Ringworld/The Ringworld Engineers Critical Essays

Larry Niven


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A typical story by Larry Niven involves the solving of some technological or scientific dilemma within the framework of his Known Space. Niven came up with the idea for the Ringworld itself as a variation of the Dyson sphere, a planetary construct by the physicist Freeman Dyson in which an advanced civilization could take advantage of all of its sun’s energy. Niven had to fit this concept within the future history he already had imagined. In many respects, the Ringworld novels (particularly Ringworld) represent his finest novel-length achievement using this strategy. Ringworld won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel of the year.

One reason for the novel’s immense appeal is the strength of its characters. Louis Wu is both a typical and atypical science-fiction hero. He is typical in that he is driven by an immense curiosity about the universe he inhabits and is able to exist on his own as a solitary agent; he is atypical in that he is not extraordinarily competent in solving his problems, either physically or intellectually. He realizes that he needs the ideas and perspectives of others, and indeed he craves them. He is a xenophile, not a xenophobe, and relishes the prospect of working with aliens. Similarly, Speaker and Nessus are typical and atypical: They are representative of their species, in one case ferocious and honor-driven, and in the other cowardly and manipulative. They become unique characters because of their differences from their norms. Speaker is able to control his temper and instincts, and Nessus is able to exhibit courage and martial capabilities.

Teela Brown is an entirely different matter. She is unique in that because of her inherent luck, she never has been hurt. She must...

(The entire section is 715 words.)