Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Reading update: Ringworld

It's been a long, long time since I've posted anything about books here at TGWS. It's not like I don't read any more but I certainly haven't read as much fiction this year as I would have liked. There are many books sitting on my shelves, staring balefully at me, waiting for their turn, feeling dustily neglected. As well as more recent purchases by the likes of Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter and Brian Aldiss I have several trees' worth of classics by DH Lawrence, Victor Hugo, Edith Wharton and many more that are all filed under "to be read... one day..."

David Bowie's recent, highly-publicised Top 100 books list has been all over t'internet in the last couple of days, creating much debate. I have to admit I've only read four books from his list ( well, I say "books"... but one was only Viz... ) and, at the rate I've been reading lately, there's not much chance I'll catch up with the Thin White Duke any time soon.
Something I have read is Larry Niven's Ringworld, one of Gollancz's series of SF Masterpieces. It's a novel I've wanted to read for a very long time and I have to say I was disappointed by it. It's a classic case of a Science Fiction novel bursting with concepts and hard science but lacking in more of a literary quality. The Ringworld itself is one of the ultimate Big Dumb Objects: a mind-bogglingly huge construct  -  a whole solar system used as building materials and forged into a colossal ring, with a surface area larger than thousands of Earths, and set spinning around a star by unknown aliens. A team of four explorers  -  two humans, a humanoid tiger known as a Kzin and the utterly bizarre Puppeteer, Nessus  -  crash land on the Ringworld and fight for survival as they try to cross vast distances to find a way back home.

Niven sets up this huge canvas on which to tell his story and presents us with some initially interesting characters ( the long-lived Louis Wu, the unfeasibly lucky Teela Brown, the warlike Speaker-To-Animals, the insane Nessus ) but seems content to just let his explorers wander the Ringworld and constantly lecture each other on physics and interstellar politics... when they're not fighting amongst themselves. The long, long journey with unlikeable characters was a real struggle for me and the book felt far longer ( there's that word again ) than its 280-odd pages. Niven's prose is very matter-of-fact and failed to convey the sense of wonder I would expect from a story set in such a fabulous world, unlike Arthur C Clarke's similar Rendezvous With Rama which I definitely preferred. I'm glad I finally got round to visiting the Ringworld but I wouldn't want to stay there...

As a further update, I've just started reading Christopher Priest's The Separation and will have to post a review when I'm finished. Hopefully it won't take the months (!) it took me to read Ringworld ;-)

Soundtrack: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

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