Ringworld Engineers, Larry Niven (Del Rey, 1980)

(Science Fiction, Classic Science Fiction, Exploration Science Fiction)

Grade: Δˡ — (Delta Prime) A good read, but only if you like the genre (or subgenre).

In brief:

Ringworld Engineers is Larry Niven‘s follow up novel to his award winning concept book, Ringworld.  Published ten years later, this sequel is in many ways an improvement to the original that corrects/clarifies some issues with the original’s physics, builds upon the ideas portrayed in the original, and answers many of the questions left hanging.  What is more, Niven’s portrayal of women is better presented, if for no other reason than that they appear less frequently.


Niven’s Known Space: A far future (mid-29th Century), where earth has limited ultra-tech.  Faster than light travel exists, as do multiple alien species and there is (or at least was) the ability to build larger-than-planet sized structures in space.

In Depth:

It’s not very often that an author get’s to address issues that arose in his original work, but in many ways, that is exactly what Ringworld Engineers is; an addendum to Nivens’ award wining Ringworld.  According to Nivens’ preface of the book, he wrote it in no small part to mistakes in his engineering that were pointed out to him by fans.  In the process, he also addressed problems of biology and characterizations.

To classify Ringworld Engineers like that, however, is grossly unfair to the book, for it does much more than that.  It not only corrects and/or clarifies problems with his original work, it builds upon the ideas and fills out concepts into a much more cohesive world. Perhaps more importantly, it makes a rip-roaring adventure tale that answers the questions left in the first book.

In essence, the story is so straight forward and simple, I can do little more than give the set up for it without spoiling the whole book.  The book opens with two of the protagonists of the first book, Louis Wu and his K’zin counter-part Speaker-to-Animals, being kidnapped by the now-deposed leader of the Pierson’s Puppeteers, who wants to loot the Ringworld in order to regain his position as Hindmost.  Once they arrive, they discover the mechanisms that stabilize the Ringworld have begun to malfunction.  Having crashed (again) on the surface, they realize that they must find the (or a) Ringworld control room in order to correct the problem.  The rest of the book follows on from the problems they have achieving this goal while simultaneously answering issues and questions that arose from the first book.

It also has a lot of sex. Oh, not so much as some people seem to think, but even so, one does sort of wish that good ol’ Larry would have “relieved some tension” BEFORE writing chapters each morning.  Indeed, for much of the book there is a bit of pattern: heroes arrive in town, Louis get’s laid, heroes leave town.  A bit dull after a while.

To that end, I should also note that in one sense the book addresses a central problem that I had with the first book: it’s portrayal of women. Having said that, it’s probably not due to the female characters suddenly develop depth or understanding, but rather because they are not so central to the plot.  That is to say, it is easy to appear less sexist if you don’t have any female characters in the core group of protagonists.

Furthermore, as with much of Nivens’ other work, even the male (or masculinesque… depending on the species) characters don’t really have much character development in this novel.  We start out with Louis, our central protagonist and Point of View (POV) character, being a wire-head addict,[1] but that new fascinating development never really makes any difference in the story.  Indeed, even upon finding it out about his addiction, we discover that he’s somehow managed to control it in a way that few if any other humans can.  Neither do we really see it play an important role in the development of the plot or character arc.  Indeed, it is one of the lost potentials of the story: a character with the ultimate addiction is put in the position of saving a world.

To that end, as with the first book, this is not (at all) a character driven tale.  Instead, it is a concept book, and as such builds upon the first one.  Indeed, if you liked the first book, then this is a great follow up.  If you didn’t like it, move along, it’s not worth your read.

[1] Someone who has the pleasure center of their brain wired so that they get a dose of euphoria whenever they push a button.


About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Alien Object, Chronicle, Classic Sci Fi, Cultural Contact, Generation Ship, Hard SciFi, Science Fiction, Series, Space Exploration, Space Opera, Ultratech, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ringworld Engineers, Larry Niven (Del Rey, 1980)

  1. Pingback: Kzin science fiction titles are now on Kindle. | Glenn's Blog

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