Review: 'Ringworld: The Graphic Novel' Gets John A Little Angry
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For the record, I think adapting novels to another format, whether movie or graphic novel, is a bad idea, and can only lead to the story being reduced to a Reader’s Digest skeleton-version of what it was. This seems to be what has happened with the adaptation of Larry Niven’s Ringworld.

I have read some of Niven’s other work, though a long time ago, and I would never say I was a fan. And, I never read Ringworld, which I think in this case is a good thing—I can only suspect or surmise what has been left out in order to fit into this graphic novel, which is only Part One. If I knew, I might get angry.

I think judging a book by its cover is usually legit, though the format of the book leaves me wondering who publishers TOR/Seven Seas think the audience is. Certainly not fans of Niven or regular science fiction, and books full of just text. Ringworld: The Graphic Novel, Part One is not in regular, larger, graphic novel format—unfortunately, since that might have allowed for more space and story. Instead it’s about the size of a regular genre sci-fi paperback, making it look almost like the novel Ringworld. Is this to give readers a feeling that they’re getting all the story that the novel contains? Is it just to fool people? I’m not sure.

The size of the book is also around that of most manga graphic novels, and I suspect that this is a marketing ploy to manga readers—especially with the manga-esque artwork by Seam Lam. I guess the idea being that manga readers don’t read books with just text? Which is maybe true? But that the main idea, or world, of Ringworld will appeal?

This main idea is that this is Earth in the year 2850. We’ve made contact with other alien races, the United Nations is now the governing body of a whole system of planets. The main character, Louis Wu, along with all other humans, through the power of science and pharmaceuticals, is now 200 years old though looks, and still talks, like a 25-year-old. He is recruited by a two-headed alien called Nessus for a small four-creature team to explore the Ringworld of the book title.

And if you think that’s a lot of explaining, you should read this book. The whole time I was wondering if the original novel has this much exposition, or if Robert Mandell, who did the adaptation, had to cram this all in order to get to the meat of the story, which is when the group gets to Ringworld. But even then, even when they’re there, more explication continues in the form of longwinded dialogue.

And, as with a lot of science fiction, the futuristic science-y idea (in this case, the feat-of-engineering Ringworld) tends to override everything else, like characters and plot and believability. Everyone is kind of flat, including Wu’s love interest, Teela Brown, who seems to be along for the ride simply because she’s “lucky,” according to Nessus, though later we find out Nessus doesn’t actually think so, so her main function, at least in this adaptation, seems to be manga-pretty, and wear a revealing skin-tight body suit that she seem to be able to take off very quickly if Wu wants sex.

Which returns us to the idea of audience, and that the publishers seem to think this adaptation may appeal to young teen readers (or really immature older readers?) with a wee bit of titillating sex, cool spaceships, and aliens, which seems both insulting and somehow true. And, these problems may actually be problems with the novel, so I can’t even necessarily say, ‘Read the book,’ though I’m curious if it’s as bad as this adaptation. Can’t be—it’s a Hugo and Nebula Award winner! But, if your tastes run to graphic novels rather than an actual book with just words, with the mass quantities of really good stuff available in comics form, I’d say, why bother?

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About The Author

<a href="" rel="tag">John Yohe</a>

Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe grew up in Michigan, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, deckhand/oiler, runner/busboy, bike messenger, wilderness ranger, and fire lookout, as well as a teacher of writing. A complete list of his publications, and poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing samples, can be found at his website.