Tag Archives: Ancient Alien Race

Book Review – Ringworld by Larry Niven

I recently listened to Ringworld by Larry Niven on audiobook, because that’s how I get any reading done these days… I have been trying to read some of the classic science fiction authors and works, a long term project in part because without it I would probably just re-read my favorites instead. I had read some Niven before (Lucifer’s Hammer), but Ringworld seemed like a good one to read and a pivotal sort of piece for some science fiction stories I have enjoyed.

To that last point, I feel like I was not wrong. I tweeted this early on in the book…

And from there, I was taking notes on how I saw some similarities to those two properties. I expected the Halo connection, obviously, because ringworld. I was surprised by how much of a Mass Effect vibe I got. There was also some Foundation which I’ll touch on briefly, but that came first so it’s more that Foundation influenced Ringworld which in turn influenced these later video games…

Other than these connections, the main thing I want to talk about is gender relations in the book. It feels easy to write it off as a product of its times, but there are some elements that go beyond embedded stereotypes – elements that are either lazy storytelling or else just not good. These moments made me cringe while I was otherwise going through like, “gee, that’s cool.”

I started writing this and I think its a lot for one review. So this will be a review of the book in general, and some of its place in terms of science fiction history. Then tomorrow there’ll be a review that’ll compare the book to Mass Effect, Halo, and talk about the book and gender. Fewer spoilers today, and more tomorrow!

Quick Breakdown on Ringworld

I suppose I should talk briefly about the book first! I’ll try to stay high level and avoid non-obvious spoilers. It’s centuries in the future, humanity is part of a larger galactic civilization with trade and aliens living on Earth and humans having been genetically engineered/scienced to such a point that there’s nothing like current race relations (awkward in describing it, but this particularly feels like a product of its time), and people live a really long time. Our main character is having his 200th birthday, and he’s a fairly Competent Man (though not good at everything – when he’s not good at something a big point is made of it), and getting a little bored. Both things make some sense at 200.

He’s especially a good explorer, so he’s tapped to do some exploring. Along with a member of two other alien races, they are looking for one more member… The alien race putting on the expedition (no answers yet on where they’re going, though the astute reader is probably thinking “ringworld”), the Puppeteers (certainly not foreshadowing…), wanted someone born through generations of the Earth’s genetic lottery. Basically, there was a limit on number of children one could have but also a lottery to have a certain amount more, and it had been going on long enough for there to be about 5 generations of this. The theory was that this was selectively breeding for “luck.” Thus they find a girl who actually happened to be found by our main character, and they all head off on their mission.

They get to know each other, meet up with the Puppeteers, finally find out they’re going to ringworld, go there, crash land, and explore looking for a way off. There’s revelations that the Puppeteers have been mucking with the other races, like you might expect. There’s a bunch of exploration of the whole luck idea, which while mildly interesting, isn’t what I want to talk about. Eventually, they make their way off. As I understand it, there’s a whole Ringworld series, so them making it off and letting people know what’s up on this ringworld doesn’t seem like a spoiler…

Compared to Some Other Science

Unlike science fiction that came before (Ringworld was published in 1970), we focus on one protagonist, and a normal progression of time and a fairly small timeframe. While this seems normal by today’s standards (indeed, a lot of current stuff can end up reading like a movie), my guess is that books like Dune (1965) really started to drive science fiction in terms of the importance of plot and characters, beyond just the ideas of world building and ideas. Not just science but also fiction. So while I saw connections to Foundation (early 1950s), the structure of the book is certainly not the connection! More on Foundation below…

Ringworld was still an early enough book that there were some fascinating passages… One that especially stuck with me was a scene as they were approaching to dock, and working on matching exact velocity so that they don’t crash into the thing and destroy it. It goes into great detail about this, about the problems of docking, about how the creators couldn’t afford for anything to hit the ringworld… Anyway, my point is that in modern science fiction, the ship just docks with the spinning space station. Maybe a moment of hesitation. One of the most recent examples I can think of is Star Trek Beyond, as they pulled the whole Enterprise into the space station.

There were other things like this, science and ideas and talking them through. The book does far more of telling than showing – something will happen, I felt like I missed something, I would go back and listen, figure out that I hadn’t missed something, and listening further I would find out that the explanation came in dialog sometime after. The characters were on an expedition, and scientifically minded, so they are analyzing everything. It kind of worked, but it was definitely noticeable!

Alright, so let’s get more specifically into Ringworld and Foundation. From here, spoilers on more of the details of the book!

Ringworld and Foundation and Civilization Collapse, Oh My!

I love Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and it seems like the core foundation (ba-dum-pish!) in science fiction for how we think about civilization in the long term and what that would look like as it collapsed. Surely he based a lot of it on history (the collapse of the Roman Empire, for instance), but some of it is speculation and logic as well.

It’s basically the thought that civilization will get large, that you’ll have planets feeding the needs of the civilization core, that you get lots of specialization. Somewhere in there, people lose track of the how for the advanced technology that makes it all work work, and eventually things start to break down. When you view the technologies in your life as basically magic… and everyone else does as well… you better hope it doesn’t break! And eventually, as things break down, civilization collapses.

So to Ringworld… The ringworld itself was constructed, by an Ancient Alien Race. The science talk around it is it must have been a race with no faster-than-light travel, so instead of long-range colonization, the solution is to harvest everything locally – the whole of the planets and asteroids and all from the system. All of it went into building the ringworld – which as they point out has just an immense useable space, but they also estimate that there must have been a massive population that they needed to house.

