lunes, 8 de octubre de 2012

Bowl of Heaven by Larry Niven and Gregory Benford

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Bowl of Heaven is a book that, apparently, had it all for me to love it. Written by two masters of the genre, Larry Niven and Gregory Benford, it is a novel about one of my dearest topics: big dumb objects. I wanted to love it. I really did. Unfortunately, I couldn't.

Bowl of Heaven has many problems. The most obvious of them all is that it isn't very original. An enormous alien artifact with an almost perfect geometrical shape, in this case a hemisphere, is found by a human starship. Nobody knows what its purpose is or who it builders are. Does it ring any bells? This could have been groundbreaking 40 years ago. Nowadays? Not so much.

Anyway, this is the kind of story that, when correctly done, can be extremely entertaining and full of sense of wonder. For instance, Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds is not exactly the most original science fiction novel of the last few decades, but it is a joy to read. Sadly, Bowl of Heaven is not.

A big dumb object is an enormous playground. There is almost no limit to the surprises and the wonders that an author can write in there. However, Niven and Benford choose to go the same way that Ringworld went. Once the characters arrive at the Bowl, they only explore a tiny part of it. And what they find is, to put it midly, not that interesting.

Even with this (intentionally) limited scope, the novel could have worked as an entertaining planetary adventure. It doesn't. And that is the main problem of Bowl of Heaven: it is boring. Very, very boring. I had to force myself to finish reading it. In fact, I must confess that I just skimmed through the 50 or so last pages. It was that boring. But I wanted, at least, to know how it ended.

However, the closer I was to the last chapter, the more afraid I became. And, to my dismay, when I reached the last page of the novel my worst fears were confirmed: this is only the first part of the story, though it was not stated in either the synopsis or the cover of the book. To know more (something?) about the Bowl you'll have to read Shipstar, the forthcoming second volume. You know what? I won't.

I could go on forever listing things I didn't like about this novel. In fact, I have not even mentioned how badly developed the characters are. I'll just quote something that one of the human protagonists is thinking in certain part of the book and let you judge by yourself:
Cliff recalled that if humans stared at each other for long, it meant that they would either fight of make love.
Not all is bad in Bowl of Heaven. For example, one of the alien races has a quite interesting physiology. However, this is a book I'd recommend avoiding. When I started reading it, I was not expecting the most beautiful novel ever written or the most enlightening one. I was looking for a competently written and enjoyable science fiction adventure. I didn't found it.  

(You can also read this review in Spanish, on El rincón de Koreander/También puedes leer esta reseña en español, en El rincón de Koreander)

2 comentarios:

  1. Dentro de poco ya a reseñar los libros mientras los escriben sus autores, ¿no? Es lo único que te falta.
    Gran reseña.

  2. Jejejeje, en cuanto termine de construir mi máquina del tiempo viajaré al futuro y volveré para traeros reseñas de todos los ganadores de los Hugo de los próximos diez años. Y la fórmula de la limpieza, por supuesto :)