Book Review: SHIPSTAR -

Book Review

Mania Grade: B

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  • Author(s): Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
  • Publisher: Tor Publishing
  • Book Genre: Science Fiction
  • Format: Hardback, 400 pages
  • Series:

Book Review: SHIPSTAR

Niven and Benford rattle the heavens

By Chuck Francisco     April 24, 2014

Book Review: SHIPSTAR
© Tor Publishing
Gregory Benford (the author of 1980's mind blowing Timescape) and Larry Niven (creator of the seminal Ringworld series) team up again to produce SHIPSTAR, the brand new sequel to their New York Times bestselling novel Bowl of Heaven. Can this new installment be grandiose enough to meet such stellar expectations? 

Fans Bowl of Heaven will be pleased to know that SHIPSTAR resumes directly where its predecessor left off; in the thick of the action. A human sleeper ship, on a colonization journey to the Earth type planet Glory, encounters a impossibly massive half sphere. This bowl has a diameter of roughly the Earth's orbital path around the sun, has a habitable area equal to thousands of planets, and features its own star impossibly held in place. In the previous novel, it was discovered that this bowl is on the exact same navigational path as the human ship, and so exploration teams where sent to investigate. First contact with the bowl's enormous life forms goes less than stellar, and sees half of the group captured for experimentation while the other half begins a mad pursuit across the alien environs of the surface. 

As the curtain raises on this installment, readers are thrust right into the thick of a dangerous escape. SHIPSTAR wastes little time escalating the situation, which could be a little bit jarring for those who haven't yet read the proceeding book. There are plenty of contextual clues woven into the narrative, and astute readers should have little problem jumping right into the story with the second book, but those who start with Bowl of Heaven will reap a richer literary fruit. 

The plot is an orbiting kabob of fascinating alien exploration. On the lush surface of the Bowl, one group of survivors has thrown in with a species of humanoid aliens known as the Sil, among whom they're hiding from The Folk (those large aliens encountered in the first book). The second group of fugitive humans seeks egress from the bowl via the subsurface work access tunnels (with the help of strange, intelligent snake-like beings). In hot pursuit are the rigidly caste structured Folk, and coasting high above the bowl are Captain Redwing and the intrepid crew of the human spaceship. As they begin a deadly dance of brinkmanship, a peculiar transmission is received by all from the most unlikely of sources. The game, though afoot, is much bigger than each group had imagined. 

Benford and Niven conjure up a compelling science fiction epic here, which is dense with details that might seem like mere technobabble, but which clearly have extrapolated grounding in modern science. Because of this, the tech feels more solidly real sometimes than the characters, who feel a bit underdeveloped. Personalities aren't the strength of SHIPSTAR though, whose wonder springs from the combined imaginations of two stalwarts of science fiction. There's a boundless optimism here, even when the chips are down, that there's something more wonderful always just around the bend. Wonderful isn't always a positive outcome- it could refer to something so amazing that it inspires immense wonder in the viewer (or reader).  

The narrative mostly warps along, only snagging in one or two places. Strangely this hiccup in the pacing is almost always when following the group on the surface who have banded with the Sil, which feels thematically more like a warning about the horrors of war. This is an uneven slice of pizza when compared to the pie. The remainder of the tale brandishes the strange alien bio dome of bowl life in such casually disarming way which will enraptured the willing scifi reader with tremendous zeal. Benford and Niven have produced a thought provoking space romp which should delight long standing genre readers and longtime fans of the authors alike.

SHIPSTAR by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven is available now from TOR Books for $27.99.


Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous  Colonial Theatre  in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.


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