Cover of first edition (paperback)
|Series||Ringworld storyline from Known Space|
|Media type||Print (hardcover, paperback), audiobook|
|Awards||Locus Award for Best Novel (1971)|
|Followed by||The Ringworld Engineers, 1980|
Ringworld is a 1970 science fiction novel by Larry Niven, set in his Known Space universe and considered a classic of science fiction literature. Niven later added four sequels and four prequels. (The Fleet of Worlds series, co-written with Edward M. Lerner, provides the four prequels, as well as Fate of Worlds, the final sequel.) These books tie into numerous other books set in Known Space. Ringworld won the Nebula Award in 1970, as well as both the Hugo Award and Locus Award in 1971.
On planet Earth in 2850 AD, Louis Gridley Wu is celebrating his 200th birthday. Despite his age, Louis is in perfect physical condition (due to the longevity drug boosterspice). He has once again become bored with human society and is thinking about taking one of his periodic sabbaticals, alone in a spaceship far away from other people. He meets Nessus, a Pierson's puppeteer, who offers him a mysterious job with almost no details. Intrigued, Louis eventually accepts. Speaker-to-Animals (Speaker), who is a Kzin, and Teela Brown, a young human woman who becomes Louis' lover, also join the crew.
They first go to the puppeteer home world, where they learn that the expedition's goal is to investigate the Ringworld to see if it poses any threat. The Ringworld is a gigantic artificial ring about one million miles (1,600,000 km) wide and approximately the diameter of Earth's orbit (which makes it about 600,000,000 miles or 950,000,000 km in circumference), encircling a sunlike star. It rotates to provide artificial gravity 99.2% as strong as Earth's from centrifugal force. The Ringworld has a habitable, flat inner surface (equivalent in area to approximately three million Earths), a breathable atmosphere and a temperature optimum for humans. Night is provided by an inner ring of shadow squares which are connected to each other by thin, ultra-strong wire. When the crew completes their mission, they will be given the starship in which they will travel to the Ringworld; it is far faster than any possessed by humans or Kzinti.
When they reach the vicinity of the Ringworld, they are unable to contact anyone, and their ship, the Lying Bastard, is disabled by the Ringworld's automated meteoroid-defense system. The severely damaged vessel collides with a strand of shadow-square wire and crash-lands near a huge mountain. Many of the ship's systems survive intact, including the faster-than-light hyperdrive, but the normal drive is destroyed, leaving them unable to launch back into space to use the hyperdrive. They set out to find a way to get home.
Using their flycycles (similar to antigravity motorcycles), they try to reach the rim of the ring, where they hope to find some technology that will help them. It will take them months to cross the vast distance. When Teela develops "Plateau trance" (a kind of highway hypnosis), they are forced to land. On the ground, they encounter apparently human natives. The primitive natives, who live in the crumbling ruins of a once advanced city, think that the crew are the engineers who created the ring, whom they revere as gods. The crew is attacked when they commit what the natives consider blasphemy (the misuse of certain technologies).
They continue their journey, during which Nessus reveals some Puppeteer secrets: they have conducted experiments on both humans (breeding for luck via Birthright Lotteries: all of Teela's ancestors for six generations were born from winning the lottery) and Kzinti (breeding for reduced aggression via the Man-Kzin wars, which the Kzinti always lost). Speaker's outrage forces Nessus to flee and follow them from a safe distance.
In a floating building over the ruins of a city, they find a map of the Ringworld and videos of its past civilization.
While flying through a giant storm, caused by air escaping through a hole in the Ring floor due to a meteoroid impact, Teela becomes separated from the others. While Louis and Speaker search for her, their flycycles are caught by an automatic police trap designed to catch traffic offenders. They are trapped in the basement of a floating police station. Nessus enters the station to try to help them.
In the station, they meet Halrloprillalar Hotrufan ("Prill"), a former crew member of a spaceship used for trade between the Ringworld and other inhabited worlds. When her ship returned to the Ringworld the last time, they found that civilization had collapsed. The crew managed to enter the Ringworld, but some of them were killed and others suffered brain damage when the device that let them pass through the Ringworld floor failed. From her account, Louis surmises that a mold was brought back from one of the other planets by a spaceship like Prill's; it broke down the superconductors vital to the Ringworld civilization, dooming it.
