The Ringworld Engineers

Blogging has been light lately because I’ve been reading The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven, and just finished it up last night. It was a decent enough novel, and a decent sequel to the original Ringworld, though I think I liked the original better.

Niven does a great job of building a complex, consistent universe and then coming up with logical, consistent solutions to the puzzles he throws at his characters. And the Ringworld—and his Known Space universe—is a compelling one to play in. This story is no different. He brings back most of the characters from the first book, 23 years later, and drops them on the Ringworld with a seemingly impossible task: save it before it crashes into the sun. (The first book merely had them explore and ultimately escape when things went wrong.) He pulls this off in a satisfying way.

One of things I thought was weak to the point of distracting was the overuse of interspecies sex. Niven contrived this practice among the Ringworld natives as a bargaining tool, to seal deals, to avoid mating within a species, and just as a general titillating contrivance. Yeah, odd, and unconvincing. It smacks of “dirty old man” syndrome, or a cheap male fantasy (a world with free no-strings-attached sex!). There’s nothing explicit or pornographic—it’s just annoying. There’s no real point to it, it just seems gratuitous, and that makes weak writing.

In general, I like the stuff Niven and Jerry Pournelle produce together better than just Niven’s work alone—although granted, I’ve only read these first two Ringworld novels, and he has quite a body of work that I haven’t touched, so it may not be a fair comparison.

Overall, Engineers is a good summer read. Watch out for sequel-itis, though: you defintely need to read the original Ringworld to follow what’s going on. (And speaking of sequel-itis, I observe that there are two more sequels in this series… good grief…)