Book Review: Ringworld & Ringworld Engineers

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When I was a lot younger, about nine years old, I was reading a lot of sci-fi. Ringworld Engineers was a book I picked up from my school library, and I read it from cover to cover. The book was a bit beyond me at the time, I remember getting quite lost while reading it. I don’t remember much of it, beyond the central character’s name (Louis Wu) and his problem (He was a wirehead). I liked the concept of ringworld, and I vaguely remember thinking it was an immense thing, this ringworld, and I couldn’t imagine trying to find anything useful at that kind of ridiculous scale.

Recently I picked up a copy of the first book, Ringworld, and read it again as an adult.

It’s a good book, though now at the advanced age of 33 years I thought it was a bit simple. My tastes in sci-fi tend to run toward space opera, I like to think big, dream things ‘out there’ and travelling to get there. Ringworld is a little of this travel, but most of the book takes place on the surface of the ringworld itself, and it’s more of a ground-based romp. It’s a bit irritating at times when it drifts towards the barrier-free random bullshit that many unlimited-environment novels can’t avoid (Yes, Tad Williams, I’m talking to YOU), but Ringworld never quite goes too far. Larry Niven seemed to sense this boundry and pull back before losing the plot.

Ringworld is really good for an old sci-fi book. It’s about thirty years old now, but manages to avoid sounding old like so many do. It’s not intellectually demanding (unless you’re nine, perhaps) and I tore through it in a few days.

It was good enough that I bought the sequel, Ringworld Engineers. This book was similarly enjoyable, though I think there were a couple of places where Niven had to kind of rethink some of the events of the first novel as he strove to explain them more fully in the sequel. In this return to the Ringworld our hero has to save the ring from destruction, and to do that he’s got to find the ‘command center’ that must exist. Years of neglect have taken their toll and realigning the ring turns out to be a difficult task, with a great price.

Good books both, but I think they’re not worth the obscene Australian prices ($20 AUD each). If you can get them at a sane price you could do worse. As far as classic SF goes, it’s a good pair of books.

[ Jan 3 2006 ]

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