- Series: Bowl of Heaven (Book 1)
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; First edition (October 16, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780765328410
- ISBN-13: 978-0765328410
- ASIN: 0765328410
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Customer Reviews: 345 customer ratings
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #284,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bowl of Heaven: A Novel Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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“Bowl of Heaven is the first installment of what will be the biggest sci-fi saga since―well, since ever. If only more of us could share the authors’ visions, and optimism” ―The Wall Street Journal
“It's easy to settle in and enjoy the sci-fi smorgasbord served up by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven. . .There's a lot to savor. Fans of so-called "hard science fiction" will enjoy the descriptions of ionic scoop fusion drives and all the solar-powered gadgets put to practical use during deep space exploration.” ―The Associated Press
“If you like hard SF with mind-stretching ideas--both physical and psychological--then you definitely want to read this book.” ―Analog
“It's been more than 40 years since Ringworld and nearly that long since the Galactic Center Saga knocked our socks off, and I wonder how much it takes these days to render us barefoot and gaping at the scale and scope of an imaginary world. . . . But Benford & Niven have given themselves the space (conceptual and page-count) to spread out. Bowl of Heaven has room to accommodate both the thrill-ride and head-scratching sides of its sub-tradition, and I think when the second half appears, this new effort by two of the Old Masters will hold its own just fine.” ―Locus
“First-time collaborators Niven (Ringworld series; coauthor, Beowulf's Children) and Benford (Timescape; Galactic Center series) have combined their award-winning talents for storytelling to create a series opener that should find a welcome reception from fans of the authors as well as those who love hard science and mental challenges.” ―Library Journal
“A solid work that will appeal to fans of classic hard SF.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
GREGORY BENFORD is professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, and lives in Irvine. Benford is a winner of the United Nations Medal for Literature, and the Nebula Award for his classic novel Timescape.
LARRY NIVEN is the multiple Hugo and Nebula Award–winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces. His Beowulf's Children, coauthored with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in Chatsworth, California.
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The short version is that humanity sends out a "freezer ship" to colonize another planet. This is a concept where people are put into stasis as the ship drives at regular speeds- think Alien. Things don't go to plan when the spaceship detects an alien spaceship floating out there near their destination- a spaceship as huge as a solar system. Alien intrigue ensues.
I think this book commits a few big sins. First, mild spoilers, some parts of the story are written from the perspective of the aliens. Writers need to be more careful about doing this, ESPECIALLY when the human beings don't even know yet if there are aliens on the planet. The story would be a whole lot better if this was left until later in the book or left out entirely. The second is that the "bowl of heaven" is basically just Ringworld. The whole point of this book is that Niven found a way to make the Ringworld fly through space to make it a spaceship- except the Ringworld novels introduced (again, spoilers) the ability of the Ringworld to fly in FTL across the universe, so the Ringworlds were already spaceships to begin with. It's a little frustrating that this idea isn't as original as it needs to be. But it is a cool concept, and they put some science into it.
Not a bad book, but it does get a bit by-the-numbers at points so I can't hold it as an all-time classic. A decent read, and another entry into the pantheon of massive sci-fi spaceships. Neat concept.
The book started off solid. The science was interesting and the characters leaving earth showed good potential development.
Then it went quickly downhill. Once they reached the bowl the aliens were boring and strangely inept. They constantly talk about the vastness of the land then fail to really take advantage of it with any type of interesting descriptions. It is supposedly home to many different alien species that you rarely see and when you do they are boring and glossed over. The human technology is strangely advanced over what it should be and they escape dangerous situations way too easily.
The pacing is crappy at the end and the author fails to paint a good picture of the world. The book also ended at a weird point. There was no cliff hanger or major scene or build up. It just ended. I'll definitely not be buying the next book in the series which I had very high hopes for.
