on June 24, 2004
Ringworld's Children is half a book. The first half was the previous "Ringworld Throne." Unfortunately, Niven didn't combine them, toss out the filler in "Throne", and write the book that would have been the worthy successor to "Ringworld" and "Ringworld Engineers." But he didn't, and the two half books don't make a whole one.
What we have instead is (like "Throne") the outline of a great novel, a few sketches of characters (and not even that for some: Chmee's son whatsisname), and Louis Wu solving a few puzzles with clues we never see.
Larry Niven once said that the Ringworld offered so many opportunities for sequels that it would make Edgar Rice Burroughs look like a case of "writer's block." Sadly, having created such a mental playground, Niven is unable to capitalize on it.
3 stars because it's Ringworld. But only just.
on December 8, 2004
Once there was a sci-fi writer called Larry Niven who wrote some of the most imaginative hard sci-fi of his day. Never mind that the stories were badly written, the characters two-dimensional, and the societies that he described were little more than a teen-aged boy's wet dream; the stories were so chock-full of big ideas that I avidly hunted down everything that he wrote. Then came the Larry Niven who collaborated with Jerry Pournelle. This Larry Niven was a much better writer, but his ideas became smaller and smaller until we saw sad little political tirades like "Fallen Angels". I, like so many others, have spent twenty years hoping that the old Larry Niven would return from the literary wasteland. With "Ringworld's Children" the old Niven has at least sent us a postcard.
The first Ringworld book was one of the old Larry Niven's later stories and is perhaps his grandest vision. The story is set on an artificial world that was created by building a ring around a star. The ring has the diameter of Earth's orbit, the inside is habitable, and there is enough room for almost anything to happen. Over the years Niven wrote two sequels: each less imaginative than the previous one. When "Ringworld's Children" appeared at my local library I ignored it because I was so tired of reading the awful books that Larry Niven has written over the past two decades. However, the other day I sat down and read the book and found that I could not put it down. The book is not a true return to form for Mr Niven, but it is
far better than anything that he has written since the early 1970s, and it does have the feel of his early work, right down to the bad writing.
If you like Larry Niven's early work then read this book. If you think that the Pournelle/Niven collaborations were the gospels of sci-fi then this book is probably not for you.
on June 17, 2004
Ringworld's Children is a pleasant revisit to our old friend Louis Wu and his motley crew, still bopping around the Ringworld. Like many others, I looked forward to the chance to see what new and interesting scrapes Larry Niven would get him into this time and seized the book at first opportunity.
Overall it was a pleasant diversion and a nice read. The ring is really fascinating as a place and here Niven makes it the most realistic its ever been. I don't mean the "additions" to make it more scientifically accurate, but rather the way he treats the slow degradation over the aeons and the way that various people have evolved to fit their world.
Alas... this book is too short and doesn't really contain new ideas. It does bring a lot of old Known Space ideas together in one place and the logical interplay of things like the anti-matter star system, super auto-doc, QII hyperdrive, and the ring itself is kind of fun. On the other hand, there are lots of elements (the Fringe War in particular) that are just there on the page, rather lifeless. The hyperspace monster thing (more-or-less a throwaway in any case) didn't amuse me (except: Beowulf Shaeffer was right and Carlos Wu was wrong in "Borderland of Sol", who'da thunk it?) for more than a second. In fact it rather annoyed me. I hope Niven has something interesting to do with the beasties in some future story.
I still like Niven's clear, affectation-free prose. This book doesn't rise to the level of the original and I'd much rather have had something heftier with some more interesting new ideas, but...
Sour grapes aside, Niven's "playspace" still has amazing flexibility. Rather than "down in flames", this book seems to open up various possible additional storylines in the future. I hope that Louis Wu does, in fact, live forever. (Secretly I'm pining for him to meet "dad" for a shared adventure.)
Wait for this one in paperback, my friends, but you'll want to read it nonetheless.
on June 7, 2005
This is the first Known Space novel to disappoint me. Not only did it do that, it killed my interest in reading Larry Niven. One of the blurbs quoted when you open the book says this book has "enough mind-boggling ideas to keep a dozen lesser writers working for years". What?
What new ideas? The nanotech 'doc? I've read about nanotech medics many times before, first in a robot story from Asimov where a robot goes mini to kill a cancer spread and later in a military SF book where a major businessman is restored to life as a cyborg after experiencing a heart attack.
