First Graf: Ringworld

SINCE 1970, LARRY NIVEN HAS written four books and a number of articles concerning the Ringworld: an Earth’s orbit-diameter ribbon made from disassembled planets and populated by its builders with all manner of adaptive species, each with its own culture and agenda.

Who built it? Why? And what caused its civilization — one vastly superior to 29th century Known Space — to fall so abruptly? These questions are at the core of the eponymous first novel, where two humans — 200-year-old Louis Wu and his 20ish inamorata, Teela Brown — join the aliens Speaker-to-Animals (a Kzin, something like an ironic feline wookiee) and Nessus the Puppeteer (a three-legged, two-headed galactic captain of commerce) in an exploratory mission to the mysterious structure.

Neal’s bias: Classics, especially for those with a heavy worldbuilding fetish, although Ringworld and The Ringworld Engineers also stand alone fairly well. I enjoyed the first two novels immensely;The Ringworld Throne I thought better the second time (but was close to the Eight Deadly Words on first read) and Ringworld’s Children largely for how The Master integrates (the technical term is “retcons“) the latest cosmological theories on dark matter and the like. Four rockets. Check ’em out.

In the nighttime heart of Beirut, in one of a row of general-address transfer booths, Louis Wu flicked into reality.

His foot-length queue was as white and shiny as artificial snow. His skin and depilated scalp were chrome yellow; the irises of his eyes were gold; his robe was royal blue with a golden stereoptic dragon superimposed. In the instant he appeared, he was smiling widely, showing pearly, perfect, perfectly standard teeth. Smiling and waving. But the smile was already fading, and in a moment it was gone, and the sag of his face was like a rubber mask melting. Louis Wu showed his age. …

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