The best damn Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.
• Spare Cycles: Film: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
• Spare Cycles: Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
• Spare Cycles: Happy Birthday to… The Empire Strikes Back
When the last Star Wars film – The Force Awakens – was released I wrote this in my review:
It achieves its basic requirement: putting down firm foundations for the several more Star Wars films and spin offs that will be coming our way over the next few years.
I enjoyed the spectacle but I thought the plot was a re-run of previous films:
Don’t expect miracles from the plot – once things get going you do get a real sense of déja-vu. This is the third time part of this story line has been used in the Star Wars films. You’d think that the bad guys would have a bit more imagination by now.
Rogue One is the first of a number of spin-off movies, including one due next year that currently goes by the name of “the untitled Han Solo Star Wars movie”.
I’d heard this film was good, as in “it’s good for a spin off”, but I really enjoyed it. It looks great, it keeps the action flowing and the music clearly takes its cues from the original scores but builds on them well. It is definitely part of the Star Wars universe.
Most importantly it has a plot. The events of the film provide background to the original Star Wars film and effectively explain that film’s title “A New Hope”. It’s great to get some new revelations.
If all the Star Wars spin-off “stories” are as good as this one then it bodes well for the future.
I’m not a big reader of science fiction but I started to dabble more in the genre at the end of last year (2015) when I tackled some Larry Niven (see Ringworld, Tales of Known Space and Neutron Star). Before that there was Ender’s Game and Hugh Howey’s Wool, but that’s about it.
I’m not even sure how I came about this book. The main attractions were that it was a Hugo prize winner and the fact that the writer was Chinese. I’d also heard that this was the first part of a trilogy and the second book was better than this one. So my expectations were high but tempered.
This is a “first contact” story, ie contact – or at least communication – between humans and an alien race. It is a hard science fiction story, but one that doesn’t read as science fiction for a large part of the book. This may put off some sci-fi fans, but as the book goes on the story arc moves from history > technology > science > startling premise and ideas.
In fact the end of the book is astounding. I will be reading the sequel (The Dark Forest) at some point.
Something to note in relation to the audiobook version: the translation of the book is good – at least it read well in English, dealing impressively with some big ideas at the end – but some elements of the early story did not make sense. I switched to the (printed) book and found that there were a number of notes from the translator which explained some of the meaning behind certain words or phrases. So as much as I like audiobooks this time I recommend reading the book itself, simply for the extra context that it brings.
Getting to read this book has been a bit of a journey. I’ve wanted to read it for a while but I had heard that it was better to get an introduction to Larry Niven’s sci-fi universe called “known space” before starting it, so I did just that. I read two books of short stories that established some of the principles that underpin the universe: Neutron Star and Tales of Known Space.
If you are sufficiently inspired to read Ringworld then I suggest you do the same. With that background I was able to go into the story with a knowledge of one of the main characters, the other alien species and why the task they set out to achieve was worthwhile and challenging.
In Niven’s writing I do struggle to picture some scenes and I was tempted to stop reading at points as I could not piece together everything that was being portrayed. What stopped me was an appreciation of the work that has been put into the creation of the universe and the detail into which the author has gone to figure out all the aspects that make the Ringworld viable and real.
Part of my problem is the smutty way in which he deals with sex in the book – I feel that it cheapens the overall story but at the same time the principals of human sexual and emotional relations are somewhat integral to the storyline. My guess is that this reflects the time when the book was written – at the beginning of the 1970s. It’s a shame as it makes the book feel dated to a degree, whereas the science in the sci-fi still rings true.
The narration of the audiobook is uninspiring and I thought I would get more out of the story if I just read the book. However, if I waited until I had the time to sit down and read the book it would never have been read in the first place, so it was a compromise.
Despite these reservations, overall I was impressed by the book.
There is one more of Niven’s books set in known space that I intend to read – Protector – that looks at the race that built the Ringworld. I hear it’s good. After that, my journey through Niven’s vast universe and imagination will have come to an end.
• The Guardian: Back to the Hugos: Ringworld by Larry Niven
This is the second Larry Niven book I’ve read as I work towards his award-winning science fiction story “Ringworld”. This, like the first book Neutron Star, is a collection of short stories set in the universe he created called “Known Space”.
