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2.9 out of 5 stars
2.9 out of 5 stars
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on 30 September 2014
OK, just finished it and yes it is dire; hard to believe it was actually written by Niven. I did know upfront (having read the reviews here) that it would not be a complete story and we have to wait to 2015 to get the next, and guaranteed final, installment. But that ending was abrupt in the extreme - no attempt at all was made to package the narrative; it ended like a chapter would end - neither cliff-hanger nor partial resolution.

At the start of the book the narrative style is on a par with what a 12-year-old might write. For example alien plants and animals are routinely described as "strange" - I'm afraid I cannot picture a "strange" animal, I need more. It does improve as the book progresses but never rises to a level deserving of publication. And talking of progress, for some reason every single instance of the word "progress" has a mysterious space in it, ie "pro gress"; also the word "plea sure" but that only occurs once.

The plot errors are glaring and the action unlikely. Internal consistency is mandatory in SF and it's missing here. In micro-gravity people still get stamped on and walls are climbed. The internal layout of the spaceship is never described and I have no idea where the characters eat or sleep or work on board. Do they have cabins? Or go back and sleep in their suspended animation units due to lack of space elsewhere? And talking of suspended animation - our hero wakes after eighty years of sleep and tucks into some biscuits he packed as a wake-up snack! Eighty-year-old food? I wouldn't. And on rising he then takes several chapters to even inquire after news from Earth. And news when it does come is entirely technical. You'd think the Earthians would upload newspapers, TV programs, personal emails with family news and the ship would probably even get unofficial transmissions from amateurs. But no, just really boring techy stuff.

The chronology is inconsistent with characters referring to things which haven't happened yet and in the early sections of the book everything is narrated twice, like both authors had a go and they just used both texts rather than merging them. It does get better though. I'm guessing one author took over and did all the writing for the second half.

The characters are sketchy and there are too many of them. After finishing the book I could not name most of them and have no feel for them. The authors should have had one team of four people land on the bowl and a couple of people left awake on the ship, with the option to wake more if needed. (We are never even told how many people there are on the ship.) A reader can pretty much keep track of four characters, more and you're losing them. And the technological capabilities need to be described upfront - suddenly pulling out a phone or a laser is deus ex machina unless you declare it in advance. And the "beamer" - it seems to flip, sometimes it's being used to cook food and other times to talk to the Sunseeker. Is it some kind of laser they are hand-targeting onto a ship a million miles away? Good luck with that.

And a special mention should be made of clothing. I'm pretty certain the landing party starts off in spacesuits; and they break into the bowl in spacesuits; and then they scamper off through the forest... in spacesuits. At what point are we supposed to assume they stopped wearing spacesuits? Or are they still hunting and fishing in spacesuits?

The main reason for reading a review is to answer the question: should I buy this book? I'd say, no. It's not good; not really interesting or thought-provoking, the poor writing will annoy you, and you are committed to buying another book not yet published (as of Sept 2014) to get the complete story. So give it a miss.
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on 24 January 2013
I gave up reading this half way through. The concept is silly. The only character (a minor one at that) that I had managed to like was killed off. The characters are all navel gazing with not much real action. They avoid the most obvious and safest actions when contacting an alien artifact/race. The aliens aren't really alien, filled with human emotions and motives. The science is shaky. But I can handle shaky science if its a good story and this isn't. I've read all of Larry Niven's books and a few of Gregory Bedford's. This is not a Larry Niven book.
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on 20 August 2013
Ringworld fans will recall Louis Wu musing on the idea of controlling Ringworld's sun and moving the entire structure out of Known Space and avoiding the galactic core exploding. Niven and Benford have taken the idea of moving Ringworld and made a very uninteresting book. The Bowl is Ringworld with a lot of superstructure to allow the star to be use as a jet. There the interesting bits end.

The builders are not that effective and seem to slip up when dealing with Humans. One definition of a Mary-Sue character is when the opponents lose fifteen IQ points. QED.

The Human crew of the Earth starship have little to differentiate them and, as another reviewer said, they merged into one. The Aliens really were not that alien and the remaining crew on the ship seemed not to spend too much effort trying to communicate with the Bowl's owners.

