Book Review – “The Ringworld Engineers”

Another spoiler free book review follows. Read more
for the goodies.

General Information

Title: The Ringworld Engineers
Author: Larry Niven
Original Publication Date: March 1980
ISBN: 0-345-33430-2
Cover Price: US $5.99/Can $6.99
Movie Information: Nothing planned to the best of my


The Ringworld has shifted off center on its axis.
Another expedition
leaves for the Ringworld to see what knowledge can be
gained before it
brushes its Sun.

Notes To The Reader

The first two Niven novels I read were
Ringworld and The
Ringworld Engineers
. I had no troubles with
but Ringworld Engineers was a bit confusing
in places. I
suggest reading Protector before reading
this one. It’s not
essential, as Niven re-caps the relevant information,
but it’s
certainly beneficial. (Besides, it’s a better book.
In fact, I think
Protector is the best book Niven has written
on his own.)

High Point

Louis checking the materials out of the library.

Low Point

The resolution of Prill’s character. It’s realistic,
but I found it

The Scores

Sequels will always have a tough time with
originality. In
this case, the sequel was (at least partly) inspired
by correspondence
Niven had with fans who found certain scientific
anomalies and
requirements of the Ringworld that hadn’t been dealt
with in the
original, including its orbital instability. This
book does a nice
job of doing what the original didn’t; explore the
mechanisms of the
Ringworld, rather than just the topography. Still,
there didn’t seem
to be much more to this than answering questions
raised by the
original. Because of that, I feel it is worth only 2
out of 6.

The imagery in the sequel is also inferior
to the original.
Part of that is likely to be an attempt to prevent
boredom on the part
of the reader, as most will remember many
descriptions from
Ringworld. (If you haven’t read
Ringworld, don’t
expect much of anything in this sequel to make
sense.) The new
locations were well described, but the descriptions
of the older
locations were sparse. I give the imagery 4 out of 6.

I feel the story in this sequel is better
crafted than the
original. There is a clear goal from the beginning,
which gives the
characters more direction, and keeps the pace moving
a bit faster.
The secondary story lines, dealing with other
hominids along the way
also helps to produce a coherent narrative. I give
the story 5 out of

The characterization in this novel really
falls into two
categories. The first is how characters from the
original are treated
and developed, and the second is how new characters
are handled. Of
the two major characters carried over from the
original, only one (the
one who fights an addiction) is really developed.
(That development
is a direct result of his addiction.) The other is
identical to the way he was in the original.
(Technically, there is a
third character carried over from the original, but
that one will be
treated as a completely new character for reasons
that will be obvious
if you read the novel.) The new characters are often
shallow, as most
are only around for a dozen pages or so. The only
new characters that
stay for a significant portion of the novel are the
puppeteer, and the
librarians. The puppeteer is well developed in the
sense that he
drives the image of the puppeteers in a new
direction, although he
undergoes very little change throughout the course of
the novel. Of
the one librarians, one seems a bit inconsistent to
me. I give the
characterization 3 out of 6, poor performance
for Niven.

In terms of generating an emotional
, I find it hard
to judge. The first time I read it, I was very
disappointed to see a
favourite character with such a demeaning addiction,
but the point
near the end of the novel that should have had a
stronger effect
didn’t. I believe that’s because I was too busy
trying to figure one
character out. When rereading the novel (after
having read Niven’s entire
Known Space series,) I found little to stir me
emotionally, as I
already knew all the outcomes. Still, I remember my
original reaction
to the addiction, which is a stronger reaction than
most novels
produce for me, so I’ll give it 4 out of 6.

When looking at the editing, I find it
superior to that of
Ringworld. I didn’t notice a single typo,
and this time
clues to puzzles were given, but Niven didn’t dwell
on them. (This is
why I found the first so predictable.) This was a
much tighter story,
and is more characteristic of the early days of Del
Rey publishing
than the original. (This is probably because the
first edition of
Ringworld was not published through Del
Rey.) I give it 5
out of 6.

Overall, I give The Ringworld
4 out of 6.
The story was cleaner and tighter than the original,
but it lacks the
wonder of the fist exposure to the Ringworld (which
is unavoidable),
and it is more dependent on the facts brought forward
in other novels
in the Known Space series.

In total, I give The Ringworld Engineers 27
out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

The ISBN I noted above is for an older printing. A
newer edition is
available, and is probably easier to find.

The original was reviewed here.
The next Ringworld
novel, The Ringworld Throne, was released a
few years ago,
and will be reviewed at some point in the future. A
fourth novel,
Ringworld’s Child, is being written at the
time of this writing.