Smoke Ring Sequel

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Thoughts on a Sequel to The Smoke Ring

Larry Niven wrote a couple of books called The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring. The story is that some humans have settled in a torus (doughnut-shaped area) of breathable air orbiting a tiny neutron star, which in turn is orbiting a conventional sun. The physics are carefully worked out but the net effect is that generations of humans have grown up in a huge shirtsleeve environment where there is a little bit of "gravity" (really tide) in some places and free fall conditions in others. These humans are semi-primitive, removed by time and circumstance from their educated and technological forebears. They are like the great-grandchildren of some castaways on a tropical island.

I have wished that Larry (or somebody) would write a third book. I got to thinking about a possible story, and this is what I came up with. Most of this was written in September, 2005.

According to Larry, after he wrote The Ringworld Engineers somebody pointed out to him that you could make plastics on the Ringworld, even without petroleum, using plant matter. He put that in the sequel, The Ringworld Throne, with a character having lost a fortune trying to implement the ideas Louis gave her.

What about the Smoke Ring? I think Kendy (the AI in the now-derelict starship) could teach the Smoke Ring population how to make plastic - currently a lost "starstuff" technology.

Another technology available to them is steam engines. They already have steam rockets, but they haven't figured out that you can harness that same energy to turn a wheel. Or is that what Kendy was referring to at the very end of The Smoke Ring, when he said he could tell Jeffer how to use water to run the lifts? I thought he was talking about a water wheel, but maybe not.

On the other hand, do they need better than they have? Kendy realized they were doing pretty well without him. Easy access to food and other resources makes life pretty user-friendly, and this can reduce the motivation to develop technology and innovation.

On the gripping hand, Kendy also saw a population explosion coming, as the "ghastly" infant mortality rate of earlier generations dropped due to natural selection. It had happened to the cats aboard Discipline, and he thought it would happen in the Smoke Ring.

The two Smoke Ring books also didn't examine the implications of having Smoke Ring residents able to reach Discipline again. There is at least one CARM in the Smoke Ring with a working main engine, and Kendy himself has two more. Now that Kendy is cooperating rather than manipulating, why not visit him?

There would have to be a reason to visit Kendy, something that couldn't be handled over radio. I've thought of some:

  • To get some unique starstuff tool
  • To obtain additional earthlife that wasn't brought in originally, to replace an extinct species or just add variety
  • To access or exploit some additional technology
  • To use the lab facilities to solve some puzzle or crisis
  • To get a wider human gene pool using frozen embryos still aboard Discipline. (Hey, we don't know there aren't any, and it would make sense given Kendy's secret primary mission...)
  • To retrieve the cats

For a while I was thinking about the implications of having two tribes that could both reach Discipline and possibly battle for control of it, but that seems unlikely. At their level of sophistication, the Citizens need Kendy's help or they can't reach him.

Or... Maybe Earth sent a mission to the Smoke Ring based on the original report from Kendy and the crew! What would they make of the situation? They'd probably want to charge Kendy with mutiny and treat the descendents of the crew as copsiks. The Smoke Ring Citizens would want to protect Kendy, Discipline, and their own freedom.

Increasing population, industrial development including plastics and steam engines, a cooperative (and possibly threatened) Kendy, a visit from Earth, and a crisis that requires a visit to Discipline to solve. Sounds like fun to me.


This page was last edited January 19, 2015.