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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin


Ringworld - Larry Niven Ringworld is definitely a sci-fi classic, a monumental achievement in world building. Any sci-fi aficionados who don’t like it should be ashamed of themselves.


Argh! It’s never pleasant to go against the conventional wisdom but over at PrintSF (online SF discussion community) I see a lot of comments along the line of “I really want to like this book because everybody say it’s great, what am I missing?” I think a lot of people try too hard to like certain books and I don’t know why, it does not entail that you are wrong or even that you are right and everybody else is wrong. You like what you like, leave it at that.

OK, enough of the irrelevant opening. There is no denying that Ringworld is a major work in the history of sci-fi. A ginormous artificial ring-shaped planet encircling a star is an amazing concept, especially as Larry Niven is able to back up the concept with real world science. Gravity generated from the centrifugal force of the planet’s programmed rotation speed, an inner ring of shadow squares to create nights, a weird "horizon" due to the shape of the planet etc. These are mind blowing concepts and very influential for later generations of sci-fi authors.

The Ringworld itself is a monumental sci-fi creation.

Where it falls down for me is the story and the characters. Having built this amazing world I don’t think the events that take place on it make for a very compelling narrative. The characters do get into a lot of trouble but their adventures do not read like edge of the seat thrills. I am having a lot of trouble explaining why the plot does not excite me here, there are many wild inventions here which are almost as awesome as the basic premise itself but I just felt detached from the narrative. Certainly part of it is the characterization, characterization is not indispensable for good sci-fi, the likes of Asimov and Clarke were mostly able to get away with quite perfunctory character developments. However, I think they told very riveting stories with the right pacing and at modest page counts. Niven’s characters in Ringworld are quite colorful but I did not care for any of them and did not give a monkey whether any or all of them snuff it through the course of the narrative.

One problem I perceive is that Niven uses the sci-fi trope of each alien species having one type of overriding character trait. The kzinti are all warlike, the puppeteers are all cowards etc. Why then are humans so diverse in personalities? Real aliens may turn out that way I don’t know but it is hard to believe in a species with one personality. Consequently the alien characters come across as a little “one note”, but come to think of it the human characters are kind of “one note” too. They don’t feel like vivid, complex believable characters, they are just there to drive the plot. By the end of the book I was feeling quite impatient to be done with it.

For “Big Dumb Object” books I much prefer Clarke’s [b: Rendezvous with Rama|112537|Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1)|Arthur C. Clarke|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1405456427s/112537.jpg|1882772], the characters are equally flat but the book somehow feels alive and the sense of wonder is more palpable. As for Larry Niven I am a big fan of his collaborations with [a: Jerry Pournelle|39099|Jerry Pournelle|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1216417671p2/39099.jpg], especially [b: The Mote in God's Eye|100365|The Mote in God's Eye (Moties, #1)|Larry Niven|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1399490037s/100365.jpg|2190500] which is one of my all time favorites.

Ringworld is not “bad” by any stretch of imagination, it’s me, I’m the bad one.

5 Stars for the Ringworld planet.
3 Stars for the storyline
2 Stars for the characters
= 3.3333 (etc.) neutron stars
Another Ringworld art, this depicts a view from the surface of the planet:

Ringworld's "horizon" is interesting to imagine. Given the shape of the planet it does not really have a horizon! The above artwork is probably inaccurate though because the Ringworld is many times the size of Earth (600 million miles in diameter, one million miles wide) so you probably would not be able to see the so much of the upward curvature. I am not sure what you would see but it would look awesome and weird!