Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Boosterspice and Tree-of-Life both somehow affect telomere degradation.

ledge: Ringworld Children has significant plot points involving boosterspice, nanotech, tree-of-life and the protector transformation which are never explicitly outlined in the book -- The Details Are Left To The Reader. After getting a chance to read and think about a final draft of the story, I thought that a possible justification for both boosterspice and tree-of-life being effective for anti-aging is that they both must somehow affect telomere degradation.

Telomeres are repetitive sequences of genes on the ends of chromosomes that prevent the chromosomes from "unravelling" during mitosis. (Like the little things on the ends of shoelaces.) They degrade slowly over time as cells divide. Different cells seem to degrade their telomeres at different rates and with recent medical research telomere degradation seems to be a major factor in cell senescence. When genes are changed in flatworms that affect the rate of telomere degradation, they can live up to three times longer than non-modified flatworms and with a significant difference in behaviour. ("Old" modified flatworms don't exhibit much different behaviour from "young" modified flatworms. "Old" non-modified flatworms are sluggish and relatively inactive.) A similar experiment has been done with modified eye cells - they exhibit virtually no indications of senescence after many more times of cell division over non-modified cells. In fact, the recent Nobel Prize for medicine went to scientists who did some of the original research on telomere/telomerase activity.

Back to Wild-Ass-Guessing... The reason that boosterspice interferes with transformation into Pak via tree-of-life virus is because the tree-of-life also tries to prevent telomere degradation by a different process, so the two end up causing cellular failure instead by flat out screwing up mitosis. It could also explain why, past a certain age, the protector transformation also fails: telomeres are already too degraded and therefore the transformation also causes mitosis failure.

The reason Louis Wu is able to transform into a protector after being almost 250 years old (well beyond the age which hominids should be able to successfully go through the transformation, not to mention also being a boosterspice user) was based on the fact that he got jammed into the nanotech medical box and "regenerated", part of the process being to "reset" any existing telomere degradation as well as removing whatever effects boosterspice may have had.

When I brought all of this up on the Niven mailing list - and how the boosterspice/nanotech/tree-of-life things are major plot points and how it could be resolved based on what we actually knew about medicine and aging at the time the book was written - I got a response of, basically, "yup."

Obviously it's a long way from a Nobel Prize on telomere research to making boosterspice but it is another amazing example of Niven once again Showing His Work. And since it was never really explained how boosterspice or tree-of-life worked in the first place, it's not even a Retcon!

If the author of the work says you're basically right, does that no longer make it Wild Mass Guessing?

... come to think of it, if the guesser has shown his work is it even guessing?

Fist-Of-God Mountain was created intentionally.

Just exactly the right height to avoid spilling atmosphere? And the impact was supposedly powerful enough to vaporize a body the size of Earth's moon yet didin't knock the unstable Ringworld into the sun or even the Shadow Squares, despite it barely being able to avoid doing so from a simple solar flare? No, someone put that cone there as an escape hatch. Prime candidates are the original Protector builders or the City Builders-- the City Builders, as they've been proven reckless with Ringworld technology before, and were the only Ringworld species to have off-world planetary colonies to escape to; Protectors because they could have engineered it into the original design of the Ring and made it look old as a misdirection for the later races (just as they did with the Map of Mars).

  • The impact wouldn't have knocked the Ringworld into the sun if it happened before the City Builders took apart the attitude jets to build ramships.
  • It could have been artificially created, but not by the Pak. In the first book Louis cannot find Fist-Of-God in the map room they discover, because the map room is replaying old recordings from when City-Builder civilization was at it's highest. Presumably Fist-Of-God was created after that recording but before the fall of the City-Builders and their exodus into space with 95% of the attitude jets. I do agree that it is a little too convenient to be random (random results in the punctures that create eye-storms).
  • Actually I think in "Ringworld Engineers" the Vampire protector - Bram wasn't it? - admitted to being the one to create Fist-Of-God mountain. I forget the page number, but what happened was that he'd awoken as a protector, found his way to the room, and killed the protector that was already there. The asteroid came before Bram knew how to run the solar gun, so he wasn't able to destroy it.
    • Not Engineers- Teela's the only protector on-screen in that one. Throne, maybe? Donno- I've only read the first two.
      • It's throne. I remember now. Louis and the others met Bram in Throne, then Bram was replaced by Tunesmith, who became the boss in Children.
  • It's nowhere near "just exactly the right height" to avoid spilling atmosphere. It's something like an order of magnitude higher than that. The thing is bleedin' enormous.
    • It's also necessary that it be that size, if it's to exist at all. If it was smaller, all the air would have been lost and nothing would be living on Ringworld. The smaller punctures are problematic, unless they are all very, very recent; while the Ringworld is foogin' huge, how long would it take even a small puncture to drain all the air away, let alone many of them. As to how the City Builders would have used it, they wouldn't. They had the 'walk through walls' device that let them walk through the scrith to the spaceports outside.

Back to Ringworld