I finished Ringworld last night at about 4am, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Clearly Niven had invented his Ringworld artifact first, thought through all the potential scenarios, situations and complications, and then worked his way backwards to generate a plot that would encompass them all. He did this admirably, but had that been all he had done, the book would have come across as flat.
What Niven did that really lifted it off the ground was create a group of compelling, distinct characters who’s interactions were fun to watch. Two aliens, a human couple, and tons of tension. The characters are relatively simple – you pretty much get a handle on them from page 1, but they are still interesting due to the dynamic Niven set up. When you couple these fun characters with the fascinating setting, you can’t help but get a great book.
Ringworld is an easy read; I cruised through it in but a couple of days, and while there was enough science and math in it to give it an air of authenticity (he clearly spent some time figuring out the physics of the Ringworld), it’s still a layman’s book, as opposed to Accelerando, for example. Things are exciting, improbable, character driven and fun. It’s a great book to read after Stross – it’s great to see how SF doesn’t have to be mind busting to be good.
So! An easy going, innovative and character driven novel that was fun to read if not too challenging. Good stuff!