Monday, March 11, 2013

Bowl of Heaven

by Larry Niven & Gregory Benford

Bowl of Heaven is the first book by either Larry Niven or Gregory Benford that I've ever read. They've both been well-regarded science fictin authors for many years, and I figured this would be a good opportunity to get a taste of what both of them have to offer.
The premise is great--a group of astronauts leaves earth on a voyage, many centuries long, to a newly-discovered planet called Glory. On their way there though, they discover something that even the most advanced minds on earth could never have imagined. While most of the time the crew is kept in a state of deep sleep, in order to survive the voyage, some are periodically awoken in order to get them to Glory. When Cliff, a biologist, is woken up, he initially believes it's because they've finally reached their destination,k but he soon finds that that's not the case. Two things have occurred that have prompted the skeletal crew to begin waking other key members of the crew early--after only 80 years.
The first is that they've discovered the ship is inexplicably losing velocity, and if the problem can't be fixed, they'll run out of supplies well short of Glory. The second is that they've discovered something relatively nearby. It's manufactured, it's moving, and it's the size of the entire solar system they left behind. It's a bowl-shaped starship, its surface area is millions of times that of earth's, and it's harnessed the power of an entire star for its means of propulsion.
The ship's commander has no choice but to land inside the bowl.He neds to determine what's behind their loss of velocity, and hopefully replenish their supplies. What they find as they arrive on the inners surface of the bowl continues to defy their perceptions of what could ever be created.
Unfortunately for Niven and Benford (and me) their idea, is great, but their story isn't. Their characters are flat, the alien races they encounter are disappointingly uninteresting, and while they intentionally end the book with many unanswered questions in order to build anticipation for the next book, they didn't pique my interest enough to make sure I'll be reading it.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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