The fact is, Bowl of Heaven is mostly a rewarmed mish-mash of themes and ideas from Ringworld, Rendezvous with Rama, and Pohl & Williamson's Cuckoo saga, that really doesn't break any new ground. It's not a bad read ... but the honest truth is that if you've read *ANY* of the books it copies its ideas from, it's dull and derivative, and breaks no new ground. And frankly, "The biggest sci-fi saga since — well, since ever"...? Um, I can think of at least a dozen "sci-fi sagas" off the top of my head that DWARF Bowl of Heaven in scale. Just for starters, Iain M. Banks' Culture series, Glen Cook's Starfishers trilogy, Jack L. Chalker's Well of Souls series, Harlan Thomas' Sixth Sun series, and almost anything Steven Baxter has ever written. OK, so Bowl of Heaven is set on *one of* the larger space-travelling artifacts in SF. But really, that's its only claim to grand scale, and it really doesn't make effective or even particularly believable use of it. The vaunted "shipstar" is a mere mcguffin. A *grand* mcguffin, certainly, but still a mcguffin, not used (yet, at least) to anywhere near its full potential.
If you haven't read any of the books or authors I've mentioned above, don't be afraid to read Bowl of Heaven. But if you have, then prepare to be disappointed.
Ship's Captain, Redwing, is awakened, and a team is sent to the surface of the Bowl to make contact with any aliens and negotiate for supplies. The aliens provide not to be friendly, however, and capture part of the team. The other members of the team manage to escape and begin a journey across the surface of the bowl.
It's an exciting book and seems to be a thoughtful depiction of humans in a situation that is beyond their imagination. The helplessness of the people left behind on the ship, who know their people are in trouble but are unable to help them, is palpable.
Very well done! If you enjoyed Ringworld or the Species Imperative books by Julie Czerneda, you will probably enjoy this book.
Top international reviews
At the start of the book the narrative style is on a par with what a 12-year-old might write. For example alien plants and animals are routinely described as "strange" - I'm afraid I cannot picture a "strange" animal, I need more. It does improve as the book progresses but never rises to a level deserving of publication. And talking of progress, for some reason every single instance of the word "progress" has a mysterious space in it, ie "pro gress"; also the word "plea sure" but that only occurs once.
The plot errors are glaring and the action unlikely. Internal consistency is mandatory in SF and it's missing here. In micro-gravity people still get stamped on and walls are climbed. The internal layout of the spaceship is never described and I have no idea where the characters eat or sleep or work on board. Do they have cabins? Or go back and sleep in their suspended animation units due to lack of space elsewhere? And talking of suspended animation - our hero wakes after eighty years of sleep and tucks into some biscuits he packed as a wake-up snack! Eighty-year-old food? I wouldn't. And on rising he then takes several chapters to even inquire after news from Earth. And news when it does come is entirely technical. You'd think the Earthians would upload newspapers, TV programs, personal emails with family news and the ship would probably even get unofficial transmissions from amateurs. But no, just really boring techy stuff.
The chronology is inconsistent with characters referring to things which haven't happened yet and in the early sections of the book everything is narrated twice, like both authors had a go and they just used both texts rather than merging them. It does get better though. I'm guessing one author took over and did all the writing for the second half.
The characters are sketchy and there are too many of them. After finishing the book I could not name most of them and have no feel for them. The authors should have had one team of four people land on the bowl and a couple of people left awake on the ship, with the option to wake more if needed. (We are never even told how many people there are on the ship.) A reader can pretty much keep track of four characters, more and you're losing them. And the technological capabilities need to be described upfront - suddenly pulling out a phone or a laser is deus ex machina unless you declare it in advance. And the "beamer" - it seems to flip, sometimes it's being used to cook food and other times to talk to the Sunseeker. Is it some kind of laser they are hand-targeting onto a ship a million miles away? Good luck with that.
And a special mention should be made of clothing. I'm pretty certain the landing party starts off in spacesuits; and they break into the bowl in spacesuits; and then they scamper off through the forest... in spacesuits. At what point are we supposed to assume they stopped wearing spacesuits? Or are they still hunting and fishing in spacesuits?
The main reason for reading a review is to answer the question: should I buy this book? I'd say, no. It's not good; not really interesting or thought-provoking, the poor writing will annoy you, and you are committed to buying another book not yet published (as of Sept 2014) to get the complete story. So give it a miss.