BooksOfTheMoon

The Ringworld Engineers

By Larry Niven

Rating: 3 stars

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book to start with because of the change to Louis Wu’s circumstances at the start of the novel (he’s a junkie, addicted to the pure pleasure of electrical stimulation of the brain). But that actually turned out to be one of the more interesting things about the book. Why would a character as obviously strong as Wu turn to the wire? That question does get answered, along with the other obvious question of what he does next. Perhaps his escape from addiction was a little too easy, but, as I’ve said, we know from the previous book that Louis has a very strong will.

The return to the Ringworld itself is interesting if not novel. The quest that Louis and his alien companions find themselves on is, eventually, to deal with the instability of the Ring and save its trillions of inhabitants from doom as it crashes into its star.

The one moment of pure ‘sensawunda’ in the book, for me equivalent to learning about the Fleet of Worlds from Ringworld, is when we learn how the Ringworld’s meteor defence system works. That left me giggling to myself in awe for quite a while.

This sequel is, in no way, essential. Ringworld stood on its own perfectly well. The only reason I picked it up was because it was very cheap at a book sale and I needed another book to get the four-for-a-pound deal. I don’t regret having read it, but I doubt it’ll leave much of a mental impact.

Book details

ISBN: 9780708880746
Publisher: Orbit Books
Year of publication: 1979

The Flight of the Horse

By Larry Niven

Rating: 3 stars

This collection of short stories mostly describes the exploits of Hanville Svetz and his attempts to retrieve extinct animals to please the childlike ruler of this future world. Except nobody really knows what these animals look like, so nobody questions it when the Horse has a horn and likes young women; or when the Snake has wings and breathes fire.

These stories are mostly quite amusing as Svetz blunders about in time trying to retrieve whatever has taken the whimsy of the Secretary-General of the UN (hereditary absolute ruler of the world) this week, not quite realising that he has also gone somewhat sideways into fantasy lands. The future world is somewhat grim: a polluted planet swept clean of almost all non-human animals, but Svetz’s adventures into the past (and sometimes weirder places than that) help balance that. These stories form a prequel to Niven’s book Rainbow Mars, which is set in the same world.

There are two other stories in the book. Flash Crowd seems to be set in the early days of Niven’s Known Space universe in which teleporters have become the everyday means of transport but a young reporter discovers a darker side to them, when he witnesses an ugly incident in a mall, precipitating a riot in which people from all over the world can join in. What Good is a Glass Dagger? is one of Niven’s few attempts at epic fantasy, set in a past where Atlantis still sits above the waves and magicians duel. A magician known only as The Warlock has created a device that can entirely suck magic from an area and this story explores the consequences of that.

If I’m honest, I enjoyed the last two stories more than Svetz’s time travel exploits, but this is still a fun collection of shorts and worth a read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780860078494
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1973

Ringworld (Ringworld, #1)

By Larry Niven

Rating: 3 stars

On his 200th birthday Louis Wu is travelling the world, when he is intercepted by an alien who offers him the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to travel to and explore an unknown destination and come back with the fastest stardrive in Known Space.

I felt like I should have liked this book more than I did. It had everything I love in this sort of novel: high concepts, mind-boggling scale and a deep mystery, but it just didn’t entirely come together for me. I did enjoy the book, just not quite as much as I would have expected. Maybe the writing was slightly flat, or maybe it was the characters or it could just have been me, but I didn’t engage as much as I wanted to.

The Ringworld itself is as mysterious and interesting as you would like, and you feel the disappointment of the explorers as they explore it and find that its civilisation has fallen. Louis’s realisation of what the mountain Fist-of-God is, and its use to escape from the Ringworld is ingenious but should have felt more of an event than it did.

The characters are interesting, especially Nessus, the Pierson’s Puppeteer who is the guiding light behind the mission and its (disputed) leader. This species is one I found particularly fascinating, although possibly a little caricatured. Although, in saying that, their ‘cowardice’ did lead to one of the undisputed highlights of the story: the Fleet of Worlds, which is almost more mind-boggling than the Ringworld itself!

The Puppeteers’ meddling in both human and kzinti genetics is also fascinating, especially the final result that is Teela Brown. Teela remains a cipher for me throughout the book but as we’re seeing the world through the eyes of Louis Wu, to whom she also remains a mystery, perhaps this isn’t surprising.

So definitely a worthwhile read and one full of good ideas, but it perhaps need another buffing to make it as shiny as it should have been.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857231694
Publisher: ORBIT
Year of publication: 1970

Rainbow Mars

By Larry Niven

Rating: 3 stars

Hanville Svetz travels in time to bring back long-extinct animals to his time period, and so what if they’re somewhat different to those described in the history books: maybe horses did have a single silver horn and maybe snakes did have feathers and wings. But the Secretary General has died and his successor isn’t interested in retrieving animals from history, but in exploring space. This leads to an interesting collaboration between the Institute of Temporal Research and the Bureau of Space which discovers life on Mars in the past, and a beanstalk that is, er, a beanstalk.

This was a rather odd book, and it took me a while to get into its mesh of sci-fi and fantasy, as the human travellers find various mythological Martians, from Burroughs through Bradbury and Heinlein to Wells, but once I got past that I found it quite enjoyable, even if I did need the author’s afterword to recognise all the various Mars references. Time travel usually gives me a headache, but it was handled quite well here and I found the central characters interesting and well-written, people I was quite happy to spend a few hours in the company of.

There are other stories in this “atomic era” universe which detail some of Svetz’s adventures in bringing back historical/mythological animals and I would quite like to read some of those now that I know what to expect from this universe.

Book details

ISBN: 9783404242900
Year of publication: 1999

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