Ringworld is a Hugo
Hugo Award
The Hugo Awards are given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was officially named the Science Fiction Achievement Awards...

, Nebula
Nebula Award
The Nebula Award is given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America , for the best science fiction/fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year...

, and Locus
Locus Award
The Locus Award is a literary award established in 1971 and presented to winners of Locus magazine's annual readers' poll. Currently, the Locus Awards are presented at an annual banquet...

 award-winning 1970
1970 in literature
The year 1970 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* Deliverance by American poet James Dickey published...

 science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 novel by Larry Niven
Larry Niven
Laurence van Cott Niven / ˈlæri ˈnɪvən/ is an American science fiction author. His best-known work is Ringworld , which received Hugo, Locus, Ditmar, and Nebula awards. His work is primarily hard science fiction, using big science concepts and theoretical physics...

, set in his Known Space
Known Space
Known Space is the fictional setting of some dozen science fiction novels and several collections of short stories written by author Larry Niven. It has also in part been used as a shared universe in the Man-Kzin Wars spin-off anthologies sub-series....

 universe and considered a classic of science fiction literature. It is followed by three sequels, and preceded by four prequels
Fleet of Worlds
Fleet of Worlds are both a location and a book in Larry Niven's Known Space series.The series consisting of this book and its sequels is referred to by the same title.-Novel:The novel, co-written by Niven and Edward M. Lerner, was released in 2007...

, and ties into numerous other books set in Known Space. Ringworld won the Hugo Award in 1970, as well as both the Nebula and Locus Awards in 1971.

Plot summary

The novel opens in 2850. Louis Gridley Wu
Louis Wu
Louis Gridley Wu, a fictional character, is the main protagonist in the Ringworld series of books, written by Larry Niven.Louis Wu was born in 2650 to Carlos Wu and Sharrol Janss. When he appears in Ringworld, Louis is 6'2" tall...

 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
Nessus (Pierson's Puppeteer)
Nessus is a male character in Larry Niven's Known Space universe, of the species Pierson's Puppeteer, an herbivorous species noted for two heads whose mouths act as capable hands...

, a Pierson's Puppeteer, and offered one of three open positions on an exploration voyage beyond Known Space. When Speaker-to-Animals
Speaker-to-Animals is a fictional character in the Ringworld series of books, written by Larry Niven.In Ringworld, Speaker-to-Animals is a junior diplomat who is trained to deal with other species without reflexively killing them...

 (Speaker) who is a Kzin
The Kzinti are a fictional, very warlike and bloodthirsty race of cat-like aliens in Larry Niven's Known Space series....

, and Teela Brown
Teela Brown
Teela Brown is a fictional character created by Larry Niven in the Ringworld novels. Teela was a member of the crew recruited by Puppeteer Nessus for an expedition to the Ringworld. Her sole qualification was that she was the sixth generation of a line of ancestors all born because - in each case -...

 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
Highway hypnosis
Highway hypnosis, also popularly known as driving without attention mode or white line fever, is a mental state in which a person can drive a truck or automobile great distances, responding to external events in the expected manner with no recollection of having consciously done so...

", they find themselves forced to land. On the ground, they encounter humanoids, one of the Ringworld's varied primitive civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

s. 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
Algis Budrys
Algis Budrys was a Lithuanian-American science fiction author, editor, and critic. He was also known under the pen names "Frank Mason", "Alger Rome", "John A. Sentry", "William Scarff", and "Paul Janvier."-Biography:...

 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
    In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

  • 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
    Stasis (fiction)
    Stasis , or hypersleep, is a science fiction concept akin to suspended animation. Whereas suspended animation usually refers to a greatly reduced state of life processes, stasis implies a complete cessation of these processes, which can be easily restarted or restart spontaneously when stasis is...

    , no harm can come to anything in its field.
  • The idea that luck
    Luck or fortuity is good fortune which occurs beyond one's control, without regard to one's will, intention, or desired result. There are at least two senses people usually mean when they use the term, the prescriptive sense and the descriptive sense...

     is a genetic
    Genetics , a discipline of biology, is the science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms....

     trait that can be favored by selective breeding
    Selective breeding
    Selective breeding is the process of breeding plants and animals for particular genetic traits. Typically, strains that are selectively bred are domesticated, and the breeding is sometimes done by a professional breeder. Bred animals are known as breeds, while bred plants are known as varieties,...

  • The tasp, a device that induces a state of extreme pleasure in the pleasure center
    Pleasure center
    Pleasure center is the general term used for the brain regions involved in pleasure. Discoveries made in the 1950s initially suggested that rodents could not stop electrically stimulating parts of their brain, mainly the nucleus accumbens, which was theorized to produce great pleasure...

     of the brain
    The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

     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.
  • Hyperdrive
    Hyperdrive is a name given to certain methods of traveling faster-than-light in science fiction. Related concepts are jump drive and warp drive....

    s allow for faster-than-light travel, but at a rate slow enough (1 light year per 3 days, ~122c
    Celeritas is a Latin word, translated as "swiftness" or "speed". It is often given as the origin of the symbol c, the universal notation for the speed of light in a vacuum, as popularized in Albert Einstein's famous equation E = mc². In SI units, the speed of light in a vacuum is defined as...

    ) 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
    Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to...

     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.

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
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT has five schools and one college, containing a total of 32 academic departments, with a strong emphasis on scientific and technological education and research.Founded in 1861 in...

 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
The Ringworld Engineers
The Ringworld Engineers is a 1980 science fiction novel by Larry Niven. It is the first sequel to Niven's award-winning Ringworld and was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1981.-Origin:...

in part to address these engineering issues.


