Ringworld – Larry Niven

Worldbuilding is a big deal, but only in the para-literary genres. I’ve never really heard the word used to describe Gone with the Wind. Part of me suspects that those who are not a fan of these genres use the word as a pejorative. I have no facts to back this up, it is just a feeling I have. And this felt very strange to me, as worldbuilding is something that adds so much to fiction.

Consider Ringworld. Larry Niven’s Ringworld is considered a masterclass in worldbuilding. The plot could be easily distilled to ‘people go see interesting thing’. The magic of the story is how much of said story is told in guise of the story’s setting. The four protagonists, two of whom are different alien races, go explore a massive superstructure found in space, a superstructure so incredibly massive that the four explorers are barely able to conceive what kind of civilization could have constructed it.

The above description is awful. What is missing is how all the above, and so much more, is built up slowly throughout the course of the novel. The author gets any incredible amount of plot into this book.

Right. Have I been nice enough to this book? Great. I really do see its virtues. I am not blind. But I can’t say I loved it. There were a lot of flaws present in it. There is your standard retro sci-fi misogyny, as well as an almost complete lack of character growth from most of the characters, all of whom are pretty unlikable. But fairly often I found the writing to be a bit of a slog to get through. I am not sure what it was, but there seemed to be too many conversations that were happening solely to get to that all precious worldbuilding. And there we may begin to see why some people don’t regard the term too highly.

I don’t want to sound too critical. It wasn’t all bad, but there were simply a lot of sections I found difficult to pay attention to. Others were fine though. I tend to lean towards caution in this cases. This book is a favorite in the sci-fi community, and it is generally well regarded, which does suggest that I am wrong about it. But I just too frequently found myself not wanting to really read it.

It was truly a bizzare sentiment getting to the end of this book. I wanted more. I wanted a netflix show, some movies, hell maybe even an animated series. I suddenly cared very deeply about, what people now-a-days would term, the IP (intellectual property). But I am not sure I could sit through another book. It felt like far too much of a slog. It had gotten better at the end, but I just kind of found the writing hard to deal with.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

8 thoughts on “Ringworld – Larry Niven

    • Agreed. It had an interesting premise, and gets the glorify for that reason alone.

      Someone will one day make a TV show of this and drown in the fucking money though. I am sure of this.

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  1. I hated this too. Ludicrous stuff. I think this hasn’t aged well at all. I haven’t met that many contemporary readers who like this.

    I just read my own review: “individual humans enter voluntarily into televised battles to the death, just for the right to have three children? Yet, everybody is allowed 1 child, without the need to risk death at all. What sane person would do that?” & “It’s not only the social science that’s lacking, it’s also basic scientific concepts. A supposedly highly advanced alien species that can move planets does believe in breeding for luck: a human character whose 5 ancestors all had luck in some lottery must be a “lucky” character, and solely for that reason is selected for a highly dangerous expedition. Really? This is considered Hard SF?” Etc. Etc.

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    • Wait, this is considered hard sf? I don’t really like the term, but I am become increasingly skeptical that it is at all a useful term.

      But I found the Teela character to be a ‘cute’ idea. Not well executed, not well rendered, but cute. It also seemed like something a well educated person in the 70s could think possible. 50 years later, sure, its pretty dumb. Still a cute idea, but not something for people who want ‘science’ in their SF. (Fun fact – PKD uses the same nonsense as something of a plot twist in one of his lesser novels – ‘The Game-Players of Titan’, I think. I don’t think you needed another reason not to read PKD, but there you go. You’re welcome.)

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    • Please, I welcome you tell the class how bad the sequels were. Because I certainly won’t be reading them. Life is short.

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      • Ringworld Engineers is functional. If I remember correctly, he wrote the 3rd Ringworld volume as he couldn’t fulfill another contract (“hey, I can’t write this book but I can write another book for my popular series that will make you more money”). But can tell how much he doesn’t care about what he’s writing and that he had to write it…. And yes, he introduces f’ing vampires to Ringworld…

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  2. Please, I welcome you tell the class how bad the sequels were. Because I certainly won’t be reading them.

    Life is short.

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