Cover art by Dale Gustafson.
Having enjoyed the audiobook version of the first “Ringworld” by Niven, I’ve reread the second. Louis Wu, the male human protagonist of the first book, has no intention of returning to Ringworld. He’s busy dealing with an addiction to a droud, which uses electrical current to directly stimulate the pleasure center of his brain. He learns someone is after him when his apartment is broken into, and he tries to escape, but is captured and soon aboard the ship of a strange non-human alien, The Hindmost, the life partner of his former Ringworld companion Nessus. The kzin warrior/diplomat “Speaker to Animals” is also there, also kidnapped, but now going by the name Chmeee. The Hindmost has press-ganged them into another trip to Ringworld to find treasures. The Hindmost, formerly the leader of her people, the Pierson’s Puppeteers, has been overthrown, and is hoping treasures from Ringworld can restore her position at home. While Louis and Chmeee are controlled in some ways, they craftily plot rebellion in others once they reach Ringworld.
Ringworld is that immense structure that orbits a distant star like a rotating ribbon, with millions and millions of acres of living space on the inside facing the sun. But the place was built long ago, and those who built it vanished. Ringworld has been gradually deteriorating ever since. It’s cities are mostly in ruins, its peoples of various sorts mostly reverted to savagery or simple agrarian and/or nomadic lifestyles. When the Hindmost and crew arrive they find things have gotten much worse: the ring has fallen out of balance in its orbit, and in a few years part of the ring will hit the central sun, destroying everything.
Through this fascinating example of creative world-building we meet many Ringworld inhabitants, and the mysteries of Ringworld’s creation and creators are gradually unlocked. Meanwhile, Chmeee and Louis Wu find ways to rebel against The Hindmost until she is forced to do exactly what they want. With help from some of the most knowledgable Ringworlders, Louis thinks he has a way to save Ringworld and some, but not all, of its inhabitants. The second half the the book is full of action and suspense as Louis tries to make his ideas work.
I enjoyed rereading this, especially since I didn’t remember much about it. In his forward, Niven admits that flaws pointed out by readers of the first book led him to write this one and come up with plausible solutions. The ideas are immense, the characters are appealing, and the storyline is top-notch adventure.