An Audio-Book Review: Return to a Galactic Oddity



By Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Published by Audio Frontiers

Read by Zach Villa

The Book:


When we last saw our heroes back in Bowl of Heaven they were either captured or on the run from a bunch of giant sentient birds who were the astro-navigators of a truly monumental-sized construct that had many times the livable surface area of a mere planet and which used an artificially generated solar flare for propulsion. Readers may recall that I was not particularly pleased by the fact that the story had very little content plot-wise and seemed to serve only as a vehicle to dish out some fairly good Science Fiction images. The worst insult was that the story stopped suddenly without answering any questions, but since I already had a copy of the sequel, I decided to listen to it and hope that together they made a book single story.

Is it fair to call the second half of a story a sequel? Not in my lexicon. This is, however, the continuation of the story even though the first book falls flat on its face without this one. At least this one does answer some of the questions raised in the first, such as why the birds aren’t intelligent enough to build a starship, least of all something that uses a star and the rest of the mass of a solar system.

As the story progresses the people who were captured escape and the ones who had been running around free are captured, which I suppose is a sort of turn around, but neither really did much to push the plot which was still thin on the ground albeit a bit denser than it had been in the first book. We also learn that the Bowl was actually built either by or with the assistance of creatures who prefer to live in the very coldest reaches of space and that the solar flare is directed by beings who are apparently capable of living on the sun. The birds, we learn were a race of intelligent dinosaurs who joined these other beings and then returned to the solar system and inadvertently dropped the asteroid on Earth that may have killed off the dinosaurs. Recent theories are casting doubt on whether that one event did it all by itself, but SF writers have frequently been behind the times when writing their stories and it’s not like the asteroid strike theory has been disproved yet.

I think what bothered me the most was an implication that the star that was used to propel the bowl was once part of a binary star system where Sol is now. I felt that was stretching my willingness to suspend disbelief to the breaking point. First of all is the matter of all that extra solar radiation coming off the second star. Leaving aside the matter of whether Earth’s atmosphere would provide sufficient protection from that much more (and maybe it would), it seems to me that if you remove one star from a binary star system, the orbits of everything else in that system are going to be all screwed up, especially if you returned once with that second star, but the major planets all orbit Sol in the same plane, which to me, at least throws that theory out the window or is it possible to only disrupt a single orbiting object (the dinosaur-killer asteroid) that way leaving everything else undisturbed?) Well, my degrees are in anthropology and archaeology so maybe I just don’t know enough. However I do know enough that neither author really knows much about the wide variety of primates that exist on this world and that the Birds’ broad generalizations only apply to the more famous species of monkeys and only some apes. On the other hand, if the Birds haven’t been back since killing off their own kind 65 Million years ago, where did they learn about primates? Since there weren’t any running around here at the time.

The story comes to another unsatisfying conclusion, although I will allow that many questions were answered and it did read like an ending that was planned as opposed to chosen at random as a stopping point.

The Audiobook:

I mentioned in the previous review that I though Zach Villa read the story in an acceptably good manner and I see no reason to change my opinion in this outing. In fact, I would say this was slightly better in that there were fewer “funny voices.” No matter how you see it, I think listening to someone talk in a high squeaky voice is hard to take even when it is the autobiography of Alvin Seville, and the same goes for low gravelly voices or any other sort of vocal mannerism that makes pronunciation hard to follow. The improvement may be due to the fact that the species Mister Villa chose to use those voices for spoke less in this book, but he had other occasions he might have stooped to such silly devices but did not, and so while I did not really enjoy the story and had many more arguments with the plausibility of it than I dare to voice here, I thought Zach Villa read it fairly well.

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