Rishathra? No, I won't tell you what it is. I'll just tell you it's one of those things you see a lot of in science fiction.
Hyperspace predators? Yep, there's a new one all right--and it's going right back into the pit of Tartarus from which it came. I mean seriously, if you actually read the book (which I hope you don't), you'll be laughing.
The worst part about this, though, is that every probelm can be solved in a few chapters. You want to rescue the Long Shot from the alien Patriarchy? Hop aboard! You want to save the Ringworld from the gaping air drainage? Easy! We'll use a plug! In fact, the only thing that ever stands between our heroes and a perfect solution to everything is a few annoying side-characters, some sex, and the aforementioned hyperspace predators that do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help the story. In fact, over 200 pages of this book could be trashed and the story would still be pretty much the same. The pacing is terrible. In fact, the entire story reminds me of Dragonball GT. Remember how they manage to take everyone off the Earth to another planet in a few days? There was NO politcal resistance, the millions of spaceships neccesary came outta nowhere, and somehow they got the message to everyone on Earth, no matter how isolated they might be, and the series just takes it for granted. This book is about that intelligent...but maybe less.
Larry Niven reported that engineering students have determined that the Ringworld mathematically is a suspension bridge with no end points. I don't have the math skills to confirm the claim, but I can confirm that enjoyable as the Ringworld series has been, sometimes when reading this fourth Ringworld book I felt like more than one kind of end point was being suspended.
This is the story of how Louis Wu's hand-picked successor to the Ringworld "throne" preserves the Ringworld from the threat of annihilation by human cops, kzinti warcats and other folk we thought we had learned to like. The ARM agents here, for example, aren't upset when their antimatter tools blast a Manhattan-sized hole in the floor of the Ringworld, jeopardizing the lives of the Ringworld's 30 trillion inhabitants. The ARMs we meet note they can still learn a lot studying the deserted, desiccated shell if that happens. It doesn't, of course, but Larry, you've sure come a long ways in your attitude towards cops since the days of Gil the Arm.
Like Robert Heinlein in his last half dozen books, Niven has also taken to recycling old ideas from earlier books, even ideas his characters rejected then, and using them in "Children":
- Ship-eating monsters in hyperspace, rejected as a possibility in "Borderland of Sol," may turn out to be real. (Beowulf Schaeffer was right and Carlos Wu was wrong? Who'd have thought it?) So Puppeteers are right to fear hyperspace.
- Teela Brown's fabulous luck, discredited in "Ringworld Engineers," may be a matter of lucky genes after all.
- The anti-matter solar system in "Neutron Star" turns out to still be around.
- The "Longshot," the experimental advanced ship from "Neutron Star" and "Ringworld" turns out to still be around.
- Schizophrenic cops, an idea from the one original story in "Crashlander," appear again. (Larry, what is it about you and cops?)
- Carlos Wu's fabulous autodoc, also from "Crashlander" or maybe from "Ringworld Engineers," continues to play a starring role.
There are half a dozen other references from earlier works that I saw, and likely a lot more that I missed.
Niven's strong suit has always been ideas and the extrapolation of ideas, combined with good plotting. He's never been a strong character author, and he has the annoying habit of paying more attention to the scenery than to character development. That's an ongoing problem with this short novel, too. And an unusually large number of characters are abandoned by the author, having served there immediate function to the plot. (Larry, what was the purpose of having Louis Wu and his motely crew meet the Giraffe People? And that's Larry's pun, not mine.)
And spare me any more rishathra jokes. Please.
Niven continues to do one thing consistently well: Protectors, the folk who probably built the Ringworld, are mostly superintelligent, in addition to having some other skills. How can a writer of normal intelligence, writing to a reader of normal intelligence, portray believably a superintelligent being? It takes more than one technique. Niven uses several effectively, perhaps more effectively than he has done in the last two Ringworld books. It's the best and most effective aspect of this novel.
The motivation of Protectors is less well, or at least less consistently, developed. You knew - come one, admit it - that the Ringworld would have a surviving original Pak Protector. But how is that Proserpina is still alive? And why did Bram - the former occupant of the Ringworld "throne," killed at the end of that book, let the Ringworld deteriorate to its present sad condition?
