Ringworld by Larry Niven
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
On his birthday, two-hundred-year-old human Louis Wu is startled to be recruited to a mysterious mission of exploration by a member of a long-vanished alien race.
The Puppeteers are a great concept, though perhaps their name is a bit too telling. They are a cowardly but far-sighted alien race which has decided to move house after the discovery of a giant explosion that will destroy most of inhabited space - in twenty thousand years. I thought that Nessus was the strongest character, because for him to be pedantic and dull is expected. (Whereas I expected more interesting things from a Kzin.)
If you're into detailed descriptions of a vast alien world, read Rendezvous with Rama, because the Ringworld is a tad bit disappointing and less than shocking once the explorers land. Niven is far more interested in the theories behind how such an odd artificial world could come to be than he is in inventing a new kind of alien to populate the Ringworld.
Unfortunately, the book is hugely marred by rampant sexism. Teela Brown, the human female recruited for her luck (no, I'm serious, she's lucky), is a wide-eyed innocent who needs to have everything mansplained to her by the three "males" in her group (two are aliens, but male by default, since the "females" of both their species are non-sentient. Eye roll, exasperated sigh). She's something of an idiot savant, and so obnoxious I truly hoped she would get lost and never be heard from again (unfortunately, our bad luck keeps her around until nearly the end. She's the Jar Jar Binks of Ringworld). When she does bow out (actually, she gets sold by our hero Louis Wu to a beefcake who's a dimmer bulb than herself, which is saying something), she's replaced by an even more offensive space hooker, because heaven forbid Louis Wu suffer the trip home without some nookie! I can only give Niven so much leeway for having written in the 70s. I don't think I can forgive him for Teela Brown.
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