(2004) Larry Niven, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, vii + 271 pp, ISBN 1-841-49170-5
After a respectable few years gap, Larry Niven has returned to his classic. If by chance you have not read Ringworld (1970), and are into hard SF, then you are advised to go out and get a copy. It has been in continually in print since its publication in 1970. Also, if you read the last 'Ringworld' book, Ringworld Throne (1996) and by some happenstance did not like it (a distinct possibility), then still get Ringworld and if you like that Ringworld's Children as these are both very different books, each in their own way. The Ringworld itself is a giant ring about a sun. It rotates/spins/orbits once every 7.5 30-hour Ringworld day providing 0.992 Earth G, so enabling an atmosphere to be trapped on its inner surface. An inner ring of squares provides shadows to enable the 30-hour day and night cycle. It has an inner surface area 3 million times that of the Earth...
Who built the Ringworld and why is revealed in Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers (1980), the latter also being a most worthy hard SF offering as the former. Many of the other features of the story are explained in other Niven books set in his 'Known Space' universe and recommended is the collection of shorts Tales of Known Space (1975) and the novel Protector (1973).
Ringworld's Children picks up the story with Louis Wu (of the first and second Ringworld expeditions) recovering in autodoc to find that he and an alien Pierson's Puppeteer are prisoners in the service of a Protector on the Ringworld. Meanwhile just outside the Ringworld system humans and a variety of aliens manoeuvre as a prelude to gaining access and control of Ringworld. Enough said really.
Though Ringworld's Children does not quite convey the sense of wonder of the original Ringworld, it is a worthy addition to the Ringworld series of books as it brings together many of the loose ends. It also develops past events and so will appeal to Known Space fans. This may seem guarded praise, and probably is, for any writer who creates a universe starts off with a blank canvas which gets interesting as the universe develops. However after a while, in order to maintain consistency, past constraints have to be adhered to, so there is the risk of writing one's self into a corner. Niven has said nearly everything he can (for the time being anyway?) about the physicality of the Ringworld (though we do get an anti-matter induced puncture at one point) so much of the story has other foci, namely the politics of Ringworld and Known Space as revealed by the actions of those on Ringworld and those clustered around its system edge. Personally I was not carried along by these as I might but maybe this is just me. What it does mean is that Ringworld's Children is a very different book from the original and so has different merits. Niven himself alludes to this in an interesting preface, one that might well have been longer. Ringworld parameters are also usefully given in a one page appendix.
Ringworld's Children is bound to be avidly read by Known Space fans and is a creditable continuation of the saga. Meanwhile if it introduces a younger generation to Niven's earlier Known Space works then it will have provided a useful service. Ringworld is, after all, literally a piece of science fiction history.
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