Today’s Sci-Fi Month post is a review of Bowl of Heaven by Larry Niven and Gregory Benford. Don’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.
2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
Imagine you’re the captain of a spaceship.
Your ship, due to some technical errors, only has enough rations to last five hundred years. Your destination is at least five hundred and fifty years away. On the way to your destination, you spot a strangely shaped star/planet/spaceship. You’re worrying about the lack of rations, you don’t want to wake up any more crew members than necessary from cryo because that would mean even less rations.
So, what would do you do?
Why, you head towards the strange, unknown object on which anything could happen!
Yes. That’s precisely what happens in this book. Whilst I understand the allure of the strange and unknown in this period of space exploration, why would you knowingly put the lives of thousands of crew members in danger, when you’re already in trouble, to go and check it out?
There is quite a wide range of characters in this story – two teams go off to explore the Bowl, but one gets caught by the aliens whilst the other escapes. The two main characters are Cliff and Beth, but we really learn absolutely nothing about them, no back story, no character development. All we know is that they’re in a relationship. And apparently both very unloyal. They are separated when one group gets caught, and Cliff spends a lot of the time moping after Beth and missing her. So what does he do? He sleeps with another female member of the team because he misses sex. Beth has similar thoughts. So I felt I could not connect to these characters in any way at all.
The book is clearly written by an experienced science fiction writer, but at times it felt a little too technical. The descriptions of the Bowl made me imagine a fantastical, more varied and colourful version of Earth. However, in comparison to the description of the Bowl and the ship, the aliens felt a little amateur. Giant intelligent birds, wearing tool belts? Their hierarchy was interesting though – each is first born as a male, and then becomes female as they age.
I was really looking forward to this book, as I’ve been recommended Larry Niven’s Ringworld and The Mote In God’s Eye so many times – and this was just a major disappointment. Whilst the writing was beautifully descriptive, the characters were completely flat, the plot made no sense and I just… found it a little dull, in all honesty. And there were so many moments where I just wanted to scream at the characters – experienced space travellers apparently – for making really stupid moves, like drilling a hole in the side of the Bird Folk’s ship to try and speak to them. Because that’s a peaceful approach.
Overall, sadly disappointing. It won’t put me off reading any of Niven’s other work though. Apparently there is a second book but this was only made clear at the very end of the first – and I’m not too bothered about finding out what happens to Cliff, Beth et al next.