Post-read thoughts about Larry Niven's Ringworld
In the hours after finishing Ringworld, I kept coming back to the book, wondering what I liked about it, and what I didn't. Many times I'll finish a book and immediately move on without a second thought, even the ones I loved. But this one has captivated me on several levels.
When it comes to Ringworld I'm left with questions, and curiousity: About the Ringworld, about the Engineers who built it, but also what the characters will actually do next. However, the book ends in a very anti-climatic fashion.
I've also found myself reminded about the spots in the book that I struggled with, conceptually. spoilers ahead
Do not read past this point if you want to avoid spoilers #
The Characters #
I've had a hard time with the women Niven wrote about.
Niven cast Teela Brown has young, pure, and so naive to the world around her. Yes, this is the work of the Puppeteer race breeding 'Luck' in humans, but it falls flat. She immediately, for no (initially apparent) reason, falls for the only male human in the room: Louis. She's so innocent and "dumb" that the first thing she does on Ringworld is step onto molten hot metal.
Character development is no better for Prill, the female Engineer we encounter. While she's intelligent, her previous job before landing on Ringworld was one of prostitution. And she immediately uses her abilities on the only male human.
Typing these two character descriptions out, I'm realizing that in a way, Niven might've wrote Louis Wu as a Mary Sue.
a character archetype in fiction[...] who is often portrayed as inexplicably competent across all domains, gifted with unique talents or powers, liked or respected by most other characters, unrealistically free of weaknesses, extremely attractive, innately virtuous, and/or generally lacking meaningful character flaws. Usually female and almost always the main character, a Mary Sue is often an author's idealized self-insertion, and may serve as a form of wish-fulfillment.
Louis Wu seemed to have no flaws. He's likely to live forever. At nearly 200 years old, he's still "spry" (I saw zero reason to believe he couldn't run a marathon), attractive, and very sexually active. He has an absurd level of knowledge and experience (he is 200 years old, afterall), wise and clever. He got to be privy to behaviors and historical moments that basically no one else alive could dream of: One of the few who saw a Puppeteer before they vanished, and seeing the true nature of a Puppeteer's "turn around and flee" survival tactic.
I believe that either Niven wrote Teela Brown and Prill this way because he believes women are subservient in society (born in 1938 and ~32 at the time of this book being published, it wouldn't surprise me), or in typical Mary Sue fashion, wrote them to be extremely 'easy to get'. Combined with perhaps feeling the need for freedom (and wanting to 'explore'), he threw his fantasies into Louis.
Breeding 'Luck' #
I liked this part, though you have to absolutely let it slide. You have to ignore that "luck" is playing the odds, but Teela's version of "Luck" that the Pierson's Puppeteers have bred in Humans is more of a "I can bend the rules of the galaxy to lead myself down, unconciously, to exactly what I need at all times.
It was interesting to see how Louis could postulate the way that Teela's luck worked, but Nessus and Speaker-to-Animals could not grasp it due to their lack of understanding of human nuance.
The Galaxy-at-large #
The "Outsiders" are so mysterious, I really need more information on them. I had a couple other thoughts here (like how lucky Humans are to only find 'friendlies' in the Galaxy), but the book answered these in a decent way (Puppeteer manipulation at-scale). But still, the fact that Outsiders just... show up, and sell extremely futuristic tech, is weird, and I'm very curious about that civilization in general. What are their objectives? Why give away 'state secrets'? They feel like a deus ex machina for whenever Niven needed a way out of explaining how humans survived.
The Location #
This is where I wish the book took the approach of being less speculative in the eyes of unaware visitors. I would've loved some more insight as to the science behind the Ringworld, about the society that built it. What the actual scenarios were that led to their downfall. Was it always inevitable? If a society could suddenly become so spread out in which they'd never encounter each other again, even on the same "planet," how easy would it be to become "barbarian" again, even without the accidental introduction of dangerous bacterium?
What about the theory that Earth and its nearby systems being "Seeded" by Ringworld Engineers? How, if the Engineers were so human-like in appearance, that Humans on Earth had to "evolve" from Apes? It seems it'd be more likely that they too were also former Engineers turned barbarian and then become modern humans, but not only Louis, and also Nessus, seem to have concluded otherwise.
I'm hopeful the next books in the series would cover some of these questions, but if the books stay in the perspective of a single individual, and not enough time passes... I doubt that will be the case. The next book is 'The Ringworld Engineers' so perhaps it's more of a prequel?
Even with all of these flaws, I loved the book. I do get the feeling that my wife would have a harder time with the female characters, to the point where I am not sure I would recommend it to her.
I will definitely add the next books to my 'To Read' list, and I'm curious where Niven takes the story next.
This review is part of my goal of reading every Hugo Award-winning novel, which I'm tracking my progress over at https://hugo.chrislagasse.com