BOOK REVIEW: SHIPSTAR / AUTHOR: LARRY NIVEN, GREGORY BENFORD / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 2ND
Gregory Benford and Larry Niven have followed up their novel Bowl of Heaven with the equally lengthy Shipstar, coming in at over 400 pages in paperback. The previous book ended abruptly once it set up a range of characters and the technological wonder that is the Bowl, a massive (i.e. bigger than a star) habitation tethered to a star and using it for propulsion. It is the Shipstar of the title. There is lots of technical explanation and science and this is one of the flaws with the book.
Where Bowl of Heaven was poorly edited and fragmented, this book does at least read more consistently. It still manages to either confuse the reader (the Bowl ship seems to change size and characters appear to know things before they happen) or spend too much time repeating information to make sure readers are following the plot (such as it is).
The characters are still not well realised and the science does dominate the many pages of this novel. There are chunks of action but these are subservient to the continual need to expose the magnificence of the authors’ creation. There are attempts at setting up subplots and making the human (and alien) characters more two-dimensional. The ship in which the humans arrived at the Shipstar acts a pivot point around some of the action on the surface (the human explorers have been split up and made contact with various alien groups). The crew that remain on the ship go through the motions but are at times left in the shadow of the on-board AI running the ships ram-scoop drives for interest.
It isn’t all doom and gloom; the story unfolds and does progress towards a conclusion of sorts. There is a lot of creativity shown in the description of the Shipstar and some of the aliens, and it is obvious the authors have thought a lot about how something like this environment might work. Where it fails is in trying to write an interesting story on the top. Try as it might, this is no match for Niven’s classic Ringworld - despite any niggles, that book is a good story well told.
Both authors have turned out amazing works of imagination and have nothing to prove in the genre. Sadly Shipstar is far less than the sum of its parts and is a laborious read. Unless engineering on a gigantic scale genuinely fascinates you, there are other books to read that might be more rewarding.
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