Still and all, this is an entertaining yarn. Niven ends it ambiguously, with the Ringworld safer, if not safe, and enough satisfying new ideas to give a reader something to chew on. There's enough trickiness, plots-within-plots and general scheming to keep a reader guessing. And only Louis Wu and Nessus have the means to return to the Ringworld.
I'd expected this to be the story where Louis Wu meets Carlos Wu, who is almost certainly his father (see: "Crashlander") but that didn't happen. Stay tuned.
Is this a classic Niven story? Nope. But it's something of a return to form after disappointments likes "The Burning City." Strongly recommended for "Ringworld" fans. This is not the book for newcomers to Niven's universe; start with "Ringworld" the novel. If you're not a science fiction fan, you should probably skip this one.
If you made it through all three of the Ringworld books before this one, you owe it to yourself to keep going. I thought this one was better than Ringworld Throne, but not as good as the first two in the series.
It's fast-paced, has interesting characters, and contains plenty of conflict. There's a war on over Ringworld, called the Fringe War, and it supplies a lot of the action and some of the characters. Louis Wu is great as always, and Acolyte (son of Chmee/Speaker to Animals) is a fine sidekick.
A couple of interesting twists await towards the end of the book. I thought the denouement was just a wee bit maudlin, but it's obvious that Niven really likes Louis as a character, and... well, that's all I'll say.
If you really, really love the Ringworld series (as I do), get the hardback for an immediate good read. If you are not quite as fanatic about it, hang on and get the paperback in a couple of months.
on March 17, 2005
In September 1993 I read Ringworld for the first time. I had turned twenty that June, just gotten my driver's license, and I was starting my third semester of college. By Christmas I had read all of Niven's Known Space work (except The Patchwork Girl, which took about a year to track down), and his two Smoke Ring novels. Call it binge reading, an odd little habit I'd developed at a young age of picking an author and reading as many of his works as I could in as short a time as possible. My first binge read, that I can recall, was of Arthur C. Clarke in 1984, and I did it several times later, with Isaac Asimov, with Orson Scott Card, with Philip K. Dick.
Ringworld wasn't my first encounter with Niven's work or with Known Space. I'd found Niven, at a very young age, through Star Trek, and Known Space through the Man-Kzin Wars anthologies because of the Kzin and their connection to Star Trek. But Ringworld was the biggie, the Big Dumb Object, the capstone of the entire Known Space mythos, where all the threads of Niven's prior work came together. Reading Ringworld first, however, left me blind to how much the novel built on those earlier works, and knowing that I didn't know everything led me deeper into Known Space.
Reading Ringworld's Children, Niven's new Known Space novel, last week brought back memories of that binge read. It is a book that needed to be written--the previous book, 1996's The Ringworld Throne ended on a cliffhanger as Louis Wu defeated the vampire Protector Bram and installed the ghoul Protector Tunesmith in his place as the Ringworld's Protector with Kzin and ARM spacefleets approaching the Ringworld to take possession of it. Ringworld's Children resolves that cliffhanger and explores who will control the Ringworld and why.
Ringworld's Children is different than any of the other books in the Known Space series--the writing is leaner, more spare. There's a lot of exposition, as characters bounce theories past one another to be confirmed or denied--who built the Ringworld; who runs ARM, the United Nations tech police; what exactly is hyperspace; what is luck. The book ends with a sense of closure, but new and wholly different avenues to explore have been opened. As much as I'd like to see a Known Space novel set anywhere but the Ringworld just to expand the focus a bit, I have to admit I'm mightily curious to see what happens next.
It's not the book for someone just discovering Known Space or the Ringworld--there's far too much assumed knowledge on the part of the reader to really be reader-friendly, though references to past books in the series are given some brief explanation. I wish Chmeee, the Kzin who journeyed to the Ringworld with Louis Wu in the first two books and established an empire on the Map of Earth, had more than just a cameo appearance at the novel's conclusion. And in some ways, the Ringworld seems like a much smaller place now--the sensawunder of the wide-open vistas and the Arch of Heaven towering overhead with the sun as its keystone is lost. A person could live forever and never see all of the ringworld, or even grasp his mind around a mere tenth of it.
