Note: I don't ask here why did they created "maps of worlds" at all. That has been mainly answered in this question.

My question is: why map exactly, as a way of (visually) forming "maps of worlds"? What is the point of this? Why not use for example a random land distribution for each world?

I could understand if they used the map of their home world (they done this btw). But what is the point of using the map accurately reproducing land structure of a strange world? (I assume accuracy because Louis Wu recognized the map of Earth)

Who could need that? Strange world natives? Obviously no. Land outline is probably the least significant feature defining the conditions of particular location. At least the natives shouldn't care about it (if they had idea about it at all). Looking up is enough to have convinced they're not home. This feature cannot even help reproduce population distribution of a strange world since the Engineers haven't collected whole population from each strange world.

Did the Ringworld Engineers really need that? I really doubt. I don't see any plausible reason why such advanced civilization as the Engineers could use such imperfect thing as map projection. Whichever kind of projection you use, something always get distorted. Furthermore such processes as continental drift can drastically change appearance of planet surface in a few million years. So, for example, if map of Earth would have been formed on Ringworld ten millions years ago (using contemporary Earth as a sample), then likely Louis Wu couldn't recognized it.

AFAIR the shadow squares had surveillance equipment which allowed to watch the Ringworld surface in detail. Suppose the surveillance staff (people or computers, no matter) need identify an observable area or find certain location. Is visual comparison of land outlines a convenient way to identify area location? I think the Engineers race could definitely come up with something better (a GPS-like system, for example).

So why flatten map?


3 Answers 3


I can think of three reasons.

  1. Migration. On Earth, many species of migratory birds, turtles, fish and mammals return to rookeries and breeding grounds year after year. If you change the geography so that landmarks, food, water, ambient temperatures and other factors aren't what these animals expect, you will affect their development. Some species life cycles are fragile enough that you will render that species extinct. This would then affect the animals that feed on those species now gone extinct as well as the species that the extinct species fed on. Suddenly changing the planet's geography could wreck the whole ecosystem.

  2. Isolation. Again using Earth as an example, some species only continue to exist because they evolved into their ecological niche in relative isolation. Introduce a more robust "invasive" species from a separate geographic zone and previously isolated species may quickly be wiped out. Reproducing the exact map of the target habitat ensures that separated species remain separate.

  3. Information. The maps needed to convey information to newly awakened Pak protectors. In the Known Space universe, Pak breeders were what we call Homo habilis, semi-intelligent tool-using apes introduced a couple million years ago on Earth. Imagine apes with sloping foreheads, built like a cross between today's gorillas and chimps, but with less intelligence, introspection and faculty for language than today's most advanced non-human primates. So when these illiterate apes underwent conversion and first awoke to sapience on the Ringworld as protectors, information needed to be provided in a way that they could grasp intuitively with a protector's phenomenal ability to correlate information. Copying the layout of distant worlds exactly was a sure way to link the maps to the worlds they represented, without the use of written language.

  • I can only agree with the third argument (reason) since it could explain the Engineers' motivation to some extent, unlike the others arguments which look naive, imho. I don't think they really want to reproduce all characteristics and ecology of a strange planet, apart from the fact that's quite complex problem, even for the Engineers. BTW I have extra question for you as the one who read the complete series (unlike me). Can you find any reference that the Engineers were able to make diverse conditions (such as atmosphere and gravitation) on different locations of Ringworld?
    – hindmost
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 15:03
  • 1
    @hindmost They were not able to do anything about mismatched gravity; this was established in The Ringworld Engineers when Louis flicked to the stepping disk on Mons Olympus right into a gravity trap set by the Martians.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 22:25
  • Agree. Artificial gravity isn't complex problem. But what about isolated areas with individual atmosphere composition? Even if it is possible and not too complex, why would the Engineers need care about it? Conservation of strange species is not priority concern to the Engineers.
    – hindmost
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 8:25
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    The Ringworld itself was an experiment in producing Pak Protectors with a different outlook than the typical xenophobic zero-sum attitude of a normal Protector. So to a certain extent maintaining the contents of the maps was part of that experiment.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 17:13

The actual answer is a major plot spoiler.

It was a bit of misdirection to hide the location of the Ringworld Control Center in the map of Mars. The idea was that any attacker would see the maps as part of their strategy for keeping tabs on nearby dangerous species (Humans, Martians, Kzin, Trinocs (from There is a Tide), and Bandersnatchi (on the Map of Jinx) are explicitly mentioned) and hopefully not bother looking too closely at the huge volume enclosed by the Map of Mars. Louis Wu and his motley crew discover that Mars doesn't show up on the outside of the Ringworld as the other maps do, and investigate further.


I'm tending to the conclusion that the Engineers had no explicit intention to use exactly the map as a way of visual representation. They just used present land structure of each copied planet "as is", though projected to the inner surface of Ringworld. They had to create some unique land structure anyway (since each inhabited planet has it). Sure they could use some random pattern for it. But they preferred to use pattern already existing in a real world. And who cares if an original pattern may change in future?

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