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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 🙂
Cheryl Lawson’s Mars colony was established 52 years ago in story-time, which is decades into our real-life future. Placing a colony underground and genetically-modifying the humans born there made survival possible. Now, vital systems are becoming hard to maintain, they are heavily dependent on Earth, and the g-mod program is vital to ongoing support.
As the story opens, someone is drilling deep into a Martian glacier. He’s up to no good, and colonists are too worried about their spiraling maintenance problems, and (like most real people) too involved in their own relationship games to realize.
A breathtaking discovery and a dangerous system failure combine to create a race against time and a desperate fight to stay alive. Just when it seems the colony will survive, things go wildly-wrong again.
Mistakes are made, allegiances shift and lives hang in the balance. No one can be trusted as allies become enemies and the true nature of life on Mars is revealed – One wrong move, and it will be your last.
A wonderful read with a surprising relationship twist near the end. This is a fine addition to the Mars genre of scifi. I especially liked how real Mars and the colony felt. Lawson’s descriptions are fun: for example, ejecta from a crater is “a frozen splash in a bowl of tomato soup.” I also liked getting inside the characters. Each one has a generous introduction.
I scored a pre-release copy – We Are Mars is due out May 15th. So mark your calendars or better yet, pre-order today so you don’t miss out. The book is subtitled “Part One” so it ends with the hook for the next book, a hint of what’s coming.
Does your reading get repetative? Does scifi feel like the same handful of galactic wars and teenage battle-games over and over. Read an indie author with a different perspective. Here are two books by EJ Randolph, an author in my own little town of Silver City, that offer optimism with their action. I bet there are authors in your town, too, you’d enjoy reading.
When a bucolic agrarian world seems too serene, its people too complacent, there’s bound to be trouble. Sent on an apparently simple mission, diplomat Kate Stevens is soon fending off attempts on her life and digging into the royal family’s intrigues.
I enjoyed exploring the society with Kate and discovering both the good and bad. She’s a straightforward hero with an admirable team and spaceship to help her. They puzzle out what’s happening on this world where the end of trade with other planets means a technological slid backwards. Was that bad luck or sabotage? And will the elite kill to protect the answer?
Interstellar diplomat Kate Stevens faces another puzzle. Three primary colors and three basic geometric shapes – what can the people hoisting them intend? And why is their planetary government willing to declare war over the movement? Joined again by the crew of spaceship Miss Appropriation, Kate travels to a new Federation planet to find out.
While rebellion and interplanetary war threatens and there’s plenty of action, Kate’s commitment to doing the right thing is the core of the story. It’s fun to find a scifi book with a unique view of societies as humanity colonizes the galaxy. There are also illustrations that my e-reader displayed very nicely.
Help an indie out! Leave a review, especially on Amazon (which is the Big Dog in book sales.) Like many indie authors (including me!) Randolph is just starting to accumulate reviews. Here are a few of the comments:
She and her courier crew avoid lethal violence to bring harmony back to a broken society
I read the book in one sitting until late at night. I don’t often do that.
I liked the allusions to history, and to ethnic backgrounds.
Red Rising is in the scifi/fantasy dystopian genre – the sort where teenagers fight and kill each other in “games.” Like other stories in this genre, adults are generally corrupt or ineffective. The genre favors medieval sorts of weapons with flashes of high-tech and high-fashion. The main character must win the game to maneuver into a position to topple the evil society. You may think this has become predictable stuff, but Red Rising by Pierce Brown is phenomenally popular.
The story delivers all the requirements of the genre, and grandly. The underdog hero, Darrow, is a Red slave in a society of many rigid classes ruled by the Golds. He chooses to join the game to give meaning to his murdered wife’s death, bravely suffers a dreadful preparation, and doesn’t really know what he’s getting into. There’s lots of violence and suffering by all involved, more than any one of us could endure because the characters are supermen and superwomen.
Darrow repeatedly ruminates about his lost love, which drives him and makes him unwilling to settle merely for revenge. He feels guilt over some of the terrible things he must do to win and sometimes suffers consequences. He makes and loses friends and enemies. The story is well done and doesn’t devolves into merely a video game plot.
At one point I was getting a little tired of the violence, and laughed out loud when a character said that he was getting tired of the game. How about that – an author who can read my mind.
What others are saying
There are always some negative reviews. Darrow’s ruminations strike some as “rehashing” and “tedious.” Others noted this is more of a fantasy than hard science fiction (though the scifi genre has been stretched into fantasy forever.) The book is set on Mars but there’s only one grim element that says “Mars” to me – the planet’s been terraformed, so the story could have been set almost anywhere.
