Larry Niven

The Ringworld Engineers

Ringworld Engineers

The Ringworld Engineers by Larry Niven; Del Rey

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.

2 stars

Analog Science Fiction and Fact April 2011

Analog April 2011

Analog April 2011 cover

I finished the April 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact.  Every issue I read makes me truly love these little issues more and more.  There is just something incredibly loveable about their size and contents. I love that its all science fiction stories.  But interspersed are actual hard science articles and snippets that deal with real concepts, anecdotes, and ideas.  I also like the editor’s letters and the listing and recommendations of newly published science fiction works.  Basically, Analog is the best thing (or one of the top five) in the magazine industry.

This issue was much better than the previous issue that I read through.  The cover art was done by Jean-Pierre Normand.  Normand has done many other covers for Analog as well as Asimov’s Science Fiction.

CONTENTS (fiction only) and my rating

Hiding Place – 3 *s

Ian’s Ions and Eons  –  4*s

The Flare Weed  –  5*s

Small Penalties  –  3*s

Two Look at Two  –  3*s

Blessed are the Bleak  –  2*s

Remembering Rachel  –  3*s

Quack  –  3*s

Balm of Hurt Minds  –  3*s

By far my favorite story was Larry Niven’s “The Flare Weed.”   Interestingly, this “story” is only two pages in the issue.  (Or one page, if you like.)   Niven’s contribution had the utmost wit, frivolity, science, and seriousness all wrapped up in an easy-to-read catchy story.   Niven is a master of science fiction, and it was a joy to get this little snippet from him in this issue.

The first story, “Hiding Place,” was unique and curious.  It was written by Adam-Troy Castro.  Apparently he used concepts and storylines from this story before in other works.  It was a little darker than I normally read; however, I think that it has a lot of potential.  I was glad to be introduced to this world by the author even if I did not give it 5 stars.

The story “Ian’s Ions and Eons” is a really good story if you enjoy time-travel and the ethics thereof.  Do not think that this is merely an ethical digression, though. The story is interesting and I think it was the second best of the issue.  It was written by Paul Levinson – who is a well-published author and commentator in the media (from NPR and CBS to the History Channel and all sorts of newspapers). He is also a professor at Fordham University.  Anyway, reading this story makes me want to read some of his actual fiction novels that have been published by TOR publishers.

Of the remaining stories, the one most noteworthy was Jerry Oltion’s “Quack.”  Again, Oltion is a well-published author (in fact, he had a story in last month’s Analog issue).   I liked this story quite a bit because I think that it describes the personalities and attitudes among doctors and scientists as well as the influence of the media very accurately.   It provided a surprising point of view and I recommend reading this story to anyone who is in the fields of religion or medicine.  Just because.

Finally, although I prefer not to discuss the non-fiction articles and snippets in Analog, I have to make an exception this month.  I really liked Jeffery D. Kooistra’s article for the section:  The Alternate View.  He wrote a snippet about “AUTHOR FALLS IN LOVE WITH E-READER.”  One of the reasons that I am praising this article is that a week after I read it, I was still thinking about it.  It is also quite well written – engaging and interesting.  And, most importantly, its causing me to re-examine my opinions regarding e-readers, the future of literature, and human knowledge. That’s a good article.

MEAN:  3.22
MODE:  3