Bowl of Heaven

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Benford, Gregory, and Larry Niven. Bowl of Heaven. New York City: Tor, 2012. Bowl of Heaven and Shipstar (omnibus). New York City: Tor, 2020. See Internet Speculative Fiction Database for other printings and German translation Himmelsjäger.[1]

Bowl of Heaven reviewed Bill Dynes, SFRA Review #301 (Summer 2012): pp. 56-58, our source here.[2]

"To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven" (Chuang Tzu, Book XXIII, ¶7), headnote to chapter 3 of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven (1971), and referenced in her title and those of THE LATHE OF HEAVEN (film 1979/80) from PBS and THE LATHE OF HEAVEN (2002) from A&E TV Network. So for regular SF readers the title might suggest something in-group in store. Dynes notes that the title object is "a hemispherical construct whose diameter is larger than Mercury’s orbit, propelled by a plasma jet bursting from the red dwarf star about which it rotates. One character describes the artifact as 'a wok with a neon jet shooting out the back' (71), and laughingly begins referring to it as 'Cupworld'" (p. 66). And Dynes suggests a more directly relevant allusion, "As the tongue-in-cheek 'Cupworld' suggests, the nature of the construct inevitably invites comparisons with Larry Niven’s Hugo and Nebula winner Ringworld (1970). Dynes contextualizes Cupworld and that heavenly Bowl — and indicates the book's usefulness for considering a kind of containment in a constructed, artificial world: with "world" both a physical object and (if more figuratively) the cultures on it.

Both the Ringworld and the Bowl of Heaven are “Big Dumb Objects” populated by a variety of creatively imagined aliens, both require the protagonists to embark upon a dangerous expedition to escape, and both evoke a satisfying sense of wonder for characters and readers alike. Fortunately, the Bowl is more than just a larger Ringworld. The authors explore the unique engineering and design demands of the construct not simply as requisite world-building, but for their implications about and effects upon the aliens who occupy it. (Dynes p. 57)

We will suggest comparison and contrast also with Rendezvous with Rama and Rama II.


There is now a Bowl of Heaven series,[3] with #2 Shipstar, with which we'll stop. For a plot summary (and positive evaluation), see the review by Michelle Herbert, "Shipstar is beautifully paced," Fantasy Book Review on-line, no date we saw.[4]

RDE, finishing, 17Jun21