Cover of first edition (paperback)
Author(s) Larry Niven
Illustrator Dean Ellis
Country United States
Language English
Series Ringworld storyline from Known Space
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Ballantine Books
Publication date October 1970
Media type Print (hardcover, paperback), audiobook
ISBN 0-345-02046-4
OCLC Number 28071649
Followed by The Ringworld Engineers, 1980

Ringworld is a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning 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 preceded by four prequels, and ties into numerous other books set in Known Space. Ringworld won the Hugo Award in 1970,[1] as well as both the Nebula and Locus Awards in 1971.[2]


Plot summary

The novel opens in 2850. 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. When Speaker-to-Animals (Speaker) who is a Kzin, and Teela Brown who is a young human woman both join, Louis decides to go.

They first travel to the Puppeteer home world, where they learn that the expedition's goal is to explore a ringworld. This is 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 Sol-type star. It rotates, providing artificial gravity that is 99.2% as strong as Earth's gravity through the action of centrifugal 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 shadow square wire.

None of the crew's attempts at contacting the Ringworld succeed. Their ship is disabled by the automated meteor defense system. The severely damaged vessel collides with shadow-square wire, and then crash-lands on the Ringworld near a huge mountain. 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 some technology can help them. It will take months to cross the vast distance. When Teela develops "Plateau trance", they find themselves forced to land. On the ground, they encounter humanoids, one of the Ringworld's varied primitive civilizations. The natives, who are living 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 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 civilization at its peak.

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 (Prill), a former crew member of a spaceship used for trade between the Ringworld and other inhabited worlds. The spaceship was stranded on the Ringworld when the landing mechanism failed. She relates what she was told 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 a native "hero" called Seeker who helped her survive.

Louis devises a plan to escape from the Ringworld. They use the police station as a vehicle and travel for several weeks back to the wreck. Teela and Seeker stay behind on the Ring, but Prill wants to continue with the remaining three. Louis connects the police station with the wreck using the shadow square wire, which has fallen to the Ring after being torn free in the collision with their spaceship. Louis and Speaker drive the police station up the huge mountain. When they reach the top, it is revealed that the mountain is really the impact crater of a meteor, which impacted the bottom of the ring, 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 stars and Louis drives the police station and tethered spaceship over the edge. The crew will use the still intact hyperdrive of the ship 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.[3]


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.
  • Boosterspice, a drug that extends human life to near immortality.
  • 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.

Science errors in first edition

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.[4]

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."[5]

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.


Larry Niven reported in 2001 that a movie deal had been signed and was in the early planning stages. There have also been many abortive attempts to adapt the novel to the screen.[6][7] In 2004, the Syfyolis reported that it was developing a Ringworld miniseries.[8]

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.[9]
  • 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,[10] and Niven was asked (but declined) to write the first novel based on the series.[11]
  • "All in Fun" by Jerry Oltion, in Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 2009, mentions a faithful big-budget movie adaptation of Ringworld.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal


  1. ^ "1970 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1970. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  2. ^ "1971 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1971. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  3. ^ "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy, March 1971, pp.112-13
  4. ^ "Fantastic Reviews: Larry Niven Interview". 2004-08. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http://www.geocities.com/fantasticreviews/niven_interview.htm&date=2009-10-25+22:03:28. Retrieved 2009-05-10. 
  5. ^ Niven, Larry (1980). The Ringworld Engineers. New York: Ballantine Books (Del Rey). p. vii. ISBN 0-345-33430-2. 
  6. ^ ""Ringworld Movie Around the Corner" from ''Space.com''". Space.com. 2000-11-06. http://www.space.com/sciencefiction/movies/ringworld_movie_001106.html. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  7. ^ "Ringworld Movie News" from Known Space: The Future Worlds of Larry Niven
  8. ^ Sci Fi Channel goes supernova with new shows, series and specials By Patrick Sauriol, April 06, 2004 Source: The Sci Fi Channel
  9. ^ "The Annotated Pratchett File v9.0 - Strata". Lspace.org. http://www.lspace.org/books/apf/strata.html. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  10. ^ Perry, Douglass C. (2007-03-17). "The Influence of Literature and Myth in Videogames". IGN. http://xbox.ign.com/articles/709/709122p5.html. Retrieved 2007-12-10. 
  11. ^ "The Halo Author that Wasn't". Bungie Sightings. 2003-03-05. http://bs.bungie.org/2003/03/the_halo_author_1.html#000320. Retrieved 2007-10-04.  — Condensed version of information found at Niven's own site: link

External links

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