Talking about hardcore science fiction we think about classic authors such as Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, or Isaac Asimov. There are many other Damon Knight Grand Master who helped build scifi to where it is today. With big science ideas, theoretical physics, and engineering impossibilities, these authors have shaped a genre that pushes the boundaries of imagination. Causing existential thoughts and conversations for generations of nerds. Though there is one element of scifi that has captured our dreams and beg the question “how far can we go?”. For that we have to look at Larry Niven as the possible father of the megastructure.
Larry Niven’s well known novel, Ringworld was published in October of 1970. Preceded by four sequels and four prequels, the collection is part of Mr. Niven’s Known Space series. Ringworld stands apart as Niven’s greatest work winning the Nebula, Locus, and Hugo awards.
Approaching 50 years later, Ringworld has become essential reading in science fiction literature, despite many criticisms on inconsistencies and errors. Including the blatant mistake in the first printing in which the main character travels eastward to prolong his birthday, the error was corrected in all subsequent printings. However, engineers and physicists still criticize some of the larger ideas presented in this book as impossible. At the 1971 Worldcon, audiences erupted in a chant, stating “The Ringworld is unstable!”. Ultimately, Ringworld stands as a classic, as some fans and critics need to remember that it is called science fiction for a reason.
The story follows 200 year-young Louis Wu. Hired for the trip of a lifetime by a representative of the mysterious aliens, the Puppeteers. Louis, an aggressive felinoid Kzin named Speaker-To-Animals, and young woman Teela Brown chosen for her heretic perfection in ‘luck’, join the Puppeteer on a voyage for the unexplored ‘Ringworld’. An artificial ring structure one million miles wide that encircles its sun-like star. Crash-landing onto the inhabitable inner circle, the team discovers that the Ringworld’s inhabitants have gone extinct, as the ring was struck with a meteor. Along, with other stranded visitors, they must find their way off of the Ringworld, with the hyper drive that is Louis Wu’s payment for the exploration.
The book is full, from front to back, of big ideas, theories, and alien lifeforms and their cultures. The year 2850 AD is filled with technology that is beyond our comprehension, including planet wide teleportation, which has bonded the world into one major civilization. Humans have created space travel, far enough to create an area of travel and inhabitancy called Known Space. But, Known Space is just a fragment of the Milky Way, enough to connect with many alien species. This is one of those heavy science influenced science fiction books that carry you through a learning curve the entire way through.
Reading through this story can be a little dry, the pace is consistent, yet, with all the information involved that pacing needs to move slowly. Despite that, the intrigue level is high, keeping you interested the entire way through. There is no big twists that carry many scifi tales, this book carries you with big thoughts. I give it a 3.5/5, for it is a good, existential story, but not great in plot. I will recommend reading this to any fan of scifi fan as an essential read. Ringworld has inspired many stories we know today including the video game franchise Halo. So, it is worth picking this book up as an origins story for where science fiction is today.
Thanks booknerds, see you around in known space.