Listening To: RINGWORLD by Larry Niven

This is the third complete science fiction novel I’ve enjoyed listening to on Audible, included as part of Amazon Prime. I own the book, but hadn’t read it since it came out in the 1970s, also true of many other Larry Niven books. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy his writing.

The Ringworld concept is a huge one, and a fascinating idea: an artificial world in the shape of a ring orbiting a star. The ring is so huge that if the surface of our own world were made flat, many thousands (perhaps millions?) of them could fit on the surface. It rotates enough to provide gravity, and there are very high walls on the edges to contain atmosphere. Four explorers crash-land on the surface, their ship shot down by automatic anti-meteorite weapons, and most of the book involves them trying to find a way to repair their ship and get it to the edge of the ring so they can escape Ringworld.

Two are from Earth. Louis Wu is a man just celebrating his 200th birthday, but in fine physical shape due to longevity drugs. He’s done and seen it all on Earth, and in Niven’s “known space,” comprising a number of inhabited worlds and competing civilizations. The very dangerous expedition to Ringworld appeals to him as something new and different. Teela Brown, a beautiful young woman, has been chosen in an unlikely way by the leader of the group not because she and Louis are having an affair, but something more scientific (at least in this book). She is extremely lucky. The other two members are non-human. Speaker-to-Animals is a Kzin, a tiger-like humanoid whose warlike race has fought and been defeated by humans and others, and is now learning the ways of civilized diplomacy. Speaker is the ambassador of the Kzin on Earth. Finally, the leader of the group, at least initially, is Nessus, a non-humanoid of the species Pierson’s Puppeteer. He has two heads, and other unusual anatomy, and his overriding personality trait, like all his species, is cowardice. The fact that he is even willing to go on this dangerous expedition suggests he may be insane by Puppeteer standards.

There’s plenty more plot leading up to the launch of the spacecraft “Lying Bastard” from the Puppeteer homeworld to Ringworld, which they have discovered, giving plenty of time for the reader (or listener) to get to know the characters and for them to learn about each other, all on a fascinating idea-filled backdrop of Niven’s “known space,” but once they arrive on Ringworld itself, the plot becomes one of exploration of unknown wonders, survival of unexpected dangers, and communication with the few other intelligent beings with some knowledge of Ringworld they can find. Most of the place has reverted to very primitive societies who understand little or nothing about where they live, and who worship the unseen Ringworld engineers as gods.

It’s a big book full of big ideas, entertaining characters, and exciting adventures. I have to find time to reread more of the Ringworld books now. Highly recommended.

Ringworld by Larry Niven

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