Review: New 'Ringworld' a treat for fans
By L.D. Meagher
(CNN) -- One of the most intriguing places in the universe doesn't actually exist. It is an artificial world, constructed as an enormous ring, 600 million miles in circumference, occupying the entire orbit of an Earth-like planet.
It leapt from the imagination of writer Larry Niven nearly 25 years ago in the novel "Ringworld." It has been out there ever since, an object of fascination for science fiction fans, engineers, biologists -- anyone, it seems, who has ever heard about it.
Niven makes another return visit to his most famous -- and most intriguing -- literary invention in "Ringworld's Children," the fourth in the series.
If you want to go along for the ride, however, you need to be prepared. The author invests no time in bringing the reader up to speed. He launches into the story from the first paragraph and never looks back:
"Louis Wu woke aflame with new life, under a coffin lid."
If you do not understand that sentence, you're in trouble. If you do, you're in for a treat.
Louis Wu is a bit more than 200 years old, and he has been on the Ringworld for a while, spending most of his time trying to save it. How an Earth-born human got to be that old, and how he found himself in the position of savior for this inalterably alien world is the story told in the three previous novels. If you haven't read them, go do so. Only then will you be ready for "Ringworld's Children."
The greatest threat at the moment is holes. The on-going Fringe War is encroaching ever closer to the Ringworld. Some of the combatants are using anti-matter weapons that can penetrate scrith ("Ringworld structural material," according to Niven's glossary, "... with a tensile strength on the order of the force that holds an atomic nucleus together").
The results of such punctures are catastrophic. Tunesmith, a Ghoul-turned-protector, has designed a way to repair the holes, but the repairs take time. In the interim, an Earth ship crashes and its crew discovers Louis and his companions (a Hanging Person protector loyal to Tunesmith, a Kzin named Acolyte and a traveler called Wembleth).
In the course of their interactions, many of Ringworld's secrets -- including the reason for its very existence -- are revealed. And it seems the Pak protectors are not quite as extinct as Louis thought.
"Ringworld's Children" is one part action and three parts thought-provoking exposition. That ratio was once common to science fiction. Niven, while not entirely an "old school" writer, was clearly imprinted by the genre's grand masters. His writing style is lucid and spare.
"Fist-of-God Mountain loomed to port like a lost moon, poking far out of the atmosphere. Around its foot the land was more moonscape than desert, hundreds of millions of square miles of lifeless pitted rock. Fist-of-God was an inverted crater. A meteoroid had punched up through the Ringworld floor from underneath, hundreds of years ago. The blast had flayed soil from the high places, even this far away. Naked scrith was dramatically slippery."
The idea of the Ringworld is grand and complex and utterly worthy of Niven's talents. Rarely have a writer and his creation been so ideally suited for each other. "Ringworld's Children" is another engrossing journey across one of science fiction's most captivating landscapes.