots of intricate details describing the world contained within and how it came to be. This is the impetus for dozens of future authors to pick up their pens. It’s even the whole focus of the Halo video game franchise.
But, to quote Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
If you have been reading my reviews, then you know I am passionate first about character development, then relationship, then plot. Then, I guess the philosophical and metaphysical ideas. You’ll notice that setting never really drives my reading. While Niven has built a potentially limitless and amazing world to explore, the story and the characters are rarely compelling. Yes, there is an overarching plot. Yes, the characters do get into a consecutive series of troubles.
Our protagonists all fit into cute, little, stereotyped boxes and contain almost non-existent emotional ranges. There is no passion or awe to these adventures. In almost every case, the character’s responses to their titanic and dangerous experiences are dull surprise. Niven frequently excuses himself by having the character explain they don’t understand the magnitude of what they are experiencing. But… all four of them?
Gradually he was learning the size, the scale of Ringworld. It was unpleasant, like all learning processes.
The plot isn’t much better.
I also have a love-hate relationship with Niven’s prose. While I really appreciate the subtle humor (at times, I felt like I was reading Hitchhiker’s Guide again), I got frustrated. As with most hard science fiction, our characters developed theories for the world around them and debated these at length. This is a great way to communicate complicated scientific theories. But, as a reader, I was bored. Don’t tell me– SHOW me. Niven touched on a ton of groundbreaking and innovative ideas but I lost interest quickly as our characters just TOLD us everything. Even then, he never really delves into these ideas long enough to gain traction. When discussing this with friends we were firmly split down the middle between people who wanted longer, more detailed explanations and people who wanted shorter explanations with more examples and showing.
“Humans,” said the puppeteer. “Should not be allowed to run loose. You will surely harm yourselves.”
Okay, it sounds like I just vented for this whole review and didn’t like this book at all, but that’s not true. I appreciate what Ringworld has done for science fiction. I think Niven captured my mind and encouraged me to mentally explore some new ideas I hadn’t spent a lot of time exploring. And this certainly made for a great book club discussion. But in the end… Well, I’m glad I read it. It helped me realize that I am just not into this sort of science fiction. And now I understand quite a bit more about foundational science fiction concepts. I am certainly a more well-read reader of the genre now; I am grateful for this experience.
What do you think?
- Have you read Ringworld? What do you think of this book?
- What Classic novels are you glad you’ve read but you might not have fallen in love with? Why? Bring up books from any genre!
- Have you ever had an epiphany about your reading habits while reading a book? What was that epiphany? What book were you reading?
- What sci-fi should I try reading next?