Saturday, 22 September 2007

Books for the recycler

It's time again for a purge of books to create space in the house for yet more books. Before the current condemned are sent off to the hereafter (= the charity shop), I thought I'd record some impressions of them lest I forget I've ever read them. Of course, being condemned, they're not among my favorites to say the least. Still, it seems somewhat wasteful to spend hours reading them, only to consign them to the less than tender mercies of my rubbish memory. Anyway, taking from the top of the pile ...

Ringworld, Larry Niven, 1970, science fiction
In a word, disappointing. Ostensibly this is a classic (indeed, my edition is part of some "SF Masterworks" series), and its central concept, the Ringworld, is a staple of subsequent SF (c.f. Iain Banks' orbitals; the videogame Halo). It has its moments, particularly during the setup and exploration of the eponymous Ringworld, but it has dated badly. A particularly grating example lies with the sexual politics which are straight out of the Ark - although, its date is no excuse for this really, there were plenty of contemporary novels, even science fiction ones, less dubiously status quo. From a science fiction standpoint it also makes a number of gaffes. Firstly, it invents and develops a bizarre system of luck for its characters. As well as trouncing the novel's claim to be hard science fiction, it's just stupid and does the novel no favors. Secondly, it has some truly awful aliens as major cast members: one a seemingly cowardly member of a long-lived race who is obsessed with securing a chance to breed; the other a semi-feline alien who seems like a Klingon knock-off. Admittedly, I'm judging this from a position 30+ years down the line, but there are plenty other 30+ year old novels that deal with aliens more sensibly. Finally, for all its careful setup of an extraordinary artificial structure, the Ringworld, and the mystery of its apparent emptiness, the novel resolves this all rather quickly and clumsily. Overall, it feels like the author came up with this great central idea, the Ringworld, but hadn't thought much further ahead than this when he wrote the novel. Still, I'm conscious that I'm judging from hindsight, and I've certainly read a lot worse. I'd prefer though if it were viewed more realistically these days when it's touted as a science fiction great. Although it's driven by pure action, the plot of the videogame Halo is, sadly, far more convincing and interesting.

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