It’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.
If 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 🙂