Ringworld (1970) – Larry Niven

I dug into some classic science fiction this week with Larry Niven’s Ringworld novel, which is set in his Known Space universe. I hadn’t explored any of his stories before, but this one was recommended to me from somewhere, and I found the general idea intriguing, a massive ring, instead of an enclosed sphere, placed around a star, and the team sent to explore it.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a species of sentient feline warriors known as the Kzinti, which I knew from Star Trek: The Animated Series (apparently it was done as a nod to Niven) and now Lower Decks, so the species is canon in the Trek verse, and the Known Space verse. Cool.

A race of beings known as the puppeteers have recruited two humans, and one kzinti to travel to this strange ring, and investigate it. The puppeteers have already left it behind in their race to leave the core of the galaxy to avoid an explosion some twenty thousand years in the future.

Louis, a two-hundred-year-old man, and Teela, a human bred for luck, are the representatives of humanity. They are joined by Nessus a puppeteer, and Speaker-To-Animals the Kzinti. With the promise of a faster-than-light ship as a reward for their joining the expedition, the group sets off and discovers a massive world, on the verge of collapse.

They seek out answers to who built it, how some of the technology works, and what caused the civilizations that lived on it to crumble.

There is a sense of exploration, mystery, and discovery. Not just about ringworld but the explorers themselves as they learn more about the truth of everything around them, and the motivations and things at work to get them there.

I was pleasantly surprised by the story, though I felt the ending was too rushed. We were just getting into an exploration of the beings who created the ring, and we race right to the story’s end and begin our journey homeward.

There is a little bit of politics a play, there is manipulation, fear of the unknown, and some fascinating discoveries, but in the end, the book is a commentary on humanity, who we are, what we strive for, and what we put out into the universe.

Louis, our main protagonist, has his hands full by the book’s end, but it’s a fascinating ride.

I was put partly in mind of Clarke’s Rama books, which I loved, and may need to reread in the immediate future, but I really enjoyed how Niven doles out his story, even if some of the ideas seem a little dated now.

Ringworld spawned a number of sequels, five to be exact, and while I’m not sure I’m going to explore them all, I did like this one.

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