As mentioned, I’ve been trying to catch up on old, classic science fiction, and after Rendezvous with Rama, I set my sites on Ringworld by Larry Niven, a book I have also been hearing about since I was a kid. Like Rama, Ringworld involves an alien artifact and a crew that visits it. But unlike Rama, I kind of hated it.
Ringworld centers on Louis Wu, a roughly 200 year old human who seizes upon the opportunity to visit the mysterious Ringworld along with a crew consisting of two aliens and a human woman. The journey uncovers secrets about the Ringworld and about each other, culminating in a massive revelation about one of the crew members in particular.
To be fair, the Ringworld concept is cool, a variation on a Dyson sphere, and I wish the novel had spent even more time there, but it takes far too long to get there. The novel felt bloated and meandering and far too obsessed with unimportant personal interactions.
But far more egregious, I thought, was the way the novel treats women. There are two of note — one is an actual space whore (once they find out that she was on a space ship, it seems like the only profession she could be) and the other one is a literal plot device. In fact much of what Louis Wu does is mansplain to his companion, Teela. Of course Louis also has lots of sex with both women. Both women felt underdeveloped to me, whereas Louis, and the similarly male Speaker-to-Animals, have perhaps the most fully realized relationship in the whole novel.
I had other problems with the book — it feels overly sentimental without earning it, its sexism almost seems to border on misogyny in parts, and don’t get me started on the idea of evolved luck. I questioned Niven’s understanding of biology and evolution after reading Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, and there seems to be more of that suspect thinking here.
Ringworld won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Locus Awards, which puts it in a very small group. To be honest, I don’t see its appeal. Disappointing, but at least I can move on to the next book.
If you read Ringworld, though, and liked it, please let me know why in the comments. I’d love to hear from people with different viewpoints than mine.