Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What I just finished reading

Larry Niven

I first read this book several years ago, and though I found it very enjoyable at the time it was a little difficult to get my head wrapped around it at first. The story is loaded with fantastical aliens, technological wonders, and gargantuan concepts, and Larry Niven's writing style is full of subtlety. (Just when you've unraveled an elaborate description of an alien form and gotten a mental image of what it's supposed to look like, you've already read over a character's head nod or grunting comprehension of something that happened a few pages back. And many times, just to make sure you know what's going on, you have to back up and re-read a paragraph or ten.)

I did a lot of re-reading the first time around.

This time, though, I already knew the story line, and I was already familiar with the characters and their quirks, so I could relax and enjoy the story itself.

And it's a great read. Niven's subtleties are wonderful once you know what's happening, and I was able to grasp much more without having to go back over what I had already read.

If you've never heard of this book -- or never read it -- here's a brief synopsis:

It's many years in the future, and humanity has made contact and established relationships with several sentient and sapient species. Louis Wu is a man of advanced age (still healthy because of boosterspice) who grows bored with the world and travels space from time to time. He's approached by an alien of odd appearance from a species called the Pierson's Puppeteers. These beings are highly advanced, but they value cowardice above all other traits. Louis is convinced by this Puppeteer (named Nessus) to embark upon an exploration trip with a young human woman and an alien named Speaker to Animals, a member of a savage, warlike species called the Kzin (picture Klingons as giant, humanoid cats).

Louis, the woman (named Teela Brown), Nessus, and Speaker travel to explore the Ringworld, a massive structure discovered by the Puppeteers. It is an artificial world encircling a star at about the distance of a planet's orbit. It rotates around the sun, providing artificial gravity to anything on its surface.

It's huge. Very, very huge.

In the course of their exploration, the team's ship suffers a failure and crash-lands on the surface of the Ringworld, damaged so badly they cannot take off again.

Adventures ensue.

This is the first in a series of four books, and I've read them all. It's a very good story cycle, though a bit bizarre at times with subtle humor and understated terror. I plan on reading the next book, The Ringworld Engineers, very soon now. If and when I do, I will let you know my impression of that one the second time around.

Now that I know what's going on.


AlanDP said...

I've read the first two. I'll have to look up the second two. I don't remember having any problems understanding what was going on, when I read it.

I'd like to take this opportunity to recommend that you hunt down "Dragon's Egg" and "Starquake" (the sequel) by Robert L. Forward. Great sci-fi about life on a neutron star written by an actual astrophysicist. He includes some appendices that explain the actual math/science behind his story, but most of that part was over my head.

Albatross said...

I have never heard of those books, but I will take your recommendation the next time I'm in the book store. I like some good, hard sci-fi from time to time.