This is a very popular science fiction book. I doubt a week can pass without my seeing someone mention it in a reddit thread somewhere. So I was expecting to be blown away.
But, really, it just doesn’t hold up as a novel. As an idea, the Ringworld is captivating. I can certainly understand why so many people continue to invoke its name when discussing anything close to it. But the story around it is just uncompelling.
I’d hoped this to be something closer to Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama: a brilliant bit of hard sci-fi that manages to really evoke a sense of wonder about a particular alien artifact (an artifact whose awesomeness pales in comparions with the Ringworld, I should add). But Niven lacks the emotion and humanism necessary to really make his Ring come alive. Instead, it’s very cold and sterile. Most of the conversations are didactic: “This is obviously true.” “Well how do you know?” “Because of this and this and this and this and science, you see.” “Oh. I should have figured that out.”
They seem like an excuse to show how hard Niven thought about things and how he did his homework. Well, I commend him for that. But, I think a good rule of thumb is that an editor should become heavily involved any time characters start speaking in scientific notation.
I don’t think I’m going to invest anymore time in the Known Space series. But, there’s enough that’s interesting in the background of it that I’ll probably at least skim some of the Wikipedia articles about it.