Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hugo Winner Review: 1971 Ringworld

Larry Niven
Read 4/2013, reviewed 4/13/2013
4 stars

I had trouble starting this book.  I had heard so many rave reviews of the book dating back to friends from the 70’s.  I was a little afraid of the hardness of the science fiction.  The fact that a sequel was called Ringworld Engineers brought up my less than admirable feelings towards the engineering students I rubbed elbows with at the University of Colorado (the Math department and classes were located in the Engineering Center). 

The book started well with Louis Wu’s 200th birthday, but stumbled for me with the introduction of the two main alien characters, Nessus and Speaker-to-Animals.  My first impression was that they were too cartoonish.  Again, it raised my distaste for alien species based on earth creatures and their earthly characteristics (here, a horse and a tiger, respectively).  But by the middle of the book, I was hooked.  I had made peace with my bias, and found the aliens to be the perfect such aliens of this genre.  They grew on me as their personalities grew and fleshed out. 

I made peace, too, with my bias against engineering and hard SF.  The description of and journey through Ringworld was amazing.  It reminded me at times of "Neverworld" by Neil Gaiman and the animated film Howl’s Moving Castle.  In general, I think I find it difficult to read descriptions of and imagine huge complex entities, such as the outside of Ringworld, or large spaceships, or complex civilizations like the layout of Luna in “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.”  But once getting through that struggle, I was able to explore the rest of Ringworld and enjoy it.

I liked Louis and Teela, as well as their relationship.  At times, I was a bit put off by Teela’s simplicity, raising my easily ruffled sensitivity towards portrayals of women in science fiction.  But I found myself accepting her as being not a typical woman, because of her “gift” of luck.  And I loved how she grew through the book.

I also enjoy the whole concept of engineering/interfering/experimenting with life.  It was done well here.

My biggest criticism was that flycycles seemed a bit to amazing to be real.  They flew hundreds of thousands of miles with an undescribed energy source (unless I missed it somewhere).  They had tons of controls, including the ability to make food.  Given the amount of my suspension of disbelief in their existence, it was then hard to believe that they could crash.

When I was done with the book, I was glad I had read it, and wished I had read it back in the 70s or 80s.  Although at the time, I don’t think I would have had as critical an eye.  This is easily a 4 star book.

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