“You never knew what you would run into in interstellar space,” thinks a crewman aboard the SunSeeker. In this case, it is an alien civilization, or, at least, an artifact of an alien civilization, that the intrepid crew initially encounter. Bowl of Heaven is set in a distant future where Earth has been terraformed, and the crew of the SunSeeker are on their way to colonize a planet in a different star system.
In this future human civilization, astrobiology has made advances and discovered extraterrestrial life like slime, mould, algae, etc, but not extraterrestrial intelligence. “Boring life,” thinks another character.
So, when going to investigate a giant, bowl-shaped structure blocking their path, they discover not only intelligent lifeforms, but also a created world as vast as a solar system. Another surprise? It is one, in many ways, similar to Earth. Also? It’s traveling. It’s heading where they’re heading.
This collaboration between Larry Niven and Gregory Benford is a clear example of exceptional science fiction writing. The quality of this novel comes as no surprise, considering the authors’ respective positions as masters of science fiction. Both Niven and Benford, well-known for their focus on hard science fiction, do not disappoint with Bowl of Heaven, which pays sharp attention to the logic, logistics, and wonder that would accompany such a discovery.
The reader often feels immersed in the strange new environment. The attention to the science is largely responsible for this, as it gives the novel a surprising sense of realism, even when the reader is caught up in the adventure that unravels. The breadth ranges from geology to genetics, and, in this way, the reader feels that they, too, are slowly piecing together the puzzle that is this strange new world (and the strange new life that goes with it). This keeps the reader engaged throughout the (admittedly lengthy) prose.
The glittering, image-laden prose, attention to detail, and sense of adventure given by Niven and Benford testifies to the tremendous creative power that can come from collaboration. I can’t wait to read both authors more extensively, and am already anticipating Volume 2!
Bowl of Heaven will be available October 16th, 2012 from Tor books.