the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Larry Niven’ Category

bowl of heavenThe Bowl of Heaven, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

published in 2012

where I got it: purchased new











Science fiction adventure? A strange bowl shaped structure in space? Bird-like aliens that “adopt” species they come across? An alien planet that sends out confusing information? Shut up and take my money!  Right?  Not so much, as it turns out.

The Bowl of Heaven starts out as you’d expect a science fiction adventure story to start: we’ve found a planet that could be another Earth, a new home for a humanity that’s quickly outgrowing Earth. Nicknamed Glory, a large expedition is put together to sleep most of the way, and assess the situation when they reach Glory.  And they wouldn’t have awoken biologist Cliff Kammesh if it wasn’t an emergency.  The ship’s computers have found something, something they can’t explain: a star that just winked into existence.  They couldn’t see the star before, because it was hidden behind a structure nearly the size of our solar system.

Captain Redwing is awakened as well, along with biologist Beth Marble (she and Cliff have a relationship), and a handful of other crewmembers. They need to understand this giant structure, but they also need to reserve the dwindling food and air stores they have on the ship.

The structure is a gigantic bowl like structure, the “bottom” is mirrors aimed at a star, and the “sides” are all biome. There’s a magnetized hole in the bottom, and the mirrors cause ripples and disturbances in the star’s surface, and the magnetized hole pulls a jet of agitated plasma away from the star, propelling the huge machine forward through the cosmos. The scene where Beth pilots the ramscoop ship through the plasma jet absolutely blew me away, and I will forever remember it as one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever come from across in a hard science fiction novel. Once through, and into the inside of the bowl, it would be a crime not to explore further.

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I told my guest posters they could write about anything they wanted for Vintage Science Fiction month, so long as it was speculative fiction related and happened before 1979. I didn’t give anyone any specific direction, on anything.  Ladies and gentlemen, today you are in for a treat. Brittain didn’t just write about one book, or one author. He went all out and read through the nominated and winning novels of the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards of 1977.

1977: The Award Winners

by Brittain Barber

Brittain Barber is the o-owner of and main writer for the blog Two Dudes in an Attic, where we read Gary Gygax novels so you don’t have to. Scribblings on Two Dudes emanate from the Pacific Northwest and sit at the nexus of science fiction, fantasy, political science, Japan, music, and soccer. (This makes for a killer Venn diagram.)

When the invitation came to do a guest post during Vintage SF Month, I tried to come up with
something more entertaining than a simple book review of some cobwebby relic. Many of my posts tend towards aimless, politico-economic rambling,  I quickly shot that down as requiring far too much research. Finally, I settled on the idea of looking at the award winners and nominees from a particular year; in this case, my birth year of 1977. (Does this make me vintage as well? I prefer to think otherwise.) (Also, I realize that the books here were all published in 1976, but we’ll just talk about them in terms of 1977, for simplicity’s sake.) The topic thus decided, I set about to read as many of the major books from the year as I could, in hopes of providing capsule reviews here. It is fortunate that 1977 was still a year of thin, concise volumes. I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off in an age when the average page count ticks up over four or five hundred.

My focus for this piece is what I consider to be the three big prizes of Western SF: The Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. I read the winner of each and as many of the nominees as I could get my hands on. I skipped World Fantasy, Campbell, and a couple of others, but there may be time for a follow up later on. I also passed on short fiction in a bid to prevent this project from spiraling out of control. Fortunately, the nominee listings (and awards!) had considerable overlap. Starting with the winning books, below is a selection of the best and brightest of 1977. I may still ramble.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm – Wilhelm took home the Hugo and Locus with this book, a mix of elegy, apocalypse, and clones. The writing is lyrical and hypnotic, as Wilhelm manages to make her clones both sympathetic and wholly alien. I was disappointed in the end with the conflict she decided to make unavoidable and the results she made inevitable, but that is a matter of opinion rather than technique. I’m a little surprised that this book has faded from the SF consciousness a bit, as it appeared to make a splash at the time. It has also aged well, with little inside to date it. In fact, it may be even more relevant now, with cloning back in the public eye. Recommended reading and a worthy winner, I think. At the very least, I haven’t read anything else from 1977 that is clearly better.

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The Mote in God’s Eye, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

published in 1974

Where I got it:  Might have swiped it from my Dad

why I read it: was in the mood for some good old hard SF.







