Today I finished reading Ringworld by Larry Niven. It had been on my 'wanting to read' list for a while, and I finally found it. After seeing Ringworld on the NPR Top 100 Sci-fi Novels list(as well as several personal lists made after the NPR list went around), and knowing it won a Hugo, it's possible I let my expectations get a little bit too high. It was a good book, but I'm not sure I can say it was a GREAT book.
It certainly didn't compare(in my mind at least) to some of Niven's collaborations with Jerry Pournelle, much like Jerry Pournelles few solo efforts I've read weren't as good as the stuff they wrote together. Ringworld by Niven, and Birth of Fire and Exiles to Glory by Pournelle are all GOOD Books...but, Lucifer's Hammer and The Mote in God's Eye which they co-authored, are ALL TIME Greats. They would both make my top 15 list. Two other books they worked on together, Footfall and Fallen Angles would probably make my top 50 list. Of the stuff they wrote alone, only Ringworld would have a chance of cracking my top 50.
I'm not sure how people co-author a book. Heck, I'm not sure how people SOLO author a book, but however Niven and Pournelle made it work, they had quite a run for themselves from the mid 70's through the early 90's.
Fallen Angles is probably the weakest of their collaborations I have read...it's a well written piece of fan fic. Set in the future, the Earth has backslid into a new ice age fueled by ignorance. One can tell that when the book was written, Mr. Niven and Pournelle were not big fans of 'global warming'. In the book, they put forward the theory that the green house gases being produced by our industrial base is the only thing keeping an ice age at bay, which I find to be a neat idea....and one with at least some scientific basis. The only place science is still allowed is in orbit, where there are a few inhabited space stations. Two of these residents crash land on Earth, and are rescued by the underground sci-fi community.
Footfall involves an alien invasion, and Earth attempts to fight back. This book is where I learned about Project Orion, the plan to send a ship in to space using focused nuclear explosions. I thought that this was something 100% made up by Niven and Pournelle for this book, and was very surprised to find out it was actually something the government thought about once upon a time.
The Mote in Gods Eye is probably the finest Alien Contact story I have ever read. The imagination and detail which goes into creating The Moties is amazing. It is not an easy read...Niven and Pournelle are both purveyors of what you would call Hard Science Fiction, and they don't skimp here. Not as good(well, I didn't think it would be) but still worth reading if you read The Mote in Gods Eye was the sequel these two worked on together called The Gripping Hand.
Then, there is Lucifer's Hammer. Quite possibly in my own top 5, it is perhaps the finest example of TEOTWAWKI fiction I have read...only The Stand comes close. If 'Armageddon' or 'Deep Impact' had been even 10% as good as this book was, well, they would have been good movies(wasted that shot at an analogy). The best part of Lucifer's Hammer is you get to see all stages of the story unfold...from people thinking they are going to be home free, to the ones who prepare at least a little bit, the ones who get their stuff looted, and then the ones who band together and survive. I refuse to believe there are many serious 'preppers' who haven't read this story....but, if you haven't WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!???!?!?!? It's WAY better than anything you are going to read here! Get Going!