I recently completed “Ringworld’s Children” by Larry Niven. I listened to it in the Blackstone Audiobook version.
Let us look a little at the series first, as I seemingly have yet to publish a review of any of the Ringworld novels.
The book is the fourth novel in Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” series, itself set in the “Known World” universe. Basically, a motley crew of aliens – Two humans, a Kzin, and a Pupeteer – arrive at the Ringworld in the novel of the same name. In Ringworld Engineers, they return, albeit with a different pupeteer, and get stranded. Where book two seemed a pale imitation of the original success, Ringworld Throne, the third novel in the series, was just utterly horrible to read. Niven seemed to fixate on Rishatra, the practice of sex outside one’s species, but with another intelligent being. And so, while Ringworld itself already featured a little much sex for a sci fi novel, Ringworld’s Throne had finally degenerated into a rather mindless porn novel. Consequently, it speaks volumes for the coolness of the concept of the Ringworld itself that I forced myself to read the entire book, eager to learn more about it and its inhabitants. One may say I got to know them intimately, and that was more than I bargained for.
No matter. Ringworld’s Children is the result of feedback from fans. The author acknowledges at least one Internet mailing list that was discussing various ideas about Niven’s universe. I am also very certain he noted the negative feedback. To Niven’s honor, his basic style has much improved over Ringworld 3: There is still sex in the book, but it is limited in scope and in a way even necessary for the story.
The book takes off where Ringworld Throne ended and continues from there. The Fringe War – the presence of various species in the Ringworld system, each eager to grab the Ringworld’s secrets for themselves – has turned hot, and threatens the Ringworld and all life on it. Things happen very quickly, and it is difficult to give a synopsis of the action without spoiling the story. Basically, it is the story of the rescue of the stranded mission, and about the end of the Fringe War. He explains the origins of the Ringworld and what happened to it, how it came into its current conditions. Yeah, you got that right: In one novel, Niven resolves all the problems and mysteries he has introduced so far. He even explains away Teela Brown.
It is quite obvious that Niven is tired of the Ringworld series, for one reason or another. I think with the catastrophic quality of the third novel, and the less than perfect performance in books 2 and 4, the series would not attract enough readers to be kept alive. And yet he probably had enough fans that he needed to tie up the loose ends once and for all. To this end, Niven even scoops down to cheating. The whole solution reeks of Deux Ex Machina, and is a violation of established “laws” of Known Space. I may have missed the explanation for it, but I am not going to go through the book a second time.
Overall, I found Children to be a disappointment, but I wasn’t expecting too much anyway. Still, it would have been nice if Larry Niven had come up with something, well, a little more _cool_ than what he did end up writing. At least he did set up one new story arc (the trademarked logo on the autodoc – you will know it when you get to the part) that may result in a good novel if Niven does it right.
So is the book worth reading? Yes…… but only if you read the rest of the series. Because if you did, you will be happy that the whole story has been ended, even if it is executed cheaply. If you have not read all three Ringworld novels, then don’t bother with Children. You’d have to read the rest too, and that’s simply too unpleasant. And if you’ve never read any Ringworld, and aren’t interested in reading all Known Space novels, you should probably just end after reading the first book.