Teela reaches the police station, accompanied by her new lover, a native "hero" called Seeker who helped her survive. Based on an insight gained from studying an ancient Ringworld map, Louis comes up with a plan to get home. Teela, however, chooses to remain on the Ringworld with Seeker. Louis, formerly skeptical about breeding for luck, now wonders if the entire mission was caused by Teela's luck, to unite her with her true love and help her mature.
The party travels back to their crashed ship in the floating police station. They carefully collect one end of the shadow-square wire that was snapped when the ship crashed, dragging the wire behind them. Louis threads the wire through the ship to tether it to the police station. He then takes the police station up to the summit of "Fist-of-God", the enormous mountain near their crash site. The mountain had not appeared on the Ringworld map, leading Louis to conclude that it is in fact the result of a meteoroid impact with the underside of the ring, which pushed the "mountain" up from the ring's floor and broke through. The top of the mountain, above the atmosphere, is therefore just a hole in the Ringworld floor. Louis drives the police station over the edge, dragging the Lying Bastard along with it. The Ringworld spins very quickly, so once the ship drops through the hole and clears the ring, they can use the ship's hyperdrive to get home. The book concludes with Louis and Speaker discussing returning to the Ringworld.
Algis Budrys found Ringworld to be "excellent and entertaining . . . woven together very skillfully and proceed[ing] at a pretty smooth pace." While praising the novel generally, he faulted Niven for relying on inconsistencies regarding evolution in his extrapolations to support his fictional premises.
In addition to the two aliens, Niven includes a number of concepts from his other Known Space stories:
The opening chapter of the original paperback edition of Ringworld featured Louis Wu teleporting eastward around the Earth in order to extend his birthday. Moving in this direction would, in fact, make local time later rather than earlier, so that Wu would soon arrive in the early morning of the next calendar day. Niven was "endlessly teased" about this error, which he corrected in subsequent printings to show Wu teleporting westward.
In his dedication to The Ringworld Engineers, Niven wrote, "If you own a first paperback edition of Ringworld, it's the one with the mistakes in it. It's worth money."
After the publication of Ringworld, many fans identified numerous engineering problems in the Ringworld as described in the novel. One major one was that the Ringworld, being a rigid structure, was not actually in orbit around the star it encircled and would eventually drift, ultimately colliding with its sun and disintegrating. This led MIT students attending the 1971 Worldcon to chant, "The Ringworld is unstable! The Ringworld is unstable!" The phrase made its way into a filk song, "Give Me That Pro, Larry Niven." Niven wrote the 1980 sequel The Ringworld Engineers in part to address these engineering issues. In it, the ring is found to have a system of attitude jets atop the rim walls, but the Ringworld has become gravely endangered because most of the jets have been removed by the natives, to power their interstellar ships. (The natives had forgotten the original purpose of the jets.)
"Ringworld", or more formally, "Niven ring", has become a generic term for such a structure, which is an example of what science fiction fans call a "Big Dumb Object", or more formally a megastructure. Other science fiction authors have devised their own variants of Niven's Ringworld, notably Iain M. Banks' Culture Orbitals, best described as miniature Ringworlds, and the ring-shaped Halo structure of the video game Halo. Ringworlds are featured in several video games, such as Paradox Interactive's 4X grand strategy game Stellaris, Blind Mind Studios' Star Ruler 2, and Malfador Machinations' Space Empires series.
In 1984, a role-playing game based on this setting was produced by Chaosium named The Ringworld Roleplaying Game. Information from the RPG, along with notes composed by RPG author John Hewitt with Niven, was later used to form the "Bible" given to authors writing in the Man-Kzin Wars series. Niven himself recommended that Hewitt write one of the stories for the original two MKW books, although this never came to pass.
Tsunami Games released two adventure games based on Ringworld. Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch was released in 1992 and Return to Ringworld in 1994. A third game, Ringworld: Within ARM's Reach, was also planned, but never completed.
There have been many aborted attempts to adapt the novel to the screen.
In 2013, it was again announced by the SyFy Channel that a miniseries of the novel was in development. This proposed 4-hour miniseries is being written by Michael R. Perry and will be a co-production between MGM Television and Universal Cable Productions.
Tor Books and Seven Seas Entertainment published a two-part graphic novel adaptation of Ringworld, with the script written by Robert Mandell and the artwork by Sean Lam. Ringworld: The Graphic Novel, Part One, covering the events of the novel up to the sunflower attack on Speaker, was released on July 8, 2014. Part Two was released on November 10, 2015.
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