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Niven makes a big deal in the forward of this edition (originally published in 1980, revised September 30, 2000) that the "[edition] with all the mistakes" is now worth a lot of money…like THIS edition DOESN'T have horribly-glaring scientific errors. Oh, God…where do I START?
Picture a sun. Looking at it, designate the top the north, the bottom the south, and the part closest to you the equator. Draw a line from the center of the sun out through its equator, the line describing a radius of roughly 92G miles, which is, incidentally, also the sun's [approximate] diameter, which is also [about] an Astronomical Unit. Now picture a giant non-ferrous yet magnetic wedding band composed of scrith whose inner surface, the part that would "hug" your finger, is at right angles to the line described from the center of the sun. Now, the entire inner surface of that ring is at a right angle to that line, or more precisely, any parallel line drawn to the initial line. It is NOT a toroid shape; it is a flat ring, spinning about the sun very rapidly to approximate .992 Gs Earth normal via the imparted centrifugal force (I suspect the velocities mentioned in the book would result in a significantly higher gravity, but that's a different issue entirely). Now imagine what would happen to the atmosphere with all that centrifugal force: It would "fall" off the sides of the band at escape velocity, never to be seen or breathed again…so the ring has to have WALLS to keep the air from falling off. Reasonable, and it is so rationally described in this book.
The DIMENSIONS, however, of this wall are NOT rationally nor scientifically described. Earth's sea-level air pressure, due to gravity, et cetera, is about a kilogram per square centimeter. The breathable atmosphere is less than ten miles deep, but the unbreathable part reaches around 300 miles out…yet the walls of Ringworld are more than three times that, a thousand miles high…but that is ALSO a different critical point, not the one my sights are set on at the moment. The specific point I'm making comes into play here:
(This is where I had to stop reading and start to rabidly rant and foam at the mouth; anyone possessing anything approaching a scientific mind would naturally do the same) Niven starts to expound on some horse-puckey regarding the necessity of POLAR REGIONS in Ringworld architecture. The habitable surface of Ringworld IS ALL EQUATOR; there ARE no "poles," nor is there any "need" for them (polar regions might be necessary for inducing certain types of genetic variation/mutation, but not for viability. The sunlight strikes the habitable surface of Ringworld AT THE SAME APPARENT ANGLE simply BECAUSE it's flat; only a sphere or a toroid can have poles, a variable surface providing differing angles of photonic impact…and that is NOT the architecture of Ringworld.
Here's a slightly different description of the architecture of Ringworld: Back in the Sixties of the twentieth century, Mattel came out with a new toy called Hot Wheels, miniature scale-model cars, complete with a customizable racetrack made of orange plastic, the flexible strips of which were joined by [also plastic] purple tabs resembling shims. Those racetracks had walls to keep the little cars from speeding OFF the track. Same idea, different scale and dimensions. My mother also found these toys of great utility, much to the detriment of my tender integument; those "innocent" racetrack strips can make you BLEED when wielded by a sufficiently-expert hand.
You can't have it both ways, Mr. Laurence Niven. It's either a huge wedding band shape, OR it's a huge doughnut "thingie." If you combine elements of both types of architecture, by necessity you MUST describe an architecture that is NEITHER, illustrating a THIRD type of structure. It's very nice that the author was so generous with his praise of those that helped him, but all he did was allow them to join his little "I'm a Complete Fracking Idiot When it Comes to Logic, Science, and Reason" club. Personally, if I were one of the people mentioned in his magnanimous thank-you note, I would write to him and politely ask that my name be stricken from any future editions, and to forget that I ever attempted to assist him in the first place.
Back to ranting…. “Plugging Fist-of-God wouldn’t be easy. The hole’s bigger than Australia, and clear above the atmosphere.” Fist-of-God refers to a hole in Ringworld left by an asteroid impact. Evidently, the hole is in one of the walls, not the "ground" of Ringworld. Here's the part I'm REALLY having trouble with: "clear above the atmosphere…." If the hole is in a wall ABOVE atmospheric level, how in the flying frack is air leaking/falling out of it? Is there some magical-seeming mechanism embedded in the walls that was revealed and damaged by the asteroid impact, that is now malfunctioning to its own detriment, and if so, why is it not described
(they didn't tell me there was a character count limit, so to finish:)
It's like wrongly describing the action of a novelty known as a dribble glass. The way it works in a NORMAL [read: real] universe, a glass is filled to a certain level below its lip. The unwitting victim picks up the glass, unaware that there is a hole in the glass between the lip and the surface of the liquid. When the glass's lip is placed against the victim's, he raises the bottom of the glass, causing water to dribble out of the hole that exists for this nefarious purpose. Before the glass was picked up, things were at equilibrium. Said equilibrium shifted when an outside force acted upon the water to change its location. Niven fails to detail, describe, or otherwise mention ANY outside force acting to upset atmospheric equilibrium so that it "decides" to exit scene via the meteor-made hole. The first response of a logical and REASONING individual, upon observing such a thing, or ANY strange sight, would be to ask, "Why is it doing that? What's causing it?"
"Write about what you know, kid." Evidently, Larry Niven doesn't know jack SHIZZLE about science, logic, reason, or elementary physics, and so, should not write about it…OR, he should read books on these subjects written by those who DO know. He's not dead, protected from my impotent fury by the earth of the grave. I know—I just checked: As of today, 2014.12.23, Laurence van Cott Niven is very much still in the land of the living. I sense an opportunity here; I could remove all the curses and insults (which I did) and send this to him….
…But for one thing: I might be rocket-scientist smart, but I'm not the ONLY person at least this smart. See, when I was fourteen, four years after he wrote the first Ringworld book, I was just as smart as I am now…just not as EDUCATED and experienced; I was more interested in exercising my imagination than I was the "logic and science muscles" in my brain. However, has anyone actually WRITTEN to him with these glaring deficiencies? I know others have noted them, but has anyone ever ACTED upon that notice? There's only one way to know for certain, should he deign to respond…but, alas, somehow I rather doubt he'd respond as might a juvenile, rising to such transparently manipulative bait.
Truth be told, I'm rather disappointed in Larry, but I'm forced to acknowledge that it's my own durned fault; he didn't want to claim to be a god; he just wanted to make a little scratch—it was ME that made him one of the peoples of my literary Asgaard, as it were. The first time I read this book, I had indeed purchased the edition "with all the mistakes," which, quod erat demonstrandum, did not have the forward that irritated me so. It was that "thank you" and that "all the mistakes" that goaded me to criticize.
I saw a bikini-clad woman change into a werewolf at a carnival in West Germany during the Vietnam war. The audience was "protected" from this "dangerous" phenomenon by virtue of a device most closely resembling a plexiglass-paned telephone booth which the "hapless" creature had consented to be confined within. It was really very hokey; it was crystal-clear (pun intended) to me that this apparent transformation was carried out by means of a combination of a waxing projection and waning illumination. Reading sci-fi is rather like that; one has to force suspended disbelief to enjoy the experience. It IS, after all, mere fiction, entertainment. I'd like to think that if Niven authored the book today, I wouldn't have these criticisms, that he, like me, had learned more science over the years. Furthermore, I am thus forced to admit that writing truly credible science fiction is demandingly difficult work. I close my critique with a single thought: Despite technical flaws, I enjoy his story-telling.