(2013 was turning into a stale year for SF. That summer, I really needed the solace of good, hard SF to escape, if just fleetingly, some harsh realities, same reality having given me long days and nights to read and listen. So, without really making a decision to do so but compelled by circumstances, I started a re-read of the Ringworld series. The publication history of the series was such that one book came out every ten years, on average. And so each book read provided a reflection of a decade of life, the places and friends, the situations and milestones when each book was read. Fiction, particularly the science fiction of the Ringworld books, it turned out, was nothing more than dressed-up reality. I never left the Ringworld.)
So, the Ringworld has vanished. The space navies of the Kzin, Trinocs and humans, in search of a new target of their aggression head for the Fleet of Worlds (home of the puppeteers). Louis Wu awakes from the autodoc rejuvenated and human again in time to help his puppeteer friends Nessus (welcome back!) and Baedeker try to save their race. The puppeteers blindly ramp up the capabilities of Proteus, the AI that controls their defenses, inadvertently allowing it to re-define its programming. Megalomaniac Achilles converts their planetary drive into a planetary bomb intending to use this as a MAD deterrent. Thus, is set the stage for the series finale.
Niven (now with co-author Edward Lerner) ends the series, not with melancholy or maudlin farewells, but with an optimistic view of the future. Not a surprise. Throughout the series, Niven has celebrated the fun side of making up technologies and aliens on the largest Lego set of all, the Ringworld. By his own description, his books are simply "playgrounds of the mind." And in keeping with his own inclinations for immortality (through boosterspice, the nano-based autodoc, Tree of Life root), his characters and aliens neither expire nor grow old. And so it must be that they all live on well past the final pages.
What a guilty pleasure this series has been! 40+ years of slipping out of mundane reality and entering hyper-space. Imagined technologies reflecting decades of SF trends - from BDO (big dumb objects), to faster-than-light travel, Buzzard ramjets, travelling planets, instantaneous translocation, antimatter armaments, autodocs, to nano devices, artificial intelligence. And aliens aplenty - the two-headed Pierson's puppeteers, the cat-like Kzin, hominids evolved as ghouls and herders, builders and sirens, the choiceless Pak, the human bred for luck. And as well, the changing mores - sexual promiscuity, gender bias, and military adventurism transforming into til-death-do-us-part partner commitments, meaningful female roles and social equality. Ideas of a lifetime.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed this, I am keeping my original rating of 4 stars from the first read (September 2012). Because of the numerous references to other stories in the Known Space universe and the Fleet of Worlds series, this could be a confusing, if not frustrating, read. I am re-reading the related books such as [b:Protector|100344|Protector|Larry Niven|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347876333s/100344.jpg|2576385] and [b:A Gift from Earth|218461|A Gift from Earth|Larry Niven|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1172796417s/218461.jpg|211516] just to remind myself of details long forgotten. Maybe this is Niven's devious intent after all, for us to read the rest of his backlist; is his not the mind that created the puppeteers?
Endings are beginnings. More true in life than with books but here, now at this stage when there are no more pages about the Ringworld to turn, this is what it seems. It is possible to leave the Ringworld behind, start something new. Thank you, Larry Niven, for reminding me of this.