Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Larry Niven's Ringworld won the Hugo, Nebula, and Focus awards for Best Novel when it came out in 1970, and I can see why. It's a great traditional science fiction book that explores some interesting concepts in harder science (think the opposite of midichlorians or the Vulcan Death Grip). It's almost the year 3000, and in a pretty boring, pseudo-utopian Earth world society made uniform by teleportation booths, Louie Wu, a bored explorer, turns 200. He's bored with being able to teleport anywhere on Earth, especially because people and information spread so fast due to the teleportation that there remain few distinct cultures.
He gets recruited by an alien species relatively unfamiliar to humans to go explore an anomalous ringworld. I'm pretty sure the description and invention of the ringworld are what got him the awards - they must have been quite revolutionary. Essentially picture the Earth's orbit around the sun, and fill the path of that orbit with a million-mile-wide metal floor, filled toward the sun with earth and water and plants and animals and people and air. The floor (the ring) rotates with enough spin to provide gravity, and there is a faster series of clear and night-time occluded panels that serve as a day/night cycle. Walls on either side hold in the air.
Something this big was built by a very advanced civilization with a great need for a heck of a lot of space, so a lot of the novel consists of Louie and his party explore the Ringworld and try to find out who built it, why, and what the super-advanced technologies that helped operate the fallen civilization actually do. And yes, he has a party - him, two aliens, and a woman - funny how sci-fi and fantasy novels always pull together a ragtag group of heterogeneous characters to go essplorin' with the main character. Perhaps it's a way for the author to imagine his own group of insta-friends.
I thought it was enjoyable - the logic and thinking they use to try to figure out problems and purposes are often interesting and innovative. The writing style was too jumpy and paternalistic for my taste, however. When Niven had to deal with a sticky ploy point, he often just jumps ahead and smooths over what must have happened. Overall an enjoyable read, though. Perhaps I'll follow up with the series at a later point in time, but probably not this year.
This was my first try with an audiobook this year, and it was really easy - reading books this way will be how I'm able to approach 100 this year. I think I'll do a bigger audiobook post some time soon.