As they explore the ringworld, though, they don’t find people that know anything about it’s construction. People don’t know how any of the technology works. It’s gone through a complete Foundation-style collapse. They had had floating castle technology, as well, which fell from the sky eventually and crushed the cities below. So really literal collapse.

Anyway, the exploration of the Ancient Alien Race, and the technology and the lack of people understanding it anymore, felt very Foundation to me.

Check Back Tomorrow!

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought of Ringworld if you read it! I’m curious about the sequels as well, especially since looking them up they were written over the course of decades. Tomorrow I’ll talk about some of those more modern connections and observations on the book, so I hope you’ll check that out as well. And if you’re reading this in the future, future me should have added a link!

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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed since not long after it came out. When we moved in together and got our PS3, P was really excited that I had the series and picked it up as well. With being as busy as we are, we’ve just gotten around to the newer ones, only recently finishing the third game and now finally moving on to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. (We missed the part where Liberation is in between three and four, and will be playing that next.)

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Image via Google search

The series focuses on the millennia-old struggle between the Assassins (who fight for free will and truth) and the Templars (who fight for world order and control, think Illuminati “New World Order” level). The first three focus on Desmond Miles, a present day Assassin kidnapped by Abstergo in the first and forced to relive his ancestor’s life to discover the location of an ancient artifact left by the supposed “First Civilization.” By the second and third, he has escaped and is working with the Assassins to prevent the end of the world (2012, of course). So far the Crusades, Renaissance in Italy, and American Revolution eras have been covered, each with the underlying conspiracies that these events were really fueled by the battle for control between the Assassins and Templars.

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Science Fiction Today – United Nations

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The United Nations. If you’re like me, then they are that overarching governing body that you completely forget about most of the time. They have a lot of member states, but do they have a lot of power?

Not necessarily something I need to answer here – because this isn’t about the UN of today. This is about the UN of the future, or whatever we might call the World Government of the future. We normally break things down into Utopia and Dystopia with these posts, but with this there’s also the question of will there or won’t there be World Government one day… In the interest of keeping this short, let’s just explore the good and bad potential of future World Government!

Peace In OUr Times

The ideal of the UN, or any World Government, would be for none of the member states to go to war with each other – and for everyone to be a member state! To be that place of meeting, negotiation, compromise, and arbitration. To solve the world’s problems diplomatically, rather than through other means.

Since this is a political topic, let’s talk politics. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan talks about the “state of nature,” and how in this state, we would live in

continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Probably the most famous quote of the book and the line that most sums it up. In political science classes in college, we talked about how individuals don’t really live in anything like the “state of nature” in today’s world (YMMV), but in terms of international relations, we kind of do. We have groups banding together, forming groups to intimidate each other and get their way.

In other worlds, World Government could be a force for good, solving this sort of international strife – especially since “international” would no longer have any meaning!

War, huh – What is it Good For?

In science fiction, where we see World Governments are often in situations where what we describe as “the world” has gotten smaller. Maybe it’s an alien invasion, or a zombie apocalypse – something has made it so that everyone who is left has banded together. For instance, you see this in the recent adaptation Dredd, where all the survivors live in a single, walled city. That might be all the government that’s left, but does it count?

Or else, you see a World Government when Earth is only one of many planets that have been colonized (and/or in connection with alien governments), in which case, it’s back to the beginning – instead of nations, planets. Mass Effect might seem great politically… or it might seem like a mess where nobody listens to the humans. It tends towards the latter… And it showed us the Protheans, an Ancient Alien Race who ruled the whole galaxy by empire-building. That’s one way to have a single government… just maybe not the best!

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

Science Fiction versus Fantasy

I have given a definition of both Science Fiction and Fantasy before, and I love both, so I care. If you look back at our Liebster Award nomination, I said that one of the more important things to me is Science Fiction being taken seriously. And I think I would happily include Fantasy in that as well. There are a lot of other causes out there, and things to be done – I’ve talked about Geeks and Charity as well – but the discussion about Science Fiction, and its place in thought, in learning, in the classroom… That seems like something I can influence a bit, right?

So recently we listened to George R.R. Martin on the Nerdist Podcast. And first off, if you like George R.R. Martin, it was a lot of fun. It was right after he destroyed the guitar (which we talked about before) at Comic Con. He talks Game of Thrones, and conventions, and writing, and, to the point here and now, he talks Science Fiction and Fantasy.

If part of the reason I like the quotes from Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien is because they are the fathers of the genres. However, George R.R. Martin is something of a current crown prince, or some other metaphor, in Fantasy. So what does he add to my thought? And where do we draw the lines?

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Science Fiction and Religion and the Ancient Alien Race

I have been exploring different aspects of where we see religion in science fiction, or the lack thereof. I looked first at how aliens as a thing are actually problematic with religion, because if they don’t know any of our religions, do they disprove them? I also looked how the underlying idea of intelligent design – that is, the idea of an intelligent designer – is very science fiction, and science fiction actually shows ways that this could have happened.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's GuideWell, I showed one way. From the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But that’s a parody, comedy novel, right? No bearing on other things. Certainly not a proof. Certainly not, like, a plot we would see all over the place, right?

Right?

Well, you’ve guessed it, that’s the point of today’s post. Because the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is not only not alone, but it’s actually kind of crowded. It’s a good parody because there’s so much to compare it to.

So let’s look a bit at an incredibly common part of science fiction storytelling: the Ancient Alien Creator Race! Warning: spoilers to follow for much of big name science fiction, and even some of fantasy!

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