Hugo Review: Ringworld by Larry Niven

Ringworld by Larry Niven is one of my favorite books. This is a book that could have stuck with a single interesting idea, that of the Ringworld itself and made an interesting book, but it is the other elements that it adds into the story which make it such a pleasure to read. These elements include the history of the Man Kzin war, the puppetmasters home world, the selective breeding programs and the mystery of what happened to the ringworld engineers. The only real problem I had reading this was that it felt like I had barely started when I was halfway through the story and it does not read quickly because it is a simple adventure story that speaks down to the reader instead it is because it simply explains things clearly and doesn’t try to impress the reader to prove how smart the writer is, but instead focuses on telling a good story and because of that it succeeds.

The basic story of Ringworld is difficult to explain because so much of it is based in the many disparate elements. The story is told from the has Louis Wu, a two hundred year old man who is still young and healthy and a bit of an explorer. He is approached by an alien called a Puppeteer who wants him to go a mission with him. Louis Wu agrees because he is beginning to get bored and knows that boredom is the most likely thing to kill him.  The remainder of the four person crew is made up of a quarter ton alien cat called a Kzin and a twenty year old human girl. They are offered a ship which is able to travel many times faster than any ship in known space to go on the mission. The mission is secret until they are nearly there where they discover that they are to investigate a massive alien artifact, the Ringworld. The remainder of the book is them exploring that world and trying to understand how it was built and why it is there.

The Ringworld itself is only one part of this story, but in some ways the most interesting.  The idea is that it is a ring built around a star at roughly the orbit of earth. A million miles wide it has the land surface of about three million earths. There is also a lot of associated technology that solves many of the problems such as the shadow squares which create night and day and the ability to convert one type of material to another in mass which allows it to be built.

Another of my favorite ideas is that the Puppeteers believe that humans are breeding for luck. This is because humans have laws limiting how many children people to two, then a lottery each year to make up the difference between the children which are born and the loss of citizens due to death and emigration. It is of course a stretch but one that makes for a very interesting story element and a brilliant character.

This story is filled with ideas, characters that grow and change and world building creating nearly every element I love in science fiction and does all of it as well or better than any story. If you like science fiction this is a book you should absolutely read and once you have finished the other books in the series are well worth reading as well.