Losing the ability to read science fiction

Science fiction was my favourite genre of reading when I was younger; when I was a teenager I devoured every book in the library – I had to borrow my mum’s ticket to go into the adult section. Bradbury, Wyndham, Heinlein, E.E. Doc Smith, Arthur C. Clarke… and many more… Ron Hubbard, Pohl, Clifford D. Simark… And I remember when we were in our twenties, a group of friends sat round listening to the radio version of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, which was broadcast in 1973 – can you imagine a group of that age sitting round over eight weeks listening to a radio serial?

Gradually I stopped reading science fiction, moving onto other things and now I can’t remember when I last read anything although I have watched a few futuristic films… that is until this month when Larry Niven’s ‘Ringworld’ is our chosen book for book club. I was quite excited when we chose it; I knew nothing about Niven or his series of novels – I guess he started publishing just as I was moving onto different genres.

The blurb on the back of the book says that Ringworld is a ‘circular ribbon of matter six hundred milling miles long and ninety million miles in radius’ and the novel is about the usual ramshackle crew of two aliens and two humans who are sent off to explore it’… Intriguing… hmmm… I plunged in full of enthusiasm but I have to confess within a few pages I was flagging. It wasn’t just that every other word seemed to be a new one made up by Niven, or that the concepts (though brilliant such as ‘hopping’ by tele-transportation from place to place) it was just so dense I was overwhelmed and had to keep re-reading the previous page…

I ploughed on (and ploughing, that’s what it felt like) but my science fiction reading ability seemed to have left me and I struggled with the idea that a huge planet and its population would send such unlikely characters on a mission to save their world. I know in any fiction disbelief has to be suspended, but there seemed to me to be too many things I just couldn’t ‘believe’; also I have to say I just didn’t engage with any of the four characters – I know it was written nearly fifty years ago, but the stereotypical fiction combination of a macho lead man, a twenty-year old beautiful girl, and two extraordinary and huge aliens a kzin and a mad puppeteer, just left me cold.

I can read fantasy, I enjoyed the Hunger Games Trilogy, but I am really struggling to finish this book. There are some amazing ideas in it – Ringworld itself is a marvellous concept and it is brilliantly described… but the endless conversations between the characters, the jokes which I don’t find funny… I will finish it and I will be very interested to see what the other members of the group think.


  1. archfriar

    The Ringworld series didnt start to get old for me until the fourth book and after that i lost my taste for sf altogether. But that was nearly ten years ago. Larry Niven has the kind of scientific imagination that rivals Asimov’s but his writing style might be seen to some as immature. But he’s very easy to read especially in his Known Space Series.

    Liked by 1 person

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