Others disliked similarities to previous popular dystopias. “I am very bothered, and even distracted… because it is following The Hunger Games in 2008 and Divergent in 2011 and Red Rising came out in 2014 which wholesale loots plots and character arcs from the previous two books.” Joel De Gan.
The comparison wouldn’t bother the author – the Amazon description brags about the similarity to Ender and Katniss.
My bottom line.
I’ve read enough stories in this genre lately, and that may blunt my opinion. I’ve read that scifi is always about us today, so they make me wonder – do teens and twenty-somethings see school as an arbitrary game imposed on them by callous adults? And the real world on the other side of school as grim and rigged?
Red Rising is well done and if you’re looking for this sort of story, you’ll love it.
Or, search for my name, Kate Rauner, or Colony on Mars on other platforms and favorite stores. Value priced for hours of reading pleasure on Mars – you’ll save even if you already bought one of the books at the regular ebook price 🙂
The Amazon cover is above and the cover at other favorite online stores is below. Here’s the link to Smashwords, but the set should be appearing on B&N, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other stores this week. If you can wait 🙂
Available in Kindle and other eBook formats. Here’s what you get:
From NASA to Mars One, real-life visionaries plan to send settlers to Mars. Go today in science fiction, starting with a fragile foothold and reading on into the future. From the first twelve colonists struggling with a strange illness through the generations, follow one settler in each book as they face danger and build a life on Mars.
Glory on Mars – Emma wants to explore in her robotic walkabout suit, but something is terribly wrong as a strange illness threatens the settlement’s future.
Born on Mars – Jake didn’t ask to be born on Mars, into a failing colony. Perhaps he can save his friends and family by contacting new arrivals, but an earthly rival sent them, and they’re half a planet away.
Hermit on Mars – Sig’s life is falling apart when his mother calls for help. She lives with prospectors in the Tartarus Mountains, and the mysterious hermit no longer ensures their survival.
Water on Mars – Bliss thinks this is the best time to be Marsborn. She leaves her tiny burg behind for the biggest city on the planet, but her new boss is crazy, and threats inside and outside of the colony menace her plans.
Storm on Mars – Zeker joins the elite Tower Guilds to change Mars. But his neuroplasticity treatments may have failed, leaving his own impulses as his biggest challenge. Thrown out of the Towers, Zeker lands in a lawless burg filled with desperate people. Farther from his goals than ever, he must find a way back to the Towers, because more than his project is in peril.
I’m an incorrigible skimmer, but I read every word of Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kess. The story begins with aliens who have a surprising link to Earth. They’ve already landed when middle-aged geneticist Marianne Jenner is summoned. She joins a team of earthly scientists working with the aliens to defeat a lethal danger that threatens both humans and extraterrestrials – a cloud of interstellar spores that could wipe out both worlds.
Nothing goes the way I expected. Disaster is slow and complicated, driven as much by human failings as the interstellar threat, with a fascinating impact on Earth and its children. It’s a good story – a global calamity told from the intimate perspective of Marianne and her family, with a chance to follow the aliens to their home world. There are action scenes, but a lot of the story covers Marianne’s relationships, so that’s my one caveat if you’re not into that. In addition to planet-wide impacts, climate change is raging, which is not related to the main plot but adds some colorful background.
In the latter half of the book, young children told some of the story from their point of view. Those sections were handled wonderfully. The kids notice exactly what a kid would, leaving me with more meaning than the children realize themselves. Kess occasionally drops names from science and the arts (Stephen Hawking, Melville’s Ahab), which is fun. I enjoyed the references I recognized, but none was vital to the story so they never slowed me down.
I liked both the science and the characters – lengthy personal interactions related to the overall story and held my interest. The rip-roaring climax was surprising, but all made sense in the end. It’s a good thing I finished the book on a weekend because I couldn’t put it down through the last quarter of the book.
What others are saying
With 3.5 stars on Amazon and 24 reviews, the book isn’t as popular as I expected. The alien portion of the book is based on an award-winning novella by Kess (one reviewer said “word for word”), and some readers were disappointed that the aliens left the story early in the book. The effects of the alien’s visit on individuals was belabored for some, too much like “filler.” Others loved both premise and characters. As is common, the features of the book that delighted some readers were exactly what others disliked.
Book Two in the trilogy is available now, though there were no reader reviews on Amazon when I checked. The description seemed a little disappointing – sounded like a rework of the original book’s plot.