Crossposted at Bibliosanctum
Tempted by an alien from a race of equine-like aliens known as the puppeteers, Louis Wu, Teela Brown, and a kzin named Speaker-To-Animals head out to a world known as Ringworld, an earth like planet, a planet that is 300 million times bigger than the surface of earth, that could become the future home of sentient beings. A supernova is on course to destroy the galaxy in twenty thousand years, but this new planet coupled with the puppeteers'experimental form of space travel (that cuts travel time down by four-fifths) could help them successfully evacuate their planets when the time comes. However, one question remains. Who resides on the planet now?
I didn't like this book much, and that's because of the narrator. I think I would've really loved this book, but Louis just rubbed me raw. Since this story is told from his point of view, I couldn't escape him no matter how much I wanted him to swallow, choke, and die. The amount of antipathy he managed to pull from me starting from nearly the beginning of the story is pretty amazing. Louis Wu is a shallow, condescending, ridiculous human being whose sense of self importance is laughable. I'm not sure if I was meant to like him. I didn't receive the memo if I was supposed to take this man-child seriously.
However, despite my deep loathing of Louis, the aliens, the voyage, the world they landed on were all fascinating. The science behind the creation of this world and it's technology were nice to read about. I love reading about the hard engineering involved in worlds such as these. Learning the history and idiosyncrasies of these races and earth's various changes over the last few centuries really tickled and indulged the sci-fi geek inside me. Niven knows how to create a world even if I find his (human) characters lacking. I can appreciate the science of it.
There seems to be some persisting debate about whether people should be offended by Niven's treatment of women in this and other books he's written. The era and the relative newness of feminism are used as points why people shouldn't be offended, but also seems to suggest that the author was incapable of changing gender roles in a science fiction book chock full of futuristic ideas. He can make new alien races who look vastly different from their human counterparts, but he's unable to figure out what to do with those pesky women.
Regardless, people are allowed to be offended. There's no golden rule book that outlines how and when people should be offended by something. This is a legitimate response to something that is problematic for some, and they don't have to shrug it off because supposedly the author didn't know any better. Airing grievances about something such as this asks the writer to give pause and think about the reaction of the readers to this aspect of the story. Whether the writer decides this is something that needs addressing or not is entirely up to him.
To his credit, there are moments when Teela shows that she's much more aware of what's going on around her than Louis gives her credit for, but then, such moments are quickly dismissed because she is young (even though Louis lusts after her, but then will regard her as a child that he's trying not to browbeat when she tries to assert herself, eventually giving into her because sex), has no real wants, and isn't interested in knowing anything outside her own short scope of life on earth. She's not a terribly rounded character, and I'm not sure whether to blame Niven's writing or Louis' grossly misogynistic and self-serving views of her because I want to believe that Niven intended for us to catch these glimpses of Teela being more than just some thing for Louis to enjoy.
I can't rate this book more than two stars no matter how much I enjoyed certain elements of it, and it will find new life on my DNR (do not resuscitate) pile where books I never intend to read again go. I will attempt the second book on an optimistic note and hope there is a new narrator that is far less aggravating than Louis Wu and that by some small chance Niven's female characters have achieved better status than being treated like insolent children who should be seen and not heard.