My ventures into Known Space at this stage are only to provide some background before reading Ringworld, so I’m not reading every story. I concentrated on the stories recommended here. This book starts with an introduction by the author who admits that some of the other stories are not his best, so I feel confident in my decision.
Here is the rundown:
The Jigsaw Man: an interesting idea is highlighted in this story – that some people can extend their lifespans by using replacement organs. These organs come from executed criminals. This leads to a change in how society deals with sentencing criminals…
The Warriors: mankind’s first contact with a race of aliens from the Kzinti Empire. The Man-Kzin wars appear to be significant in the history of Known Space.
There Is A Tide: the first story to feature Louis Wu, one of the main characters in Ringworld.
The Borderland of Sol: this is another Beowulf Shaeffer story (a character who featured several times in Neutron Star), and the best so far. This is an excellent story, featuring some great science and a lot of dry humour.
Overall, I feel that these four stories have introduced me to some important ideas and history that will help my understanding when I tackle Ringworld.
One thing to watch out for is that my copy of the book has the cover above but I also have a copy of “Three Books of Known Space” which I bought so that I can read the stories “World of Ptavvs” and “A Gift from Earth”. It contains a version of “Tales of Known Space” but it is missing the story The Borderland of Sol. I don’t know why this differs but you can find The Borderland of Sol in the book Crashlander, the collected stories of Beowulf Shaeffer. It is well worth tracking down for that alone – but also be aware that if you have read the short story collection Neutron Star you will have read the majority of the Crashlander stories. If in doubt, it is something you can check out.
I’m not a big reader of science fiction (the last books were the excellent Ender’s Game and Hugh Howey’s Wool) but I have been thinking of reading Larry Niven’s Ringworld for a while. A little research online showed people recommended reading the short story collection called “Neutron Star” before tackling the main book – it would provide some background to the main characters and alien races that appear. It is out of print but I easily found a copy on Amazon.
Overall the short stories do a very good job at building the quirky, bizarre universe. We get introduced to Niven’s principal character (at least so far) Beowulf Shaeffer, who features in four of the stories. He is an alien pilot who cannot hold on to money, gets into a lot of adventures, has a nice line in dry humour and discovers a crucial fact about the galaxy. There are also a number of distinctive alien races and worlds.
The collection is not without its faults. One thing about the aliens for me is that they are described in detail but I have trouble picturing them. Also, as the book goes on the stories get longer and the final Beowulf instalment is just an adventure that does not reveal much more about Niven’s creation called “known space”. I also skipped one story, “The Ethics of Madness” as it apparently doesn’t fit properly within the universe.
Despite these points, it looks like I’m going to be living in known space for a while yet. Although I do not intend on reading everything in the series, there are some more short stories and another book to investigate before arriving at Ringworld. I hope it is worth the journey – with Neutron Star it’s off to a good start.
If you are interested in coming along for the ride then there are a few resources I found useful:
- The Known Space Concordance
- Stack Exchange: Is there a full directed graph for suggested order of reading of all Known Space books/stories? / Recommended order of Ringworld novels
- Tor.com: Ringworld 40th Anniversary: Getting the Most out of Ringworld
A few points:
It looks good on a big screen, but it does not look amazing. I was expecting amazing.
It starts off slowly. It has a story to tell and is in no rush to tell it – it clocks in at just under 3 hours. This is pitched as sci-fi blockbuster but is more space opera. There’s nothing wrong with that but I went in having purposefully avoided seeing trailers or reading anything about the film and I did not get what I was expecting.
The sound sometimes overpowers some of the dialogue. I thought it might be just my screening but it appears that others had the same problem. I also felt that the soundtrack was trying too hard to manipulate your emotions.
Apart from that, I left the cinema thinking it was a good film and I enjoyed the story even if I did not totally understand it.
• The Guardian: Interstellar review – if it’s spectacle you want, this delivers
• New York Times: Off to the Stars, With Grief, Dread and Regret
• The Guardian: Interstellar articles
• The Guardian: Christopher Nolan releases Interstellar comic prequel