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Bowl of Heaven: A Summar(ies)

Getting into a series, remembering one that you read several moons ago, just understanding things in general…reading can be HARD sometimes. Fortunately, authors like Larry Niven and Gregory Benford understand our daily struggles. Check out below for their summary of the Bowl of Heaven series, Book 3, Glorious, coming 06/16/20!


By Larry Niven & Gregory Benford

Bowl of Heaven opens with an astounding discovery. The first of many to follow.

On the way to a distant star, the starship SunSeeker comes upon a vast artificial construction that’s also heading for their common destination, a planet called Glory. A small star is traveling out ahead of (and pulling along) a large Bowl whose circumference is the size of the orbit of Mercury. The starship comes alongside it.

The Bowl is like half of a Dyson Sphere, part of it silvered like a mirrored cooking wok. There is a hole in the bottom larger than Jupiter. A jet from its star passes through the hole, driving the whole system, magnetically controlled. The Bowl is  the size of a solar system. The upper rim of the Bowl is a habitable swath of land far larger than the area of Ringworld. It has oceans, deserts, rivers, forests—but no major mountains. Seen full on, it’s striking.

Close up, whole hurricanes in the Rim Ocean look like punctuation marks:

Their ship is low on fuel and needs repairs. The Bowl may be their only chance to fix that  But… How to get onto it? The rim area seems well defended, so… Fly up the exhaust! Take the Bowl by surprise. Soaring into a plasma flood.

Of course the crew of SunSeeker will explore it. Why not? They sought out the planet Glory to find a new biosphere, and this huge thing is hundreds of millions of times bigger.

It holds millions of Adopted species of intelligent and semi-intelligent beings, hundreds of thousands of ecologies. The Bowl is not only a weird, wonderful contraption world, it’s a ship traveling the Milky Way. It’s been doing so since the time of the dinosaurs.

Humans, being what they are (primates, irritating and pushy), have a natural, omnivore predator’s curiosity. The SunSeeker crew decide to send a team down to investigate this BSO (Big Smart Object, one that demands control for stability, which Benford defines in their afterword). The team is led by Cliff Kammath, a biologist, and Beth Marble, a pilot. The rest of the human crew on board the SunSeeker remains in orbit around the Bowl, with Captain Redwing in frustrated command—he wants to explore too.

Those ruling this enormous contraption are the Folk, bird aliens. They take some people captive; others escape. There are great views. Great perils. Big risks. Some deaths. Revelations. But the views! Here’s one.

The views are vast, strange and commanding. No stars in the sky, daylight constant, centrifugal gravity from the spinning Bowl slanting at an angle. Strange lands, indeed.

The alien big-birdy Folk hunt the escaped humans across huge distances. Fast transport in a robotic subway-like structure helps, but our heroes seldom get any respite. The Folk are relentless, for they have protected the Bowl against invading species for millions of years. Humans are just another pest. Though ingenious, true.

Our protagonists meet strangeness squared—the Ice Minds that cling to the outer, cold shell, and are the collective memory of such a long-lived contraption. Stone minds embody hard memory and slow intelligence, with their own wisdoms. Plus the flora and fauna are oddity upon oddity. Like this gasbag creature that’s actually a huge battleship:

The second novel, Shipstar, carries the drama further. There are revelations of the Bowl history, especially since it visited Earth long ago, with impacts on our biology and on human origins. The humans make a deal with the Folk and other smart species—not without conflict and death, however.

The third, concluding novel will appear June 2020: Glorious. SunSeeker finally voyages on ahead of the slower Bowl, reaching the target star they both sought. From the Glory system come mysterious signals in gravitational waves. How are those vibrations in space-time itself made? Where? And what culture created them?

Turns out, Glory is a double planet. Our solar system has such a pair—Pluto is tide-locked to its large moon Charon, so both eternally face each other. At Glory, these worlds have atmospheres and life, so the natives have made use of their unique dynamics. They have built a Cobweb between worlds, opening a volume far larger than the mere surface of their planets. This colossal building-between-worlds gives them unique resources, populations, technologies. Here’s what it looks like, seen from beyond the smaller world:

They can send gravitational wave messages! But…to who? And why? Societies millions of years old have different, strange agendas. Mere humans have trouble understanding this. People die in the attempt. Aliens are…alien. Yes.

Exploring this huge construct makes Glorious a tour of the possible Big Smart Objects that have played out in science fiction since Dyson spheres debuted in 1960s. It is sad yet somehow appropriate that just as Niven and Benford finished this novel, and were ushering it into print, Dyson died, at the considerable age of 96.

Would aliens build such objects? Could be… and humans can be a part of it. After all, we’ve already made big stories about the ideas. You can’t have a future you do not first imagine.

And then… Adventure on the largest scales ever envisioned.

As a teaser, here’s a Don Davis painting of a skirmish between the Bowl and an incoming small though massive black hole, with a powerful magnetic field of its own. Weaponized black holes! Gravitational effects are apparent in this warfare.

Pre-order Glorious Here:

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