Ringworld by Larry Niven won the Nebula Award in 1970 and the Hugo Award in 1971 (though the book says that the Hugo was awarded in 1970). Contrasted with Greg Bear’s realistic Darwin’s Radio, this book was a very pleasant venture to high scifi. Ringworld takes place in the far future where humans have faster-than-light travel, “transfer booths” that are kind of like Star Trek transporters, medical miracles like “booster spice” that prolong life indefinitely, and relations with a number of sentient alien races.
In a nutshell, the story relates the exploration of the “Ringworld” by a group of travelers. Events unfold through the 3rd-person perspective of the human Louis Wu. Louis, a woman named Teela Brown, and a kzin (a mighty, cat-like warrior race) named Speaker-To-Animals all agree to be employed by a puppeteer (a two-headed, three-legged race of herbivores) named Nessus for the purpose of learning more of the Ringworld.
The Ringworld itself is as the name suggests. It is a tremendous ring around a star that rotates at a tremendous speed in order to give the illusion of gravity. Larry Niven got the idea from the concept of a Dyson Sphere – a shell around a star that would be capable of producing a massive amount of power due to the fact that it would absorb 100% of the sun’s radiant energy.
I found the characters in the book to be interesting and more complex than you find in most sci-fi. The aliens are done well, though the kzinti are painfully reminiscent of Star Trek’s Klingons. Star Trek first aired in the mid-to-late sixies which was probably about the time that Larry Niven was writing this book. One wonders about the affect the series had the book and vice-versa.
When I began reading the book, there was almost a Douglas Adams sense of absurdity. I think this may have been been because much of the sci-fi I’ve been reading has had a lot of theoretically feasible ideas. And while the Ringworld does have some theoretical basis, there are a lot of fanciful things in the book that you just have to accept at face value. In that regard parts of Ringworld had an almost fantasy feel to it. But this is not to say that the book didn’t have a lot of cool ideas and science.
As I’m discovering, most of these award-winning novels have sequels. The sequels to Ringworld have the potential to be fun reads, but I’ll hold off on pursuing them for now. This book is chock-full of grandiose scifi and I found it quite entertaining. Time to head back to the Nebula/Hugo list…