Book Review: 'Bowl Of Heaven'

Critic Alan Cheuse sends us into the cosmos with his review of Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And now a brief escape into fiction with a review of a new novel. It's the first book in a series of science fiction novels written by two authors, Gregory Benford and Larry Niven. It's called "Bowl of Heaven," and our critic Alan Cheuse says even readers who don't like science fiction will enjoy it.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: So picture this - a spaceship en route from Earth to another star system encounters what the human explorers see as a vast contrivance. It's a bowl-shaped structure in space so large that it contains a star and is so large in design that it has millions of miles of surface. And it's all moving toward the same destination, the crew discovers, as their own.

And the bowl, as our space travelers - a mix of engineers and scientists, some of them married to each other - discover when they land on it, is inhabited. And the inhabitants remind them of intelligent dinosaurs who have evolved into giant intelligent birds. That's right, there's a vast world shaped like a bowl or a cup, equipped with its own star, sailing through space and it's ruled by a bunch of autocratic, brilliant creatures who at first glance appear to resemble Big Bird.

To say it sounds almost silly, sort of like, say, trying to describe the importance of a novel like "Moby Dick." It's about whale-hunting? Really? But the Bird Folk, as the human beings call them, have a fascinating, if somewhat cruel social arrangement among themselves and they stand at the top of the food chain on Cupworld.

Once the earth folk land they have to outrun, if not outfight, the Big Birds, so for a time the space story turns into a chase story. And how does it all turn out? We're all going to have to wait for the next volume from this top-flight pair of writers.

NEARY: The novel is called "Bowl of Heaven" by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven. It was reviewed by Alan Cheuse, whose latest book is a trio of novellas called "Paradise."

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