Book Review – Ringworld

ringworldRingworld, the first novel in the Ringworld science fiction series by Larry Niven, is set in the Known Space universe.  It’s an award-winning novel, capturing the Hugo and Nebula Awards, as well as the Locus Award.

I went into this book thinking it’s going to be a very interesting exploration of a vast world featuring hard sci-fi, mystery, and action.  I was mostly right. Ringworld was published in 1970, when science fiction was at an interesting stage of maturity.  Hard sci-fi was beginning to take hold, though the more classic sci-fi was still popular.  It has elements of both.  It’s got some good world-building that uses scientific explanations, while holding on to the old style, which is a bit corny, cheesy, or campy, however you want to call it.  Basically, I couldn’t take this too seriously, as it was fairly lighthearted with many moments of humour.

The characters are an interesting group.  The main character is the 200 year old Louis Wu, not at all elderly, but is healthy and in perfect condition.  He’s bored and wants another adventure out in space.  He meets Nessus, a Pierson’s Puppeteer, an alien species with three legs, two mouth-eye stalks that also function as hands, and no head.  His species is highly advanced, though cowardly.  Next is Speaker-to-Animals, a Kzin, a kind of catlike alien known to be very aggressive and warlike.  Finally is Teela Brown, another human, and quite young, naive, and extremely lucky.  They are all surprisingly likeable, though I tended to like Speaker the most.  All of them were brought together by Nessus to go on a journey to the mysterious Ringworld.  There is a lot of tension between species.  The Kzin don’t trust humans or Puppeteers, the humans don’t trust the Kzin or Puppeteers, and the Puppeteers are just afraid of everything.  This results in a few humourous situations.

Much of the story takes place on Ringworld, though begins on Earth and moves to the Puppeteer homeworld before that.  The 2850 culture on Earth seems like one big party.  It’s reminiscent of the free love era of the 60s that accompanied the hippie movement.  The Puppeteer homeworld seemed to be very sterile and, though highly advanced, not as interesting as I thought it would be.  We don’t get to see much of it, though.  The Ringworld is one big mystery.  That’s why they went there.  I found the cultures there to be well-done, though not particularly in-depth.  I liked the idea of Ringworld, and I’m interested in exploring it more in the sequels.

As I said before, the story was a bit cheesy.  It reminded me a bit of the original Star Trek.  I couldn’t take it very seriously, as the tension was often broken by plenty of humourous bits.  It was like a big, fun adventure.  I wasn’t very surprised by much, but it was a fun time reading it.

Overall, I’d give it 3 1/2 stars out of 5.  It wasn’t nearly as good as I expected.  It may have won awards, but they aren’t always winners for all readers.  I liked it, and I do recommend it for those who like a light sci-fi, but the hard sci-fi elements may also appeal to fans of more contemporary science fiction.  Definitely recommended.  It’s fun.

Daily Prompt: Back to School

WordPress’s Daily Prompt today is this: If you could take a break from your life and go back to school to master a subject, what would it be?

My simple answer: Geology

As many of my readers may know, I studied physics and astronomy in university, mostly because of my fascination and obsession with space and planets.  No wonder I’m writing a science fiction novel.  In my first year, I took two classes of introductory geology and enjoyed it thoroughly.  You see, my second choice of subjects to study was palaeontology.  My dinosaur interest was my reason for this choice. But the planets won.

Now, I often think, what if I’d studied only one planet, Earth?  It would’ve been very useful for studying other planets, such as Mars.  I realised that my interest in space was mostly the planets.  After I studied geology and went through most of my university career, I started developing the world I created for my science fiction novels, which is now known as Ariadne.  While astronomy certainly helped me with some of the planning, geology was what helped me create the world and give it a more realistic look.  It seems like a perfect match.

My home province of Alberta in Canada is very well-known for dinosaurs, the Rocky Mountains, and oil.  All three are related to geology.  My adopted country of Japan is a great place to examine seismology and vulcanology (or volcanology, however you want to spell it.  I prefer vulcanology because of a certain group of logical aliens.  But that’s the geek in me speaking). In fact, I have climbed Mt. Fuji almost 8 years ago.  What a wonderful place to look down at the rocks, or even inside the volcano.

