Louis Wu, on his 200th birthday, is approached by an alien species thought extinct, the cowardly two-headed Puppeteer named Nessus. Together they form a team with Speaker-to-animals, the Kzinti cat-like warrior species and the young, beautiful, naive Teela Brown, a human who immediately falls in love with Louis. Their mission: explore the recently discovered Ringworld, a modified dyson sphere 93 million miles in radius, it’s rotation creating a gravitational force similar to Earth around a sun. Who built the Ringworld, how, and what for? As our foursome nears the surface of the Ringworld, an accident causes them to crash, and with their normal drive damaged, they must find a way to launch themselves back into space.
While the rest of the story was entertaining, it’s the initial ideas that sustain it. Who built the Ringworld? The reader never finds out. When our characters find that the original technologically advanced race has fallen and only primitives remain, the reader is again disappointed, as no resolutions are provided as to why or how. How do our heroes work together to find a way home? Not particularly well, but the exploration of the Ringworld allows time for the reveal of the different cultures and the socio-political history and evolution of the humans, the Kzinti, and the Puppeteers. Unfortunately, the characters as individuals aren’t as interesting. In the end, Nessus is a coward, his scientific experiments and contingency plans taken to the extreme, fraught with questionable morality. Speaker remains the honorable warrior; his revealed cautious behavior in battle not a personal growth, but the result of genetic engineering of his species over generations. Teela, who has also been bred, is oblivious to the end, even though her actions drive the movement of the story. Both Teela and Pril, an alien woman they pick up along the way, are primarily concerned with belonging to a man, and sex, and not much else.
Several technological ideas presented throughout are fascinating, and my favorites include the tasp, a device that remotely stimulates the pleasure center of the brain; highly addictive and dangerous. Earth has developed transfer booths, which provide site-to-site teleportation. Louis has extended his life by taking boosterspice, a drug that preserves youth. The substance that forms the Ringworld is a metal that has a tensile strength equal to that of the strong nuclear force. Such details scattered throughout the story form a captivating sci-fi backdrop for an imaginative space exploration story set-up, with an unfortunate lack of plot pay-off.
Recommended for fans of classic sci-fi.