Bowl of Heaven a bowl of rehash, doesn’t even have an ending #bookreview #review #scifi #sciencefiction

Bowl of Heaven coverIt’s not often I finish a book with the urge to throw it across the room, but that’s where Bowl of Heaven left me. I didn’t even get that satisfaction because I had a hardcover book and was afraid I’d break something.

With two popular authors, “science fiction masters” (so the blurb says) Larry Niven (best known for Ringworld) and Gregory Benford (best known for Timescape) I expected more. The story begins with grand ideas – an interstellar ship with most of the crew in hibernation and an amazing, huge ship-star, a variation on a Dyson sphere (and, therefore, a variation on Niven’s Ringworld from 1970) that is quite cool and fun to contemplate. Cool enough that the book seems to repeat descriptions and slack-jawed wonder of the contrivance (the authors like the word contrivance) from time to time throughout the book. But, okay, maybe some readers forget and appreciate the repetition. I noticed but wasn’t especially annoyed.

A landing party from the interstellar ship gets separated, one group captured by the enormous bird-like rulers, the other running and trying to learn about the vast contrivance. They’re mostly on foot so we see only a teeny tiny bit of the vast Bowl. The captured group escapes, so the story follows two groups on the run in the Bowl, plus those remaining on their ship above the contrivance. (I’m getting used to that word.)

Some scenes are told from the Bird-Folk’s point of view and therefore comment on humanity’s weaknesses, though I couldn’t shake the image of Sesame Street’s Big Bird from my mind.

The landings parties wander around the Bowl. Well, I guess wander isn’t fair – they are being chased. As the story progresses, they find more interesting technologies and species of Bowl inhabitants. Interesting, but not especially riveting.

What got me was – the book ends after 400+ pages, but the story doesn’t. There isn’t even a particular cliffhanger. It just stops – go buy the next book. The blurb on Amazon doesn’t warn you that you’re buying half a story (at $8.99 for the Kindle version.) That makes me angry. I’m used to multi-book series, but I expect each book to have an ending. Scheisse. The next book is available. They call it a sequel. Sequel my eye – it’s part 2, and I hope the story gets to a conclusion, but I don’t expect to read it.

The Bowl gets 3.1 stars on Amazon (from a hefty 291 reviews the day I checked.) I’ve never seen a distribution like this – reviews are evenly divided among all five star rating levels! As many people hate the book as love it.

“Old themes rewarmed and mixed together,” “long, rambling, resolves nothing.” I agree with those comments. “Physics is solid and the engineering is great.” I agree with that too. Maybe that’s why the book returns to descriptions of the Bowl so often.

So after six years on Amazon Kindle, how can this book still rank #644 in its scifi category? With an overall Kindle store ranking of #118,990, someone buys the book every day. Those are awesome rankings that I, as a newbie scifi author, would love to have.

Come on people. Try something new! How about my near-future Mars colony? Find Glory on Mars and the rest of the series on Amazon and other favorite stores. Or join my Readers’ Club and get a coupon for a free download of Glory on Mars. Mars isn’t as big as the Bowl, but give the story a try.

RetrogradeIf not my story, give someone’s story a try. You can probably buy two or three ebooks from new authors for what the Bowl will cost you. Here’s a story by a friend of mine that offers the exploits of an interstellar diplomat, with thoughtful themes I rarely find in scifi. With art on the cover instead of the almost-standard Fiverr covers assembled from stock images. Creativity is good 🙂

Is Weird Megastructure at Star Still Possible Explanation? #star #astronomy #space #science #alien #strangerthings

A fantastic possibility was reported by the Kepler space telescope:

Tabby’s Star’s transit signal, otherwise known as a ‘light-curve’, stopped astronomers in Tabbys Startheir tracks. Something passed in front of it, dimming its starlight a whopping 20 percent and other jumbled transit signals revealed that something wasn’t quite right with this particular star. Penn State University astronomer Jason Wright speculated that the signal could be indicative of an ‘alien megastructure’ that’s in the process of being built.”

An alternative explanation – it’s a huge swarm of comets – had me discounting the possibility. But now Tabby’s Star (KIC 8462852) is back in the news. At the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, astronomers find the comet hypothesis doesn’t explain everything they see.

So, is it possible a structure like the one found in the classic scifi story Ringworld is under construction?

Fortunately, astronomers have preserved their photographic plates of the sky for a long time. Another researcher from Louisiana State University studied plates going back a hundred years.

Sure enough, yes, the star is a bit of an oddball and has shown a long-term decreasing trend in brightness! Since the 19th Century, its brightness has decreased steadily by nearly 20 percent.”

Astronomers from Caltech and the Carnegie Institute, looking at data from the Kepler space telescope,

Detect transient dips in brightness of up to 20 percent, there also seems to be a very definite downward trend in brightness throughout our observational history of the star…there’s no other star that shows such dramatic behavior.”

I love to watch scientists in action here. Long dead astronomers still collaborate with those today through their stored and shared photographs. From Hawaii to Louisiana and points between, people jump in with ideas they test and publish for scrutiny.

As of now, there’s no satisfactory answer to the mystery of Tabby’s Star. Astronomers are still searching and that’s wonderful.

Thanks to for following this story and for the quotes above.

4 Books on Mars white background (500x500)All my books, including science fiction, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. On Mars series books 1 and 2 available now – books 3 and 4 coming soon! Read one today.

Could Kepler have found #aliens? For real?! :D

That's a lot of data

That’s a lot of data

Kepler Space Telescope has been watching 150,000 stars – seeking the slight dimming and brightening patterns that indicate orbiting planets. But maybe, possibly, they found something more exciting.

Citizen Scientists Better than Computer Algorithm
“Since human eyes and minds are unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition, citizen scientists from Planet Hunters examine the data. They’ve found a weird pattern that suggests a big mess of matter circling the star, in tight formation.”

After discarding various possibilities, the only natural explanation is that a second star passed recently (as the universe considers time) and sent a flood of comets inwards. Which still seems unlikely.

This opens the door to other unlikely suggestions.

Researchers involved with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) “long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars… The unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a ‘swarm of megastructures,’ perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.” Not quite a Dyson Sphere, but maybe a step towards it.

SETI plans to point a radio telescope at the unusual star to listen for signals consistent with technological activity, and to follow up with the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico if anything sounds promising.

OMG – could it happen in my lifetime?
Could I know, for sure, we are not alone?

I get chills, which is appropriate. Assuming all goes well, the first observation would take place in January – my North American winter. Until then I can only watch dark space near Cygnus – the star is too faint to see naked-eye – and wonder.

Thanks to

Or not