I can see why Larry Niven‘s Ringworld is a classic example of science fiction. It is broad in scope, posits some pretty interesting theories–both philosophical and technological. It certainly has some drawbacks, but I enjoyed it overall.
It’s Louis Wu‘s 200th birthday, and he’s getting antsy. Every few decades he needs to leave and go out into deep space. Earth is a bit crowded, and he just wants to be alone with himself. He is approached by a Pierson’s Puppeteer (a type of alien–the meaning of which will become clearer as the story progresses) called Nessus who says Louis is the perfect candidate for an unknown mission. But they need two more. The next is a Kzin–a large cat-like alien whose race has a history of attacking any other race that they come across. His name is Speaker-to-Animals, until he can earn another. Finally, they come across one of Louis’ ex-girlfriends, Teela Brown. She is reluctant to come, until Nessus convinces her that she is lucky, and that she would be an excellent asset to the mission.
Nessus informs them that they are in search of a different version of a Dyson Sphere–a Ringworld. It is man-made (or alien-made…) and surrounds a star so as to make the best use of its radiation. Its surface area is vast, nearly endless. Nothing is known about the engineers, or why they are gone. But Louis, Speaker, Nessus, and Teela are all about to explore it.
The beginning of the novel is a bit more interesting than the end, with the build-up to the discovery and the initial exploration. However, there are some really interesting topic that Niven delves into, which I appreciated.
It seems as though the human race has been bred for some generations. Sometimes with their knowledge, and sometimes without. This results in some psychic powers, better genes, and the like. However, unbeknownst to the human population, the Puppeteers have been breeding them for luck. And thus comes Teela Brown–too lucky for the good of those around her.
Population control is also an interesting issue. Everyone gets a certain number of children, but they can enter the lottery to get another child. Apparently, throughout the recent history that has been something of a hot political topic.
Larry Niven unfortunately falls into that category of science fiction writers (because let’s face it, with some notable exceptions, it’s an old boys club) who reduces women to quivering puddles of estrogen whose only solace can come from their man after a slap, a harsh word, and a romp in the sack. Teela Brown is a really interesting character, but she becomes whiny and petulant and simply sex-crazed.
There are some really interesting aspects of the novel: exploring such an immense world, dealing with the intricacies of interspecies relations, the philosophies of population control and eugenics. It’s certainly a fairly unique concept, worth the awards heaped upon it. Someday I’ll read the prequels and sequels…