Even in the 1970’s, hard science fiction and first contact stories were nothing new.  But the masterpiece by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye, was something brand new. Sure, it had spaceships and aliens and detailed explanations of FTL travel, but it had something more, something new, something unexpected. The aliens in this ultimate first contact story were nothing like anything ever seen before.

If you’ve ever read any of the Pournelle CoDominion books, you’ll be in familiar territory, as The Mote in God’s Eye takes place on the edge of CoDominion space. Although teeming with futuristic technologies, the empire is saddled with a bloated aristocracy and an old fashioned view towards women.  Old fashioned and futuristic all at the same time, does that make this book horrifically dated, or did Pournelle purposely design it into the original CoDominion novels?

The six word sentence plot summary of The Mote in God’s Eye is: Aliens are weirder than we thought.

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Mondays suck, don’t they?  Let’s have some fun stuff instead!

If you’ve been following Angry Robot on twitter, or the feeds of plenty of folks in the blogosphere, you know Angry Robot Books has recently made two huge, massive, wonderful announcements: First, they’re starting a YA imprint called  Strange Chemistry. Great news for all you YA fans looking for what Angry Robot tends to specialize in: SF, F, and WTF.  And the second announcement? Even better than the first!  Guess whose heading up the new YA imprint? Again, if you’re active in the SF twittersphere or on heavily trafficked SF blogs, I’ll be you already know her. In fact, you may have already congratulated her. If you haven’t, get your butt over to Floor to Ceiling Books and congratulate the blogosphere’s own Amanda Rutter. She’s shutting her blog down, but you can still catch her on twitter.

Huh, maybe I should have left that for last, since the rest of this post is just random inconsequential fun stuff? ehh, whatevs.

Teh random fun stuff:

I recently picked up Cory Doctorow’s Context from the library. This is a collection of essays he’ written over the last few years on everything from kids and the internet to copyfighting to politics and parenting. Some have appeared on BoingBoing, others in Locus, others in The Guardian, and yet others were articles published on Publishers Weekly while he was self publishing With a Little Help.  There’s a lot of good stuff in this little volume, I’ve been flipping through the pages and reading essays here and there, and all have been informative, well written, and entertaining. If you’re a fan of Doctorow, this is definitely a little book that’s well worth seeking out.

Random item number two, is what should you do if you’re the first human to have contact with aliens?  Appropriate to think about, since I’m slogging through the Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle epic space opera first contact story The Mote in God’s Eye (ok, I should say slogging, but it’s not a fast read. Imagine if 2 seasons of Battlestar Galactica were mashed up with 3 seasons of Deep Space Nine, take out all the romance, and then cram everything that’s left into 500 pages. It’s a lot!).  I think I’ll take this guy’s hilarious and helpful advice.

wanna see some fun artwork?

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With Larry Niven’s Betrayer of Worlds hitting shelves this week, I figured I better post my review of his Destroyer of Worlds. I originally published this review here.

Larry Niven’s lastest Known Worlds novel is fun, fast, and full of the remarkable aliens his fans have loved for years. Niven has always been known for his wonderfully freakishly alien aliens, and Destroyer of Worlds gives readers the opportunity to intimately know a new bizarre alien race. For readers new to Niven’s Known Worlds series, I suggest starting at Fleet of Worlds, the first book in this mini series, and you can go from there. And if you’ve ever read Niven’s classic SF novel Ringworld, it’s not deja vu, this is a prequel series.

We start off right where we ended in Juggler of Worlds – The planet New Terra is supposedly “free”, but their former Puppeteer masters don’t trust them, don’t want to help them, and still treat them like expendable servants. It is a precarious relationship indeed, as the overly cautious Puppeteers rely on the humans curious nature and the humans rely on the Puppeteers advanced technology.

As we saw in Fleet of Worlds and Juggler of Worlds, the supernova explosion at the center of the galaxy is spreading its waves of radiation, killing and sterilizing everything in its path. The humans and Puppeteers alike will need each others help to escape it and find new worlds to colonize. The radiation wave is moving fast, near light speed travel is faster, but the galaxy is bigger than you can imagine, and it still takes a long time to get anywhere. It may be generations until the wave reaches where the Fleet is right now, but Puppeteers have always been long term thinkers.

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.