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. In 2004, the SyFy Channel
Syfy , formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel and SCI FI, is an American cable television channel featuring science fiction, supernatural, fantasy, reality, paranormal, wrestling, and horror programming. Launched on September 24, 1992, it is part of the entertainment conglomerate NBCUniversal, a...

 reported that it was developing a Ringworld miniseries.

In other works

  • In the 1980s a role-playing game
    Role-playing game
    A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development...

     based on this setting was produced by Chaosium
    Chaosium is one of the longer lived publishers of role-playing games still in existence. Founded by Greg Stafford, its first game was actually a wargame, White Bear and Red Moon, which later mutated into Dragon Pass and its sequel, Nomad Gods...

     named The Ringworld Roleplaying Game
    Ringworld (role-playing game)
    The Ringworld science fiction role-playing game was published by Chaosium in 1984, using the Basic Role-Playing system for its rules and Larry Niven's Ringworld novels as a setting.-Setting:...

  • Tsunami Games
    Tsunami Games
    Tsunami Games was an American video game developer and publisher founded in 1991 by former employees of Sierra Entertainment . The company was based in Oakhurst, California, which at the time was also the home of Sierra...

     released two adventure game
    Adventure game
    An adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving instead of physical challenge. The genre's focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media such as literature and film,...

    s 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
    Terry Pratchett
    Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels...

     intended his 1981 novel Strata
    Strata (novel)
    Strata is a comic science fiction novel by Terry Pratchett. Published in 1981, it is one of Pratchett's first novels and one of only two purely science fiction novels he has written, the other being The Dark Side of the Sun....

    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
    First-person shooter
    First-person shooter is a video game genre that centers the gameplay on gun and projectile weapon-based combat through first-person perspective; i.e., the player experiences the action through the eyes of a protagonist. Generally speaking, the first-person shooter shares common traits with other...

     Halo: Combat Evolved
    Halo: Combat Evolved
    Halo: Combat Evolved, frequently referred to as Halo: CE, or Halo 1, is a first-person shooter video game developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The first game of the Halo franchise, it was released on November 15, 2001 as a launch title for the Xbox gaming system, and is...

    for the Xbox
    The Xbox is a sixth-generation video game console manufactured by Microsoft. It was released on November 15, 2001 in North America, February 22, 2002 in Japan, and March 14, 2002 in Australia and Europe and is the predecessor to the Xbox 360. It was Microsoft's first foray into the gaming console...

    , Windows
    Microsoft Windows
    Microsoft Windows is a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft.Microsoft introduced an operating environment named Windows on November 20, 1985 as an add-on to MS-DOS in response to the growing interest in graphical user interfaces . Microsoft Windows came to dominate the world's personal...

     and Mac OS
    Mac OS
    Mac OS is a series of graphical user interface-based operating systems developed by Apple Inc. for their Macintosh line of computer systems. The Macintosh user experience is credited with popularizing the graphical user interface...

     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
    Halo: The Fall of Reach
    Halo: The Fall of Reach is a 2001 science fiction novel by Eric Nylund based on the Halo series of video games and acts as a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved, the first game in the series. It is set in the fictional Halo universe, taking place in the 26th century across several planets and locations...

     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
    The Ringworld Engineers
    The Ringworld Engineers is a 1980 science fiction novel by Larry Niven. It is the first sequel to Niven's award-winning Ringworld and was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1981.-Origin:...

  • The Ringworld Throne
    The Ringworld Throne
    The Ringworld Throne is a novel by Larry Niven, first published in 1996. It is the direct sequel to his previous work The Ringworld Engineers...

  • Ringworld's Children
    Ringworld's Children
    Ringworld's Children is a 2004 science fiction novel by Larry Niven, the fourth in the Ringworld series set in the Known Space universe. It describes the continuing adventures of Louis Wu and companions on Ringworld.-Plot summary:...

  • Culture Orbital
  • Planets in science fiction
    Planets in science fiction
    Planets in science fiction are fictional planets that appear in various media, especially those of the science fiction genre, as story-settings or depicted locations.-History:...

  • Materials science in science fiction
    Materials science in science fiction
    Material science in science fiction is the study of how materials science is portrayed in works of science fiction. The accuracy of the materials science portrayed spans a wide range – sometimes it is an extrapolation of existing technology, sometimes it is a physically realistic portrayal of a...

  • Known Space
    Known Space
    Known Space is the fictional setting of some dozen science fiction novels and several collections of short stories written by author Larry Niven. It has also in part been used as a shared universe in the Man-Kzin Wars spin-off anthologies sub-series....

  • Megastructure
    A megastructure is a very large manmade object, though the limits of precisely how large this is vary considerably. Some apply the term to any especially large or tall building....

  • Dyson Sphere
    Dyson sphere
    A Dyson sphere is a hypothetical megastructure originally described by Freeman Dyson. Such a "sphere" would be a system of orbiting solar power satellites meant to completely encompass a star and capture most or all of its energy output...

  • Orbital ring
    Orbital ring
    An Orbital Ring is a concept for a space elevator that consists of a ring in low earth orbit that rotates at above orbital speed, that has fixed tethers hanging down to the ground.The structure is intended to be used for space launch....

  • Halo (megastructure)
    Halo (megastructure)
    Halos are fictional megastructures and superweapons in the Halo video game series. They are referred to as "Installations" by their AI monitors, and are collectively referred to as "the Array" by the installations' creators, the Forerunners...

  • Bishop Ring (habitat)
    Bishop Ring (habitat)
    A Bishop Ring is a type of hypothetical rotating space habitat originally proposed in 1997 by Forrest Bishop. As with other space habitat designs, the Bishop Ring would spin to produce artificial gravity by way of centrifugal force. The design differs from the classical designs produced in the...

External links

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