Larry Niven
Ringworld Cover

Great Hard SF, Not so Great Characterization


Ringworld is about four adventurers roped into exploring a, well a Ringworld sighted in the path of the migration fleet of the people known as Puppeteers. The Ringworld engineers and builders are nowhere to be found, and the adventurers, who crashed on the megastructure, try to unravel the mystery as they search for a way off of the giant artificial world. Overall, the Niven's characters are a somewhat flat and fairly predictable, but they were dynamic enough to provide a nice counterpoint to the "Whoah, look at that" moments, which made the book more enjoyable overall and kept it from dragging. The science and speculation is pretty compelling, and it holds up decently after 30+ years. The book is filled with delightful brain teasers that will push your imagination in delightful directions. On the downside, Niven's treatment of women is so ridiculous that it brings Robert Heinlein to mind - and certainly not in a good way. Only two female characters warrant being given names, and both are shown as kinds of dopey sex objects. The adventurers' treatment of the Ringworld natives also raises ethical questions that just aren't dealt with as they often are in other first-contact narratives. Despite my issues with how women were treated (although these may be untenable for a female reader), the questionable ethics of the characters, and their predictable archetypes, I found myself enjoying this book. There was no great evil to overcome, and I never felt like the characters were in any high-stakes gamble for the universe, but the story was pretty decently paced. Despite the fact that I lost interest in the great mystery of the Ringworld's downfall, the characters' discussions with each other kept things moving. If you think you would like a Big Dumb Object book (like Rendezvous with Rama, only this one has actual tension between characters) with lots of accessible science, and aren't completely put off by the sexism (which I think is analogous to any given episode of Mad Men) and the predictable characters, pick up Ringworld. As an example of 70's hard SF, it's hard to beat. I gave this a 6 instead of an 8 primarily due to the portrayal of women.