If you're a Niven fan, I recommend Ringworld's Children. I can only hope that a span of years, even a decade or more, won't pass until the next volume in the Ringworld series.
on July 7, 2005
This is one truly appalling book. If I could have given it zero stars I would have. Larry Niven was once an exciting writer whose excitement in novelties carried you along with him. Now he seems to be drearily trying to tie together the loose ends of most of his previous work, to little or no effect - just going through the motions.
Where can I start? Lack of characterisation. Slack plotting (which Niven now seems to believe is purely mechanical). Ho-hum action sequences. Personal obsessions (inter-species sex). Here-and-there action to no great purpose. And a resolution which is wholly deus ex machina.
Sad to see an author who once had it all together (and remember the younger Niven justifiably won both Hugo and Nebula awards) lose it to this extent. I ended "Ringworlds's Chidren" thinking it would have read a lot better had it been edited by E. E. ("Doc") Smith - and that's saying something!
on July 19, 2004
After Ringworld Throne I had low expectations for this new Ringworld novel.
In preperation I re-read the first 3 books, and they were still fresh in my mind when I picked up Ringworld's Children.
I personally did not like Ringworld Throne anywhere near as much. I found the Ringworld natives generic and boring and hard to keep track of. Often I found myself not really caring what happened to them. Near the end of the book things started to pick up, and it does answer some important questions (while posing new ones). So even if just to learn what happens next it's worth it to fight your way through Ringworld Throne.
Ringworld's Children goes a long way to fixing those problems.
This time around the focus is back on Louis Wu, where it should be. As a result the book is far less schitzophrenic and a lot easier to understand (is it just me or was anyone else completely confused by Bram's origin story in Ringworld Throne?).
A big Known Space fan (I have read almost all the stories, with the exception of the new short story included in the Crashlander collection) I really appreciated all the nods to previous books.
Carlos Wu, the antimatter solar system, Nuetron Star, Protector and other stories are all tied together in this.
It really does feel like Niven is wrapping things up, and when you see what happens at the end you'll understand it's pretty hard to top in terms of sheer scale.
The book was a fun read. I thought the pacing was good. *Some* of the concepts introduced seemed somewhat forced, or not explored in enough detail. Like the extra convolutions to Teela's story. But they never really affected my enjoyment of the story.
However something that bother me is Niven's ongoing habit of adding new slang whenever he writes a new story in a series.
He did it in Engineers and in Throne, but it wasn't quite as intrusive as "LE" is. This whole "Legal Entity" thing came out of nowhere. No one said it in the other stories, even in Ringworld Throne which takes place the same year as Ringworld's Children.
Similarly the term the Fringe War has no basis. No one used that term in Ringworld Throne, yet even as he's stepping out of the autodoc, not having spoken to anyone since the end of Throne, Louis contemplates the "Fringe War".
For obvious reasons he needed to give a name to the growing conflict in the Ringworld solar system, but there are more elegant ways he could have introduced us to the term. Like how about Tunesmith uses it the first time he speaks with Louis after emerging from the autodoc and Louis asks him what it means.
But that small gripe is not enough to ruin the book for me. The only other problem I had is the length. The story is relatively short. I'm not sure how short because my copies of the other Ringworld stories are paperback, but it feels shorter than the others, and it's dissapointing because when it really gets moving you don't want it to end.
I might actually give it 3.5 stars if I had the choice, I'm not sure though. Somewhere in that range, 3.5-4 out of 5.
Some might want to wait for the paperback though. And you should re-read Ringworld Throne at the very least, but re-reading all 3 would be best.
on June 7, 2004
This book is a fun read, with lots of "insider" jokes that folks who've read most of the author's previous Known Space fiction will get a chuckle out of ("You mean they're being eaten?!? But the Hindmost hadn't reacted to the news!).
Unlike Ringworld Throne, the focus is once again on action, adventure and near-magical technology. The only reason I didn't rate it higher is because the tongue-in-cheek "sense of wonder" that I used to get from Niven's early work is missing. However, that's probably just a result of the changes that growing older brings in the way most of us look at the world (myself included).
Bottom line, read the book, you'll enjoy it.
And as to the title of my review... Ringworld's Children sure seems to pretty much close out the possibility of future Ringworld tales. In fact, many of the "closures" in Ringworld's Children feel very much like the kinds of things outlined in his previously published outline of the known-space-story-to-end-all-known-space-stories "Down in Flames".