Saturday, August 02, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #214: Ringworld: The Graphic Novel, Part One by Mandell and Lam

I have to confess: I never actually read Ringworld. Oh, sure, I read a couple of the sequels -- they were published during my time in the SFF mines, so I pretty much had to -- but they did not give me a strong reason to go back to the beginning of the story. (Rather the opposite, actually.) So this is the first time I've actually read through any of the events of Larry Niven's Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel.

(Though I knew the general gist, of course: hot-shit guy and lucky girl explore Big Dumb Object in the company of two aliens whose personalities prove that Biology Is Destiny.)

Ringworld: The Graphic Novel, Part One takes 260 pages to adapt what I believe is the first half of a book that in most editions is less than 300 pages long to begin with. So I suspect that this is a full adaptation, taking every bit of dialogue, description and stage direction and turning them into panels, so that not a word of Niven's deathless story is lost.

The story is adapted from Niven's novel by Robert Mandell, who has written a bunch of novels himself as well as writing and producing a number of animation projects. (Though this seems to be his first comics project.) And the art is by Sean Lam, an ex-ad man from Singapore whose previous comics project was It Takes a Wizard.

Lam's art is journeyman shonen: good on descriptive details but not inventive at all in story-telling, panel layout or design. His people are substantially more cartoony than Niven's grumpy old hard-SF fans will prefer, though that may help to introduce Niven's work to a new, younger audience. It all works just fine, but there's not much fire or verve to it: it's all workmanlike and solid rather than inspired.

The Biology Is Destiny stuff -- which applies to every sapient race in the universe, no exceptions, but not humans -- is fairly minor here, with just single caricatures of predators (Speaker-to-Animals, the catlike kzin) and herbivores (Nessus, the Puppeteer, whose race is inventively much more alien). And, at least this far into Ringworld, the story doesn't get into Niven's creepy all-humanoids-like-to-have-sex-with-each-other-to-break-the-ice obsession. So there's not much to mar a new reader's enjoyment of the space opera, which is the reason we're all here.

In case you've been living under a rock for the past forty-four years: Ringworld is set eight-hundred-odd years in the future, in a galaxy partially explored by humans and populated by several starfaring races. A Puppeteer -- quadrupeds with two heads, whose race is technologically advanced solidly above humanity -- gathers Louis Wu (playboy/space explorer), Teela Brown (hot girl for Louis to screw and genetically selected for luck), and Speaker-to-Animals (a kzin, included for no reason articulated in these pages but the source of dependable conflict) for an expedition to a mysterious star, far from the comforts of civilization.

That star has a giant ribbon around it -- the title world, an engineered planet with the surface area of about three million Earth-sized planets -- and our heroes inevitably crash-land on it, because otherwise we won't have much of a story. This particular chunk of Ringworld gets through the crash landing and some initial hijinks on the gigantic planet, but doesn't see them get even close to getting away.

I'm really not sure what the audience for Ringworld: The Graphic Novel is. I imagine Niven fans, if they wanted a graphic adaptation at all, would want color and a more American illustrative style. And the kind of readers who would be attracted to a solid-but-unspectacular manga look are not going to be attracted by the name of a septuagenarian SF writer. But, if you happen to be in the incredibly slim slice of the Venn Diagram that loves both of those things, I can recommend Ringworld: The Graphic Novel entirely. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and is consistently entertaining along the way.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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