Wednesday, December 12, 2012
A Smart, Monster-Filled Epic begins...
BOWL OF HEAVEN by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven (2012 Tor Books / 412 pp / hc)
Benford & Niven, two masters of "hard" scifi, kick off a new series dealing with the starship SunSeeker, launched from earth for a light-years-long journey to a mysterious, newly-discovered planet that has been named 'Glory.' But when fuel concerns bring the mission into question, the ship's captain allows a chosen few to be awoken from their sleep chambers to help deal with the problem.
The crew then discover a gigantic, bowl-shaped artifact on basically the same course as themselves. They decide to gamble a shuttle and see if they can get help. Husband and wife biologists Cliff and Beth lead the expedition to the odd man-made planet that turns out to be 100-times larger than earth.
Super intelligent, ostrich-like aliens (called Astronomers) run the planet. They capture Beth and five others while Cliff and another four crew members manage to escape. Each person is a specially skilled scientist or engineer and both groups rely on their skills to survive on this oddly earth-like new world.
Benford & Niven pack this tale with an abundance of thought provoking scientific possibilities and deep philosophical ideas while keeping the suspense level high and introducing us to countless alien life forms. Some sections of the Astronomers contemplating man go on for a bit too long, but are entertaining nonetheless.
While there are many characters, the authors keep things tight by focusing on a few. I found Cliff's issues to be the most interesting; besides being thrown in charge of the expedition, he begins a "utility" affair with fellow biologist Irma and is first to friend a cat-like species of aliens who are also trying to get off the artificial planet. SunSeeker's captain, 'Redwing,' is like an old fashioned sea captain who's as tough as nails, smart in ways his scientific crew isn't, and is quite likeable despite his hard-edged ways. He keeps this futuristic story ground in the past and gives the ship a familiar feel.
BOWL OF HEAVEN is a smart, monster-filled scifi romp that promises great things to come. Book two, 'Shipstar,' can't get here fast enough.