Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

(8.5/10)

Bowl of Heaven is the first novel in a new series of books collaboratively written by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven. In Bowl of Heaven humanity has achieved interstellar travel and is looking for new inhabitable planets. Humanity at this time is still trying to fix the climate problems of the 21st and 22nd centuries. This book follows the crew of the starship SunSeeker on their journey to Glory (a planet hundreds of light years away).

Most of the inhabitants of SunSeeker are resting peacefully in cryostorage on their journey through the centuries. Cliff, one of the main characters aboard the SunSeeker, is woken from his sleep much earlier than expected as the SunSeeker is showing signs that they may not make it to Glory in the allocated time. Beth is another main character who is soon woken to give fresh perspective on the ships predicament.

As well as problems with the ship the newly awakened skeleton crew need to work out what the unidentified flying object, the titular Bowl of Heaven, is and whether it will be able to help solve some of their problems or will it just cause more hassle than it’s worth? Bowl of Heaven is a multi character story told from different perspectives. This can sometimes feel jarring as you are trying to keep time frames of where each character is in relation to the others, but this also makes it more interesting, especially once a team from the SunSeeker manage to land on the surface and there are more characters to interact with.

I found that the book stepped up another gear once Cliff, Beth and their team have landed as there is a continued sense of menace in all of their encounters. They soon realise that humanity is not alone in the universe and that evolution between different planets can be very different whilst also seemingly the same. This leads to the larger mysteries surrounding the Bowl of Heaven, where did it come from, where it is going and who are the multitude of inhabitants living in this perpetual sunshine world? As with most books with alien cultures it is interesting to see how different cultures react to the other, will they be able to learn from each other or end up continually clashing as their different ideologies interact.

For a new series there are a lot of questions that I hope will be answered in the next book Shipstar, but until then I am happy to be lost and overwhelmed with these characters as they are being amazed by this vast world that is seemingly beyond human imagination.

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