All in all, not a great story.
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on 5 November 2014
So very very disappointing. It's a rubbish story anyway but who the hell proof-read it? It isn't even internally consistent! The significant events that are reported from 2 different view-point character's perspective should at least describe the same significant events. Did the aliens capture half the team in their environment chamber with only Tananareve caught outside or did the team members get picked up *after* they'd left the chamber and were running for it? Oh it was both! Crap! Later there are scenes involving the group of humans who were *not* captured "Tananareve ... extracted the metal shard - Howard refused even to wince.". This is the same Tananareve who was captured with the first group a few pages earlier! Again I ask, who proof-read this? Far too many errors like these are scattered through the book. Sad.
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on 26 August 2013
Well two main thoughts cross my mind. Firstly Niven has now found how to actually move a Ringworld interstellar distances. Secondly it is infuriating to discover, only on the very last page of the book, that this isn't a self-contained novel after all. Nowhere in any of the book's publicity or cover was this indicated and I am sure that this will tick off a number of readers.
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on 24 August 2014
A bit cheeky not to explain anywhere except the last page that it's volume 1. Won't be bothering with volume 2, and nor will the authors I suspect. I'll be wary of Titan books from now on. Nice enough concept, although not original. Poorly executed. Sloppy mistakes in the writing and the 'science' doesn't work. Someone should have edited this thing. Overall, don't bother reading this.
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on 25 March 2016
The fact that the headline review on the front page is from the Wall Street Journal says it all. This may have been 'hard sci fi' 30yrs ago (if not 50 yrs ago) but it is pants now. This is a poor book, a lot of characters trundling around a vast landscape doing nothing interesting, slowly. The later txt is quite tedious. Maybe a decent book if you're 10. But if you're used to Peter F Hamilton, Greg Bear or Neal Asher, this is junk.
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on 19 January 2015
Very disappointing. A collaboration between two favourite writers would be brilliant you would think, sort of 2+2=5. In this case 2+2=1. The concept sounded exciting, a new look at the Ringworld idea but to me it failed to take off and I gave up reading it about halfway through.
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on 18 February 2016
I do like Larry Nivens books and have read many 2 or 3 times. Unfortunately I couldn't finish this and only got a third of the way through it. Nothing about the plot or characters grabbed me in the way that any of the 'Known Space' series or the 'State' series grabbed me. It was very dry and my mind kept wandering I hope this pair of authors avoid each other in future.
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on 10 October 2012
"Bowl of Heaven" is a science fiction novel created collaboratively between Gregory Benford & Larry Niven. As both these authors are known as masters of the genre I was looking forward to reading it even though I have never actually read a novel by either of them before. What I found, was a hard science fiction novel, full of exposition and mystery that I found both interesting and intriguing.

The story itself follows the Sunseeker, a new starship that is aiming to traverse the cosmos to colonise a new world in a journey that will take centuries. All the crew except those needed to pilot the ship will be put into hibernation with these piloting teams being rotated every few years. However, during the journey two issues occur that force the on duty crew to wake up additional people from their hibernation chambers.

The first of these issues is related to the ship's speed which appeared to be slowing to the point that the food supply on board the ship may be unable to sustain the crew that are awake during the rest of the journey. However, the second issue is the most amazing; they have discovered a massive structure in the shape of a bowl that is heading in the same direction as them. It is therefore decided that the only hope for the crew is to land on this structure and try to find enough food and water to ensure they can complete their journey. Of course, when they finally manage to land on the bowl they soon discover other creatures living there, some of which don't appear to appreciate the intrusion.

The quality of the writing in novel is superb, with the reader feeling truly immersed in the strange new world that has been created. The descriptions were excellent considering the scale of what was being described and I had no issue visualizing the various structures, creatures and environments. This is all helped by some close and in depth attention to the science which ensured there was a realistic feel to the entire adventure. I really enjoyed how the authors used many aspects of science from Biology to Geology to help stretch out the mystery so that the reader was putting the puzzle together alongside the characters.

The biggest let down in the book was probably the characters though who really did play second fiddle to the environment itself and the various alien creatures. There was a severe lack of complicated personalities and the interactions themselves were all very soap operatic. This didn't really fit with me as the people were meant be highly trained scientists and professionals. I could have understood the authors making the characters into more simple caricatures had this been a pulp light science fiction novel but it is meant to be hard science fiction and therefore I had expected interesting and intelligent characters.

A final issue I had with the novel though was in regards to the ending which left nearly everything unresolved and unexplained. Personally, I was disappointed when I realised I wasn't going to get anything answered by the final pages as I didn't see anything in the synopsis or cover to highlight the fact that I would need to read two novels to get a complete story. It won't have been a major issue to some people, but it did spoil the final 50-60 pages of the book for me as I made a futile attempt to try and work out how the story could be neatly tied up.

Overall, this was a enjoyable hard science fiction novel that whilst not being that original, was well put together with some great elements of exposition and head scratching intrigue. The characters are the novel's weakest point, but the way in which Benford and Niven have created this wonderful and mysterious world more than makes up for it. On a personal level, whilst I am a little bit annoyed that I have to wait for a 2nd book I wasn't expecting, I will still be picking up the sequel so that I can receive some answers to the many mysteries that remain.
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