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Larry Niven, and his wordmate, Jerry Pournelle, are kinda SF's Sidney Sheldon and Danielle Steele: they write pageturning, competent stories that are hard on plot with characters interesting enough to keep you working. “Ringworld” is Niven's solo masterpiece, and rightly so. It is a rousing tale of intrigue, discovery, and adventure among an alien artifact almost incomprehensible in technology and sheer size. Along the way, we get to know 4 characters—two of them aliens—who are fascinating in their different, psychological makeups, as well as their physical presence. They border on stereotypes, but that's okay. Do you know anyone who doesn't like the bar scene in Star Wars, Episode 4? You read this novel for fun, not literary insight.

That said, some of Niven's scenes are comic-book outrageous, some sublime. Likewise, his characters and their motivations follow the same line. Louis, our protagonist, is cynical yet grudgingly caring, a thinker yet able to swashbuckle his way out of a situation. Kinda a Hans Solo type. Now Speaker-To-Animals, who is a Kzin (think Chewbacca with more feline genes), is your barely-contained, act-first warrior type, whereas Nessus, the Puppeteer (the name pretty much explains his personality), uses cowardice like a weapon. Think Jar Jar without the blathering. Then we come to Teela Brown. More than merely a love bunny, her unpredictable proclivity to Lady Luck drives the novel, adding color, humor, and a way for the author to get out of any situation, however dire and hopeless. It's kinda like watching Lucille Ball play Dorothy from Oz. And by the end of the novel when she takes up with Seeker (Ringworld's own version of Conan the Barbarian, complete with broadsword and loincloth), you've pretty much seen one pratfall too many from her.

Structurally, the novel is pleasing enough. Setup, explore, conquer & conclude pretty much sums it up. The artifacts discovered—driveable buildings, deadly sunflowers, the tasp, hollow mountains 10,000 miles high, starseeds (p. 180), flycycles capable of hundreds of thousands of miles distance at Mach speeds, shadow square wire, the Ringworld itself—become more and more like kitschy baubles strewn around to keep you on the plot highway. Ideawise, the thoughts and theories are serviceable, albeit thin. The galaxy Core explosion as a motivation device is certainly worthy to qualify as a SF Big Event, and the concept that Luck Balances Randomness In The Universe is, if not believable, at least a kick in the head. This is not so much world building as world molding. The novel ends demanding further explanation—read A Sequel—and that leaves me feeling like my strings just got yanked.

But by a preeminent puppeteer.

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8.649x10>21 square miles of Hot Sweaty Alien on Human Rishathra!