Author. Traveler. Contemplative. Colorado raised. Seeker of beauty, of truth, and a great beer.
Ok. 2.5 stars. Nothing more. Nothing less. I confess, I didn't finish it. I had high hopes for this book (out of respect for his previous—Brave New World is still in my thoughts regularly). But after getting through the ridiculously cliché characterization of the "Rani," I had to put it down. This came immediately after a scene in which the villain of the story, the future "Raja," is introduced—as a stereotypical, slight, pretty, vain and shifty-eyed homosexual. In a book clearly making an attempt at enlightenment, this seemed almost a child's joke.
Admittedly, the story has scenes and elements that are nothing short of brilliant. There are clever talking birds on the island, trained to repeat spiritual mantras, perpetually calling the human inhabitants to "Attention!" Another, in which a little girl helps the main character, Will Farnaby, to "release" and lessen the trauma of a physical fall, is compelling, beautiful and completely original. The rest of the story, however, is a cliché—though I will be generous enough to say that perhaps the book (published in 1962) was a progenitor of such paradigms: There exists a perfect island paradise. This island paradise is threatened by the exploitative designs of a greedy militarist and his effeminate, homosexual puppet-monarch who want to (wait for it) tap the island's extensive OIL reserves for their own gains.
Huxley endeavored to bring Eastern philosophy to a Western audience at a time when few authors were doing so, but the hidden jewels, buried in a heap of a story that just isn't very good, can't quite make this book worthy of the effort required to read it.
The image is as powerful as anything in science fiction: an artificial, constructed world—a spinning ring orbiting a star at an incredible speed, its dimensions measured not in the thousands of miles (as Earth and its sister planets are) but in the millions and billions of miles. The inner surface of the ring looks similar to the surface of any other earth-like world. Deserts and grasslands give way to forests and jungle. Mountains rise above the plains. Oceans, magnitudes greater than the surface area of the Earth, lap against complex, sculpted coastlines. The world seems familiar, though the sizes of each landform, of each feature, defy human comprehension.
A breathable atmosphere is held in place by rims on both of its edges, 1000 miles high. The immensity of Niven's creation represents a paradigm that every science fiction author would be wise to honor. THIS is what an author's mind can envision, when freed from all arbitrary restraint—save the nearly limitless possibilities defined by physical laws themselves. Niven's respect for the physics of his creation bear notice as well. From the rate of rotation of the ring (he gave this a precise though immense value, to ensure that the surface of the ring would exhibit a gravity similar to the Earth's), to the proposed builders' obsession with avoiding impacts with other planetary bodies—he demonstrates that someone somewhere sometime with enough energy and technology and creative will could build such a wondrous thing.
As in many other works of classic science fiction, the premise is given more attention than the development of characters in the story. The writing is somewhat emotionless and the author, at times, does not give the necessary emotional attention to the creations of his own imagination. Characters are equally devoid of real expression and exhibit only fleeting discomforts as they are faced with death or the loss of their "loved" ones.
Another critical fact (though I won't mention it here, to avoid the spoiler), having to do with the relationship of humanity to the ring, is seemingly glossed over, never explained and even dismissed. (There's even a passage of dialog between two characters that seems to have been inserted after the main story was written, probably at the behest of an editor, attempting to justify the dismissal.)
These criticisms, however, can be overlooked when compared to the shear majesty of the imagery of the Ringworld itself. This book made me nostalgic, for the SciFi of Clarke, Asimov, Le Guin, Dick and others—men and women who dared to dream big, and inspire others to do the same.
A mystery of a book—if you could even call it that. Throughout my reading of it I had the sneaking suspicion that much of Wittgenstein's hailed "genius" was effectively a social meme; the early 20th century academic equivalent of some strange internet video gone viral that "everyone" has seen and "everyone" proclaims is brilliant for the sole reason that "everyone else" has proclaimed it such. I thought this, until I began flipping through the book (to determine if I wanted to continue) and arrived at his proclamation: "Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present." — Wittgenstein, Tractatus, 6.431
This is not a book for a casual reader or even most philosophical adepts. The rare moments when I felt something profound was being said were far outweighed by those when I felt the "logic" was merely self-obsessed thought taken to an extreme; a child perpetually asking "why?" And upon researching the man behind the work, I discovered much to question.
His apparent dying declaration is misleading: "Tell them I have had a wonderful life …" For in reality, he appeared to be an exceedingly unhappy man prone to bouts of depression and even violence. The sources seem to be limited on the subject, but one incident in particular leads me to serious pause. Wittgenstein, when working as a school teacher in Austria, was known to physically abuse his pupils. At one point he allegedly struck an intellectually slow pupil forcefully in the head multiple times, hard enough to cause unconsciousness (or worse). If true, the man would not have had the opportunity to have been hailed a genius in our modern world—he would have been rightfully labeled an abuser of children and imprisoned.