Cover of first edition (paperback)
|Series||Ringworld storyline from Known Space|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publication date||October 1970|
|Media type||Print (hardcover, paperback), audiobook|
|Followed by||The Ringworld Engineers, 1980|
Ringworld is a 1970 science fiction novel by Larry Niven, set in his Known Space universe and considered a classic of science fiction literature. It is followed by three sequels and four prequels, and ties into numerous other books set in Known Space. Ringworld won the Hugo Award in 1970, as well as both the Nebula Award and Locus Award in 1971.
Plot summary 
The novel opens in the year 2850 A.D. on Earth. Louis Gridley Wu is celebrating his 200th birthday. Despite his age, Louis is in perfect physical condition but is bored. He has experienced life thoroughly, and is thinking of taking a trip to and beyond the reaches of Known Space, all alone in a spaceship for a year or more. He is confronted by Nessus, a Pierson's Puppeteer, and offered one of three open positions on an exploration voyage beyond Known Space. Speaker-to-Animals (Speaker), who is a Kzin, and Teela Brown, a young human woman, also join the voyage.
They first travel to the Puppeteer home world, where they learn that the expedition's goal is to explore a ringworld: an artificial ring about one million miles wide and approximately the diameter of Earth's orbit (which makes it about 600 million miles in circumference), encircling a sunlike star. It rotates, providing artificial gravity that is 99.2% as strong as Earth's gravity through the action of centripetal force. The ringworld has a habitable flat inner surface equivalent in area to approximately three million Earth-sized planets. Night is provided by an inner ring of shadow squares which are connected to each other by thin, ultra-strong wire (shadow square wire).
None of the crew's attempts at contacting the Ringworld succeed, and their ship is disabled by its automated meteor defense system. The severely damaged vessel collides with a strand of shadow-square wire and crash-lands on the Ringworld near a huge mountain. The ship's defences keep the crew compartment and many of the ship's systems intact, including the faster-than-light drive (hyperdrive), but the normal drive is destroyed, leaving them unable to launch back into space to use the hyperdrive. The team now has to set out to find a way to get back into space, as well as fulfilling their original mission – learning more about the Ringworld.
Using their flycycles, they try to reach the rim of the ring, where they hope to find some technology that will help them. It will take them months to cross the vast distance. When Teela develops "Plateau trance", they find themselves forced to land. On the ground, they encounter apparently human Ringworld natives. The natives, who are living primitively in the crumbling ruins of a once advanced city, think that the crew are the Engineers of the Ring, whom they revere as gods. The crew is attacked when they commit a "blasphemy."
They continue their journey during which Nessus is forced to reveal some Puppeteer secrets: they have performed indirect "breeding experiments" on both humans (breeding for luck) and kzin (breeding for less aggressiveness). The resulting hostility forces Nessus to abandon the other three and follow them at a safe distance.
They encounter a city and, in a floating building, they find a map of the Ringworld and videos of its past civilization.
In a giant storm, caused by air escaping through a hole in the Ring floor due to meteor impact, Teela is blown away in an unknown direction. While searching for her in a ruined city Louis' and Speaker's flycycles are caught by an automatic police station designed to catch traffic offenders. They are trapped in a prison in the basement of the police station. Nessus arrives, entering the station to help his team.
In the station they meet Halrloprillalar Hotrufan ("Prill"), a former crew member of a spaceship used for trade between the Ringworld and other inhabited worlds. Her spaceship was stranded on the Ringworld when the landing mechanism failed. She relates what she learned of the downfall of the Ringworld's civilization: A mold that breaks down superconductors was introduced by a visiting spaceship. Without its superconductive technology, civilization fell.
Teela reaches the police station, accompanied by her new lover, a native "hero" called Seeker who helped her survive.
Based on his studies of an ancient Ringworld map, Louis devises a plan to escape. The four explorers, with Seeker and Prill, use the floating police station as a vehicle to travel back to the explorers' crashed ship. Teela and Seeker choose to remain behind and stay on Ringworld. The remaining explorers and Prill collect one end of the shadow square wire that was dislodged when the ship crashed, dragging the wire behind them as they travel. Reaching the wreck, Louis threads the shadow wire through the crashed ship and uses it to tether the ship to the police station, and then continues to pull the wire onward, up to the summit of "Fist-of-God", the enormous mountain near their crash site. The massive mountain does not appear on a map of the original Ringworld, leading Louis to conclude that it is in fact the result of a meteor impact with the underside of the ring, which pushed the "mountain" up from the ring floor and broke through. The top of the mountain, above the edge of the Ring's atmosphere, is therefore a passage to the underside of the Ringworld and freedom. Louis drives the police station over the edge of the crater. Because the Ringworld spins fast enough to provide gravity, once the police station and ship are on the underside, centrifugal force pushes them outward from the ring into open space. The crew can then use the ship's faster-than-light drive to get home. The book concludes with Louis and Speaker discussing returning to the Ringworld.
Algis Budrys found Ringworld to be "excellent and entertaining . . . woven together very skillfully and proceed[ing] at a pretty smooth pace." While praising the novel generally, he faulted Niven for relying on inconsistencies regarding evolution in his extrapolations to support his fictional premises.
In addition to the two aliens, Niven includes a number of concepts from his other Known Space stories:
- The Puppeteer's General Products hulls, which are impervious to any known force except visible light and gravity, and cannot be destroyed by anything except antimatter.
- The Slaver stasis field, which causes time in the enclosed volume to stand still; since time has for all intents and purposes ceased for an object in stasis, no harm can come to anything in its field.
- The idea that luck is a genetic trait that can be favored by selective breeding.
