The Ringworld Engineers is the second book in the Ringworld series by Larry Niven. The Ringworld Engineers (1980) was published ten years after Ringworld. The cover art was done by Dale Gustafson. The novel is divided into three parts.
Overall, this is really not a good novel. Ringworld isn’t actually a great novel, either. But there’s something about science fiction that allows for bad novels to still be fascinating and readable. The Ringworld Engineers starts off with a pretty neat scene. Louis Wu, twenty years after the discovery of the Ringworld, is sitting in the lotus position in his home on the planet Canyon. He is attacked by assassin/kidnappers. Louis Wu has also become an addict to the wire – electrical brain stimulation.
Soon, Wu is kidnapped and finds himself as the captive of The Hindmost, a puppeteer. The Hindmost is much like the puppeteer Nessus in the novel Ringworld, displaying all of the usual puppeteer traits. For example, Hindmost is cowardly and a bit insane. Once on Hindmost’s ship, Wu discovers that The Hindmost has also captured a kzin: the former Speaker-to-Animals, who is now named Chmeee. Hindmost has captured these previous explorers of Ringworld because Hindmost seeks to return to his homeworld bearing technological marvels which will reinstate him at an exalted status on homeworld.
Louis and Chmeee are dispatched from the Hindmost’s ship on a mission to find amazing technology and return it to the ship. The overarching problem throughout this mission, however, is that the Ringworld is “slipping.” It has departed from it’s standard orbit and is going to crash into it’s solar body. Naturally, Louis and Chmeee try to keep their efforts to overcome the Hindmost secret, but they are both fighting their own personal battles: Louis’ addiction to the wire and Chmeee struggles to deal with his now more youthful body. These two travel parts of the Ringworld (The Hindmost is far too cowardly to leave the ship) and have a variety of adventures which are not entirely interesting. I guess, the author wanted to show us the diversity of the planet’s inhabitants as well as re-familiarize the reader with the magnitude of Ringworld. However, it just seems Louis and Chmeee are getting sidetracked. Once again, we get to experience The God Gambit, which is a neat little trick Chmeee and Louis use to manipulate the natives.
And the reader unfortunately gets acquainted with the concept of rishathra. This is sex practice outside of one’s species used to create, bind, and recognize contracts/promises. It’s really not one of my favorite concepts in all of science fiction, let me just say that. Besides if you consider the beings with which Louis performs rishathra with, it’s actually a bit disturbing. Though the Ringworld Engineers had eradicated disease, the inhabitants of the planet are basically primitives or cross breeds. Louis, you are a nasty man.
There are vampires in this book, city-builders, kzin, etc. But overall, even though I understood the general outline and plot of the book, a lot of the stuff that happens just seems unnecessary or confusing. I mean, there are times when I really do not know what the point of certain threads in the story is. Basically, I assume it’s just to give Louis (or Chmeee or Hindmost) something to do. I basically do not like any of the characters, but then again, there is this magic about Ringworld that makes me want to read it regardless of all it’s flaws. One of the most amusing aspects of Niven’s characters is their ridiculously extreme deadpan dialogue. I mean, there are times when it’s just a hoot because Hindmost and Louis and Chmeee will be having a near-death-experience and one of them will be very blah and matter-of-fact about everything.
In this second novel, we learn a lot more about the history of the Ringworld, the placement of the Known Worlds and the Fleet of Worlds, and about puppeteers. One of the technology that is used quite often in this novel is actually really neat: stepping discs. This is cool stuff and I feel this concept could be explored and developed repeatedly. It’s good techy geek stuff. Even if I have not been able to conjure up a mental image of what the Hindmost’s ship looks like.