I’ve decided I’m just crazy enough to try to read every book that’s ever won the Hugo Award for Best Novel…and, of course, that I want to share this insane experience with all of you. This week we visit Larry Niven’s famous Big Dumb Object, the Ringworld. If you are traveling with a Kzin, please ensure they are properly sedated as we journey on through sixty-odd posts of science fiction, speculation and social justice!
published in 1970
Louis Wu is 200 years old, and bored. Fortunately for him, an alien race has decided that he’s the perfect candidate for an interspecies expedition to a strange object orbiting a star on the edge of the galaxy. Louis, his fellow human Teela Brown, and the aliens Nessus and Speaker-to-Animals, venture to the Ringworld. But all is not well on this colossal structure. Its engineers are missing, its inhabitants have reverted to a pre-literate state of development, and its systems are failing. And unless they can repair their ship, Louis and his companions will be stranded on the ring…
Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!
I just don’t get what all the fuss is about.
Look, you all know (or at least you know if you’ve been paying attention) that I’m a sucker for anyone who respects me enough to hand me real science. Now, we can debate what Niven got right and wrong, what he needed to fix in the sequel, where he plays fast and loose with the rules of physics, whether his ideas about selective breeding are feasible…but the fact that the man did the calculations and expects his readers to wrap their brains around the Ringworld is pretty darn cool. So, hooray for grand ideas and the math to back them up!
Plot-wise, however…the book just fell flat. It was an easy enough read, and kept me just curious enough to keep it from being a slog. But it didn’t exactly have me on the edge of my seat, either. Hell, half of it takes place with the main characters sitting in individual flycycles watching the scenery go by below them.
I guess I’m just over the whole “we crash-landed in a strange new world let’s explore and get beaten on by the natives oh and there’s some mysterious advanced race that has left their artifacts behind!!” thing. It has to be done really well to keep my interest. It would also help if I actually cared about and/or could empathize with any of the characters, but when two of them think like aliens, one is a glorified blow-up doll, and the other a Gary-Stu, there’s not much to like.
Meh. On to the usual review:
Race: Niven clearly pictures his future-Earth as a post-racial society; humans change their skin color (and pattern) at a whim, apparently with no regard for historical racial inequality. Louis Wu is apparently the genetic equivalent of shoving the entire human race in a blender and turning the result into a 200-year-old man. So…cool? Except if I remember correctly the human-like inhabitants of the Ringworld and the human-like Ringworld Engineers are described fairly Whitely…
Gender/Sexuality: Free love, rah-rah. I don’t recall anything much about non-hetero relationships, though. And then there’s Teela. Godsdamnit, Teela. Whose only value is, apparently, her luck. Yup, the only chick who gets to go along on the interstellar shenanigans was chosen to go along due to some magical mystical property over which she has no control. Because who needs chicks with agency? Oh, and it turns out that all of her luck has been contriving her entire life to bring her across the galaxy to meet her One True Love (not kidding). Who is a bass-ackwards barbarian who straight up buys her from Louis (still not kidding), a situation which Teela is totally cool with because it’s easier all around (dear gods why am I not kidding). NIVEN I AM NOT AMUSED.
Other: Er…look, I read this book three weeks ago and I’ve read so much educational theory since then that I frankly don’t remember. Anybody want to talk about secondary discourses or conceptual frameworks instead?.
So, there are sequels. Which might maybe come up with enough of a plot to be interesting? I need to test out my library’s audiobook download system anyway, so we’ll give Ringworld Engineers a try. But unless it makes some vast improvements, it’s going to fall as flat as the first one did.
OVERALL RANKING: 6 out of 10 (rankings subject to change as my sample size increases).