(1996) Larry Niven, Orbit, £16.99, hdbk, 376pp, ISBN 1 85723 399 9
Imagine a strip of metal 997,000 miles wide and 597,000 miles long, loop it around a handy star. Terraform the inside and you have an artefact with a habitable surface 3 million times that of Earth. This is Ringworld.
In the previous novel, The Ringworld Engineers, Louis Wu and his crew of aliens saved Ringworld from destruction, leaving them stranded on the ring with little hope of rescue.
Fourteen years later, Louis Wu is living the life of an itinerant teacher. But things are changing on the ring. A coalition of hominid subspecies have banded together to rid the ring of a plague of vampires. Then Wu is contacted by the alien puppeteer, the Hindmost. Something strange is happening on the edge of the ring. A group of Protectors -- the original alien builders of the ring -- are engaged in a war that could result in the destruction of everything...
I read this book partly in the hope of recapturing some of that old Niven magic, but no matter how much I wanted it, it was not there. Much of the first half of the book was a waste of time. The story of the vampire hunters served no purpose except to introduce a few incidental characters. It plods along until the last few chapters when everything starts to happen. When the action finally started it was good, but hardly worth the wait.
I wanted to like this book, but I just could not warm to it. Too much of the story relies on knowledge of Niven' earlier books, and I got the feeling that Niven was just going through the motions.
(Now Larry Niven has long since proved himself as a writer, and Concatenation has had the privilege of interviewing him in the past. We like Known Space (Niven's universe). So is the author just going through the motions, are publishers milking all the substance out of established writers at the expense of (new) talented writing, is the above review atypical? Here then is something Concatenation has never done before, a second opinion. Take it away Toneeeee. -- JC)
I remember when Larry Niven wrote science fiction. I remember when Larry Niven wrote good science fiction. Pity he stopped. Can't blame the publishers I suppose (though I do); a third Ringworld book is too much of a money spinner to ignore or turn down. Of course it will sell. But I cannot help thinking that that's a shame with a bastardisation like this. Niven seems to have completely gone off the edge, using Clarke's Law as the springboard to dive into so-called science-fantasy (meaning "fantasy written by old SF author masquerading as old self").
Now let's all sing the plot together: A Puppeteer digs up poor old Louis Wu and coerces him back to the Ringworld (ah, the old favourites!) in order to save it from total destruction, or something equally preposterous, which sets up the 'travel through various territories' bit, where you encounter the weird and wonderful, blah, blah, blah. And then something totally crap happens and it all ends happily ever after. If, like me, you enjoyed Ringworld and Ringworld Engineers, then stay as far away from this as you can.
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