One of my most memorable moments was looking inside the gaping maw of Mt. Fuji's crater.
One of my most memorable moments was looking inside the gaping maw of Mt. Fuji’s crater.

As an added bonus, my astronomy and geology interests met in a rather peculiar way.  As I was descending the mountain, I realised that the colour of Mt. Fuji was reminiscent of Mars.  Even the photos I took looked somewhat like Mars.

This is not Mars!
This is not Mars!

It would be absolutely fascinating to study this mountain, especially with the rumblings going on in geological circles saying that an eruption is imminent. But I don’t want it to erupt.  I live a bit too near it.

Space is very interesting, but I love planets.  Geology would bring me closer to understanding Earth, as well as other rocky planets, and help me make my created world even more amazing.

Book Review – The Arrival

thearrivalThe Arrival is the first book of the Burden of Conquest trilogy by J. Thorn.  Unfortunately, it is out of print at this time.  I was able to read it as a free download for Kindle.

This is the first book of a fantasy series that chronicles a dying empire’s Jaguar Knight trying to save his country while being invaded on several fronts.  Machek, the Jaguar Knight, is our protagonist, and he has the duty to protect his empire.  He has a lot of important decisions to make with pressure from several people who have different objectives. I find him interesting, as his character is a shade of gray, not black or white.  He has some demons and isn’t your perfect hero. The Serpent King is one of the invaders who appears to be extremely powerful. He has a very interesting background which is quite surprising.  He has a motivation that’s understandable, so I felt like some part of him is good.  Gishwan and Ri are an interesting pair, the student and the teacher.  The student is a bit naive, while the teacher has ulterior motives.  Acatel is a very brutal character, but he also has a believable motivation for his actions.  He is an antagonist, but I feel like his people’s culture makes him that way.  The characters in this book are three dimensional and well-done.

The world, called the One World, has a somewhat Aztec feeling to it, yet it is also fairly original.  The cultures and religions are very well-developed, as well as the history.  In any fantasy that creates a new world, world building is a very important aspect of the story, and one which I find intriguing.  This world is very well-done.

There is a lot of violence and rape in this book, which can put some people off reading it.  However, war is violent and not very pretty.  It doesn’t bother me if there’s violence or sex in a book, just as long as it’s realistic and natural sounding.  I did wonder about the amount of death at the hands of the invading people, though.  Overall, the character behaviour is good, but I felt at times that too strongly emotional.  I also am not sure about Gishwan’s motivations and reasons for her behaviour.  Maybe that’s answered in the second book.

Overall, I’d give this a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.  It’s a great start to an epic story in a well thought out world.  I just wonder if it’ll be in print again in the future.  It is highly recommended.

Book Review – Macbeth

macbethMacbeth, one of William Shakespeare’s most famous tragic plays, is a quick read despite being in Early Modern English. It’s also one of his shortest plays. It’s not easy to read this kind of English, so it makes it difficult to review.

The story is a simple one of lust for power and seemingly endless murder. Macbeth, one of King Duncan’s most trusted noblemen in Scotland, is driven by Lady Macbeth and the witches to put himself into power.  I could tell from the beginning that it was doomed to fail, as this is a tragic play.  There is no happy ending.  However, it is reasonably entertaining, being one of my favourite Shakespearean plays.  I first read this in high school about 20 years ago, so it was interesting to see what I could remember.  It was shorter than I remember. Nevertheless, it felt fresh and I could read it with a new, more mature perspective.

Most characters are quite unlikeable. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth may be the protagonists, but who wants to see them succeed? I thought Macduff was the easiest to like, though Ross was also a good guy.  The three witches provided memorable quotes, though they appeared less than I remembered.  The single-mindedness of Macbeth, and especially Lady Macbeth, showed an incredible amount of obsessive ambition.  I would hope to never meet anyone like them.

As this is a play, it reads very differently than a novel.  There is next to no narration, and is all dialogue and stage directions.  However, it’s easy to follow, and the footnotes aid in understanding Early Modern English.  The version I read, Signet Classic, has more than 200 pages, but the play is less than 100. There’s a lot of information about Shakespeare and the play.

Overall, I give this 4 stars.  It’s a great classic, and is an interesting insight into Shakespeare’s linguistic ability, as well as what was considered entertainment in the early 17th century.  Definitely recommended if you can understand it.