Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765301679 PubDate: 06/01/04
Review by Sam Lubell
288 pgs. List price $24.95
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The Ringworld curse is broken. Until now, each Ringworld book has been a drop in quality from its immediate predecessor. Ringworld is of course a classic in the field, the Ringworld Engineers is a very good sequel but not up the standards of the first book, and the Ringworld Throne, well, the less said the better. But while
Ringworld's Children never rises to the heights of Ringworld or even Engineers, it is much better than Throne. Unfortunately, it depends on the reader having an understanding of the previous books, as
Children opens pretty much where Throne left off.
In the original Ringworld, Louis Wu and his companions (the ferocious kzin Speaker to Animals, the cowardly Pierson’s Puppeteer, and the lucky human Teela Brown) crash on the giant Ringworld – essentially all the planets in a solar system forged into one giant ring. They have various adventures exploring the Ring before figuring out a way around the meteor defenses to get their ship home (except for Teela Brown who stays behind.)
Niven wrote the Ringworld Engineers, partially in response to people who kept finding problems with the science in the first book. Most particularly, in response to the MIT students who chanted “The Ringworld is unstable”, Niven made restoring the stability of the Ringworld a major plot point. Louis Wu, Speaker for animals, and Hindmost (the former Puppeteer leader) return to the Ringworld and discover that the Ringworld was built by protectors – the adult form to which humans are larva. At the end Louis Wu must fight Teela Brown, now turned into a protector herself, in order to save everyone on the Ringworld by killing a few million. In the muddle that is the Ringworld Throne, much of narrative is devoted to the Ringworld natives Louis had befriended and their struggles against the vampires. In the process Louis meets another protector (a former vampire) and eventually determines him unfit to control the Ringworld and so arranges for his replacement by a new protector from the Night People (a species that takes care of the dead). The book ends with Louis being placed in a healing chamber.
In Ringworld’s Children, Louis wakes up young again. With the help of his uneasy allies – the Hindmost, Acolyte the son of Speaker to Animals, the young protector Tunesmith, and some of the other Ringworld natives, he must deal with attempts by the various races of known space (including the humans) to take control of the Ringworld. As usual in the series everyone has their own agenda, especially the Hindmost. Louis wants to go home to Earth, but Tunesmith wants to make him into a protector. Plotwise, this book has everything from space battles to more exploration of the Ringworld to a mild romance.
When the explosion of an anti-matter bomb
from the space conflict produces a leak of the air of the Ringworld, Louis, Acolyte, and a protector made from a monkeylike race go to investigate the effectiveness of an attempt to plug the leak. Then, when an earth ship crashes on the Ringworld near the leak, the group (with Louis in disguise since he is young again) try to find out humanity’s intentions with respect to the Ringworld.
Niven’s strength is his sheer inventiveness. The Ringworld remains a fascinating creation with lots of room for strange races and adventures. Adding more humans to the mix only helps accent the size and scope of the ring (however, the teleportation discs ruin some of the effect by making it too easy to travel immense distances.) Unfortunately, characterization is not one of Niven’s strengths although Acolyte is an interesting departure from the usual violent kzin. Louis’ characterization was strongest in Engineers, which was in part about his struggle to give up an addiction. Here, his semi-romance with Roxanny, one of the Earth ship’s crew, allows Niven to stress his humanity. Louis is not just a schemer,
he's a romantic schemer.
Ironically, the structure of the four book sequence (and the ending is such that it serves as an ending for the series as a whole), resembles that of Lord Of The Rings. In both there is a first book (Ringworld, the Hobbit) that tells a separate story and then three books making up a continuous narrative about the unintended consequences of the first book. And both are, in part, about the destruction of a Ring (although Louis keeps trying to save it and the Ringworld is a bit too big to drop in a volcano.)
Anyone who has read as far in the series as the Ringworld Throne should certainly read Ringworld’s Children as it is a better book and ties up the series nicely. Everyone should at least try Ringworld and those who liked Ringworld should try Ringworld Engineers and consider stopping there. But if you’re a big Niven fan, like the character of Louis Wu, or just want to read about big adventures in a (very) big setting, Ringworld’s Children fits the bill a lot better than Ringworld Throne did.