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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

March 30, 2005

Talking of Rishathra...

I finally got around to reading Ringworld's Children by Larry Niven. Not everyone's cup of tea, I know, but a series I've been enjoying since I first read Mr Niven at the tender age of around 12 or 13; in other words, just a couple of years after the original Ringworld was published.

[I have to say, although most young people would baulk at the idea of being 42 years of age at any point in their lives, I'm really starting to enjoy very much the fact that I enjoyed many many things the first time around. Things that have either come back into fashion, or entered the mainstream for the first time, or suffered a revival. And even where I was behind the curve of events as they occured - because I'm not that old - I wasn't that far behind.]

I've mentioned before (sorry, blog now too big to bother finding link) that the Ringworld was a great idea in search of a plot, and over the decades Niven has returned to it several times, building a story around the flaws in his original concept and creating an extended response to his critics. Along the way, his own obsessions have also influenced things, so much of what happens concerns the various ways the book's 200-year-old hero, Louis Wu, is made young and strong again; and the ways in which a 50-year-old female character is seen as youthful and sexy.

Ringworld's Children seems less like a 3rd sequel and more like a bolt-on to the 2nd sequel, The Ringworld Throne. This explains its skimpy length (less than 300 pages); in fact, very little time has passed since the previous book ended.

As far as plotting is concerned, the problem of the Ringworld is its size; as Niven mentions in the Preface, if the Earth was a marble, Ringworld would be a ribbon half a mile wide and 5 miles long. In other words, it's exceedingly difficult to even build a scale model. I've mentioned before that the artwork for the books always gets the scale wrong: if you're far enough away to see that it's a ring, then you're too far away to see any surface detail. So land a few human-sized people on its surface, and it's really very difficult to find anything for them to do.

So why read it? Because it's fascinating to read an author struggling with such a big idea; and it's interesting for the reader to try to grasp the scale of the thing, and other astronomical concepts. There's a rumour that the Sci Fi Channel are planning a mini-series, but what it really needs to be is a long-running serial, not necessarily too closely based on the original books: let's say 8 or 9 seasons of 45 minute episodes, or around 150 hours. Then you might be able to do it justice.

Still, I enjoyed it, and judging from the ending, it really is over now. I've started reading On Stranger Tides which I managed to source from Abebooks. It's something I read many years ago, and which has been out of print. Like most of Powers' stuff, it's sheer brilliance.


  • Good point about scale being a problem. Imagine doing it with a Dyson Sphere!

    By Anonymous Matt, at 6:06 am  

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