Tor.com content by

David Sooby AKA Lensman

Ringworld 40th Anniversary: The Characters of Ringworld

Ringworld has been criticized by some as having characters which are underdeveloped and somewhat two-dimensional. Ringworld is a “hard science fiction” novel. It is certainly true that this sub-genre has a tradition of concentrating on plot, science and technology, often or even usually to the detriment of developing three-dimensional characters.

The tendency toward underdeveloped characters in American science fiction waned somewhat after the “New Wave” SF sub-genre of the sixties introduced mainstream literary qualities into the genre. Larry Niven was certainly aware of this; Ringworld was published in 1970. But it is not our intent to offer an apologia for underdeveloped characters. Indeed, criticizing Ringworld for a lack of character development is entirely missing the point; it is missing the main plot of the book.

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Series: Ringworld 40th Anniversary

Ringworld 40th Anniversary: Ringworld, Linchpin of Known Space

Ringworld joins together and expands upon many concepts from early stories of the Known Space series. Disparate elements from different stories are interwoven to create a cohesive whole, making Ringworld the linchpin, or keystone, of the early stories of Known Space. The author, Larry Niven, succeeds at this to a surprising degree. This accomplishment appears even more remarkable when we realize that some of the early stories were not even intended to be set in the same universe as the others. It was not until the tenth published story, “A Relic of the Empire,” that the pre-hyperdrive era of World of Ptavvs and “The Warriors” was tied to the same universe as the hyperdrive era of Beowulf Shaeffer and stories such as “Neutron Star” and “At the Core.”

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Series: Ringworld 40th Anniversary

Ringworld 40th Anniversary: Getting the Most out of Ringworld

The term “future history” was coined for editor John W. Campbell to describe a series of stories Robert Heinlein was writing for Astounding Science Fiction magazine in the 1940s. As used in the science fiction genre, the term implies more than just a series of stories set in the same universe. The term “future history” is applied to a series that spans an extended period of time. In fact, authors of future histories invariably report it is necessary to write down an outline of the events and changes to society and technology, which occur during various periods of the timeline. Heinlein started this trend with his famous chart. Other future histories include Poul Anderson’s Technic Civilization, Cordwainer Smith’s Lords of the Instrumentality, H. Beam Piper’s TerroHuman Future History, Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth, and Larry Niven’s Known Space.

A Niven Reading Experiment

“Spike” MacPhee (one of this article’s authors) ran the Science-Fantasy Bookstore in Harvard Square, Cambridge Massachusetts, from 1977 to 1989, and so was able to observe people’s reading patterns. In 1977, as a new bookstore clerk, he had many duties, but also time to observe human behavior puzzles. One of these was the case of readers new to Larry Niven’s worlds, who started to explore them by first buying Ringworld. Why then did only one-third of them try more of his books? The normal author continuation rate, he had observed, was roughly one-half. How could he improve this rate for Niven?

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Series: Ringworld 40th Anniversary