- The tasp, a device that induces a state of extreme pleasure in the pleasure center of the brain at the push of a button; it is used as a method of debilitating its target and is extremely addictive. If the subject cannot, for whatever reason, get access to the device, intense depression can result, often to the point of madness or suicide. To use a tasp on someone from hiding, relieving them of their anger or depression, is called "Making their day."
- Boosterspice, a drug that extends human life to near immortality.
- Scrith, the metal-like substance that the Ringworld is composed of, that has a tensile strength near that of the strong force.
- Impact armor, a flexible form of clothing that hardens instantly into a rigid form stronger than steel when rapidly deformed, similar to certain types of bulletproof vests.
- Hyperdrives allow for faster-than-light travel, but at a rate slow enough (1 light year per 3 days, ~122c) to keep the galaxy vast and unknown; the new Quantum II Hyperdrive, developed by the Puppeteers but not yet released to humans, can cross a light year in just 1.25 minutes (~425,000c).
- Near instant point-to-point teleportation is possible with transfer booths (on Earth) and stepping disks (on the Puppeteer homeworld); on Earth, people's sense of place and global position has been lost due to instantaneous travel; cities and cultures have blended together.
- A theme well-covered in the novel is that of cultures suffering technological breakdowns who then proceed to revert to belief-systems along religious lines. Most Ringworld societies have forgotten they live on an artificial structure, and now attribute the phenomena of their world to divine power.
The opening chapter of the original paperback edition of Ringworld featured Louis Wu teleporting eastward around the Earth in order to extend his birthday. Moving in this direction would, in fact, make local time later rather than earlier, so that Wu would arrive in the early morning of the next calendar day. Niven was "endlessly teased" about this error, which he corrected in subsequent printings to show Wu teleporting westward.
In his dedication to The Ringworld Engineers, Niven wrote, "If you own a first paperback edition of Ringworld, it's the one with the mistakes in it. It's worth money."
After the publication of Ringworld many fans identified numerous engineering problems in the Ringworld as described in the novel. One major problem was that the Ringworld, being a rigid structure, was not actually in orbit around the star it encircled and would eventually drift, resulting in the entire structure colliding with its sun and disintegrating. This led MIT students attending the 1971 Worldcon to chant, "The Ringworld is unstable! The Ringworld is unstable!" The phrase made its way into a filk song, "Give Me That Pro, Larry Niven." Niven wrote the 1980 sequel The Ringworld Engineers in part to address these engineering issues.
References to Ringworld 
"Ringworld", or more formally, "Niven ring", has become a generic term for such a structure, which is an example of what science fiction fans call a "Big Dumb Object", or more formally a megastructure. Other science fiction authors have devised their own variants of Niven's Ringworld, notably Iain M. Banks' Culture Orbitals, best described as miniature Ringworlds, and the ring-shaped Halo structure of the video game Halo.
There have also been many abortive attempts to adapt the novel to the screen.
In 2013, it was again announced by the SyFy Channel that a miniseries of the novel was in development. This proposed 4-hour miniseries is being written by Michael R. Perry and will be a co-production between MGM Television and Universal Cable Productions.
In other works 
- In the 1980s a role-playing game based on this setting was produced by Chaosium named The Ringworld Roleplaying Game.
- Tsunami Games released two adventure games based on Ringworld; Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch was released in 1992 and Return to Ringworld in 1994. A third game, Ringworld: Within ARM's Reach, was also planned, but never completed.
- Terry Pratchett intended his 1981 novel Strata to be a "pisstake/homage/satire" of Ringworld. Niven allegedly took it in good faith and enjoyed the work.
- The plot of the first-person shooter Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox, Windows and Mac OS also takes place on an artificial ring structure. Given its dimensions (10,000 kilometers in diameter) it is more like Banks' Culture Orbitals (though much smaller) than Niven's behemoth. Similarities to Ringworld have been noted in the game, and Niven was asked (but declined) to write the first novel based on the series.
- "All in Fun" by Jerry Oltion, in Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 2009, mentions a faithful big-budget movie adaptation of Ringworld.
See also 
- The Ringworld Engineers (1980)
- The Ringworld Throne (1996)
- Ringworld's Children (2004)
- Culture Orbital
- Planets in science fiction
- Materials science in science fiction
- Dyson Sphere
- Orbital ring
- Halo (megastructure)
- Bishop Ring (habitat)
- "1970 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- "1971 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
- "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy, March 1971, pp.112-13
- "Fantastic Reviews: Larry Niven Interview". 2004-08. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2009-05-10.
- Niven, Larry (1980). The Ringworld Engineers. New York: Ballantine Books (Del Rey). p. vii. ISBN 0-345-33430-2.
- ""Ringworld Movie Around the Corner" from ''Space.com''". Space.com. 2000-11-06. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
- "Ringworld Movie News" from Known Space: The Future Worlds of Larry Niven
- Sci Fi Channel goes supernova with new shows, series and specials By Patrick Sauriol, April 06, 2004 Source: The Sci Fi Channel
- "'Ringworld' miniseries in the works at Syfy". ew.com. 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-04-11.
- "The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 - Strata". Lspace.org. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
- Perry, Douglass C. (2007-03-17). "The Influence of Literature and Myth in Videogames". IGN. Retrieved 2007-12-10.
- "The Halo Author that Wasn't". Bungie Sightings. 2003-03-05. Retrieved 2007-10-04. — Condensed version of information found at Niven's own site: link
- The Incompleat Known Space Concordance— Appendix: The Ringworld
- Encyclopedia of Known Space: Ringworld
- Physical parameters of the Ringworld
- Ringworld at Worlds Without End
- The Physics of Ringworld (official site)