“Ringworld” by Larry Niven

Larry Niven's 'Ringworld' is a piece of classic science fiction that everyone interested in the genre should read. Here's my review.

The year is 2850 AD. Louis Wu is celebrating his 200th birthday. To make the day last as long as possible, Louis moves west1 through transfer booths, when one of them suddenly malfunctions. He finds himself in a hotel room with a Pierson’s puppeteer, a peculiar-looking, two-headed alien. The puppeteer has an offer for Louis, and it’s an offer he can’t refuse.

The puppeteer propose that Louis joins him, and two additional, unnamed, crew members on a journey to an undisclosed location. Louis reward, should ha accept the mission, will be access to a space ship with quantum II hyperspace shunt engines. These engines, developed by the puppeteers, will cut travel time through space to a fraction of what it currently is. Any race with access to the engines would find themselves in a superior position compared to races that only have access to conventional, hyperspace shunt engines.


Ringworld is the first book in Larry Niven’s story line with the same name. The story is set in the author’s Known Space universe, which saw the light of day in 1964 with the publication of Niven’s The Coldest Place.

I view myself as a science fiction connoisseur of sorts, which makes it hard for me to admit that Ringworld is my first Known Space novel. Even worse, I didn’t even know that the fictional universe existed until I accidentally stumbled across Ringworld. And what an amazing discovery it has been. It reminds of when I first discovered Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune many, many years ago.

Ringworld is intelligent science fiction at its best. The book contains some actual science, and while there might be scientific errors in the book, that doesn’t really bother me. I don’t understand any of it anyway, and it’s a work of fiction after all. I suspect that the science fiction genre would be pretty damn boring if the authors limited themselves to the laws of physics as we know them today.

The story is extremely well written, but I can’t really put my finger on exactly why. Everything simply flows, and while there are a few weird sentences, and the odd case of strange punctuation and grammar, that doesn’t matter either. They don’t notably break Niven’s wonderful flow. Besides, the weirdness might be attributed to the Kindle edition. In my experience, the Kindle editions don’t always receive as much editorial love as those editions printed on dead trees.

Interstellar hanky-panky

What would a science fiction novel be if it didn’t contain some steamy sex? Looking at pretty much every single science fiction story every written, it probably wouldn’t count as science fiction without it. For some reason that I can’t quite understand, there is always a love story in a science fiction novel. Niven takes it even further in Ringworld, with a little alien hanky-panky, and some voyeurism for kicks. I have no idea why, but it’s there. It might be a way to explorer and change the dynamics between the characters, or a way to have them change. But that could be achieved by other means, like a healthy, borderline philosophical discussion, something that also happens quite often in Ringworld.

It’s not like a few pages of alien intercourse make the book bad. It’s just that I’m growing a bit tired of seeing it in every single book I’m reading. For once, I’d love to read a story where the main character doesn’t end up in bed with someone.

A masterpiece

Larry Niven’s Ringworld is a science fiction masterpiece. It’s got aliens, space ships, exploration, amazing technology, and, of course, the breathtaking Ringworld itself. The aliens are not just black or white, good or bad. They have personalities, and they evolve and learn through experience and discussion throughout the story. There is never, ever a dull moment, and quite a few wow- and aha-moments. There isn’t just one thing that makes Ringworld an amazing book. It’s simple the sum of all things.

There’s no doubt that this is only the first of many Larry Niven books I’ll read, with the Ringworld sequel, The Ringworld Engineers, being the obvious next book.

If you decide to pick up Ringworld - and of course you do - I highly recommend that you listen to the Spotify playlist “Sleepy Music for Tired Insomniacs” by Good Weather for an Airstrike. It contains 30 hours of amazing background ambient, great for getting in the zone. I listened to the playlist while reading Ringworld, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it heightened the experience.

  1. In the original paperback release, Louis moved east, which would actually shorten the day. A lot of readers were “kind” enough to make Niven aware of the error. ↩︎


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