Larry Niven - Ringworld's Children

I didn't realize what a hotshot Larry Niven was--had never even heard of him before picking up this book in fact--until I was sitting on an airplane reading Ringworld's Children and looked up to see that he was the answer to a trivia question. How ironic I thought. Apparently flights now show trivia on the monitors after the in-flight movie to keep the passengers entertained. It worked on me. I closed the book I was reading (this one) and was playing along when the question "Who wrote the Ringworld series?" came up. I flashed my book to the lady sitting next to me and we both laughed.

There are two basic audiences who read this book I suppose: those who are reading Ringworld's Children as their first read in the series and those who have read everything up to this point and hence already know the background for the story. Obviously, I fall into the former category. Were I to fall in the latter, I imagine my review would be totally different.

I've heard it said that this is a great "stand alone" book and the publisher claims that Ringworld's Children is the "perfect introduction for readers new" to the series. I beg to differ. Niven doesn't provide nearly enough description or background for someone new to the series to not be frustrated at times--perhaps even most of the time. He does include a six-page Cast of Characters and Glossary at the front of the book, but that isn't nearly enough. Many of the terms in the Glossary reference each other and are hence no help at all. Plus, it isn't much fun having to flip back to a Glossary to try and decode the writings two or three times per page in a nearly 300-page book.

In addition to the above, I felt like Niven's clarity was lacking. The descriptions weren't full enough. I couldn't get a clear picture of what was going on. I read and re-read passages on a frequent basis to try and interpret what was happening, without complete success. At the same time, he repeated himself on several occasions. The sentence structure, when there were complete sentences, was awkward at times. A good technical writer should have come in and edited things before publication to make for smoother reading. An editor should have also suggested richer descriptions in places and the elimination of repetitive details elsewhere.

The story, which I won't give away, was not bad. Some of it didn't make sense to me, but perhaps it does to those who have read the earlier pieces of the series. For instance, if a world is in the shape of a connected ribbon, instead of a ball, why can invaders from the outside only enter it by cutting through the ribbon? Why can't they just go around the ribbon and be on the other side?

In summary, this is not the first book to read in the series. Start with the start and continue on from there. I imagine you will appreciate this book much more by doing so. I like the Darwinian evolution themes--with the breeders and protectors and with everyone trying to maximize their fitness, passing on and preserving their genes. Science fiction sometimes spends too much time on the technology aspect--the spaceships, supercomputers, and robots--but Niven does a good job of exploring other areas that are science related.

from the publisher:
The Ringworld: a landmark engineering achievement, a flat band three million times the surface of the Earth, encircling a distant star. Home to trillions of inhabitants, not all of whom are human, and host to amazing technological wonders, the Ringworld is unique in all of the universe.

Explorer Louis Wu, an Earth-born human who was part of the first expedition to Ringworld, becomes enmeshed in interplanetary and interspecies intrigue as war, and a powerful new weapon, threaten to tear the Ringworld apart forever. Now, the future of Ringworld lies in its children -- Tunesmith, the Ghoul protector; Acolyte, the exiled son of Speaker-to-Animals, and Wembleth, a strange Ringworld native with a mysterious past. All must play a dangerous game in order to save Ringworld's population -- and the stability of Ringworld itself.

Blending awe-inspiring science with nonstop action, Ringworld's Children, the fourth installment of the multiple award-winning saga, is the perfect introduction for readers new to the New York Times bestselling series and will delight longtime fans of Larry Niven's Ringworld.

"For three and a half decades, nobody's done it better than Larry Niven. Ringworld's Children is his latest triumphant gift to his fans, filled with characters we've grown to love, set in a world we're dying to explore further, and brimming with an extravagant, insightful imagination that seems to grow sharper and stronger with every passing year." --Steven Barnes

"If there isn't a Ringworld out there somewhere, we ought to build one someday. Until then we have Larry Niven's. A rich and fantastic story." --Fred Saberhagen

"The scope of Larry Niven's work is so vast that only a writer of supreme talent could disguise the fact as well as he can." --Tom Clancy

"Niven's masterly use of SF strategies hits every note and springs surprises and plot turns with dizzying pace. Niven . . . lifts readers far from the conventional world -- and does it with dash." --Los Angeles Times

"Our premier hard SF writer." --The Baltimore Sun

"Niven jams enough ideas for several novels into each one he creates." --The Seattle Times

"His tales have grit, authenticity, colorful characters, and pulse-pounding narrative drive. Niven is a true master." --Frederick Pohl

Larry Niven is the multiple Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces. His Beowulf's Children, co-authored with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in Chatsworth, California.