Larry Niven, Ringworld's Children
Published by TOR Books, 2004
Reviewed by TG Browning
As is usual, Iíll cut to the chase for those who are foolish enough to take what I have to say seriously: Iíd give this 3 stars out of 5, for the following reasons. On the plus side, the book is by Larry Niven, who as far as I can tell, never wrote anything that wasnít worth reading at least once. Secondly, itís solely by Niven, which we see all too rarely these days. Third, itís a continuation of the Ringworld series - though calling four books spaced over something like 25 to 30 years a series is stretching it. The point is that you get to explore one of the most fascinating constructs the human mind has produced.
On the down side, the pace is erratic. At some points you find yourself more or less racing along while at other points, you - or at least I did - find yourself wondering if things are going to pick up. Second, because this is a continuation, a (dare I say it?) series, the reader is expected to know quite a bit. That isnít necessarily a problem for everybody, please note. Rereading the first three books, Ringworld and The Ringworld Throne would probably take care of any problems one might have. However, itís been at least ten years since Iíve read either of the first two books and what Niven seems to find important background information doesnít exactly mesh well with what I remember. Thatís possibly my problem entirely, so keep that in mind. The book is much more closely linked to The Ringworld Throne. You must have read that for the action of Ringworldís Children to make much sense. Even with that, I had problems.
Finally, I really hate to say it, but the book kind of ends nowhere. Thereís no real feeling that the action of the book has been completed, the story all told. Thatís more or less atypical of Nivenís work in general and I have a hard time with it.
That all said, Iíll give you a thumbnail sketch of the action. Louis Wu had been part of the original puppeteer expedition that had first explored the Ringworld, a monumentally huge artificial body that encircles -- yes encircles -- an entire star. The puppeteers, cowards that they are, need to find out about the peculiar ring theyíve discovered which is built like a gigantic band with the interior side of it rimmed by gigantic walls. Everything is of course in orbit around the star so the centrifugal force keeps air trapped inside the band, held there by the rim walls.
The total inner surface is habitable. It forms a space roughly 3 million times the surface area of the Earth. And itís inhabited.
Thatís the set-up. The first book is about the first expedition, the second book takes place twenty years or so later and contains a wonderful twist to it that links the Ringworld to other stories in Nivenís Known Space Ė the whole thing was built by the Pak, protectors, and that means a number of things too convoluted to explain.
The third book in the series details how Louis Wu comes to return, again, to the Ringworld and I wonít go any further than that, for the simple reason that if you havenít read The Ringworld Throne, you had better do so before going any further. I wasnít kidding above -- the fourth book will make very little sense to you if you are unfamiliar with the events of the third book.
I canít really give you much of a sketch from this point on because itís largely a continuation of the third book and I honestly donít have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that things more or less guided by book three just keep happening with no real connection to the time/place/character of Louis Wu. The events happening to Louis and actions he takes are disconnected from me, the reader. I honestly donít have concern about the character or what happens. I suppose in the back of my mind, part of that is due to my relegating the book to a series construction, but it goes further. The science fiction involved isnít as new to me, isnít as compelling and canít, therefore, support me through those parts where things donít really seem to be moving along.
I think if I had to say the book had one flaw, it would be this: The book is stranded between two different types of fiction. Thereís independent, stand alone fiction, where nothing depends upon preceding action. Then thereís series fiction where everything depends upon it. Ringworldís Children is stuck in-between and suffers for it. It simply doesnít fit the niche of a series well and isnít capable of standing by itself. With Niven, thatís a pity because heís a fine craftsman and storyteller.
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