BDO or BSO, there’s nothing wrong with the hardware; it’s the wetware that’s disappointingly deficient.

BOWL OF HEAVEN

The first full-length collaboration from Niven (Fate of Worlds, 2012, etc.) and Benford (The Sunborn, 2005, etc.), featuring a science-fiction trope, the Big Dumb Object—or, as the authors distinguish it, a Big Smart Object since it’s dynamically stable, as opposed to passively stable like Niven’s BDO, Ringworld.

A sublight-speed starship heading for a habitable planet encounters an astonishingly vast structure: a bowl-shaped construct like a Dyson hemisphere, with a habitable interior surface larger in area than millions of Earths. Even more amazing, this Bowl is being steered towards the same destination as the starship, using an entire star as its engine! The starship needs supplies, so a landing party goes down to investigate. While attempting to gain ingress, the explorers become separated. One group, led by biologist Beth Marble, is captured by the structure’s alien controllers, taught to communicate and interrogated. The other group, under Beth’s partner, biologist Cliff Kammash, escapes into the Bowl’s habitable interior, only to be pursued relentlessly by birdlike aliens. We learn from Memor, the chief alien investigator, that the Bowl has been wandering the galaxy for millions of years, capturing and enslaving other intelligent species and incorporating them into the Bowl’s complex ecology—and their debate soon narrows into whether to domesticate the humans or simply exterminate them. There’s plenty of gosh-wow value in the exploration of the object itself, while the plot develops along conventional lines. Unfortunately, the humans lack personalities, their interactions remain soap-operatic, and the quality of the writing reflects this. The aliens come across as too dimwitted and sluggish for the sophisticated technology they evidently control, although this may be intentional: A sequel, Shipstar, is promised.

BDO or BSO, there’s nothing wrong with the hardware; it’s the wetware that’s disappointingly deficient.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2841-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and...

DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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