The Spheres of Heaven

by Charles Sheffield
Reviewed date: 2003 Jul 12
Rating: 3
532 pages
cover art

The Spheres of Heaven is far better than the last Sheffield book I read, Between the Strokes of Night.

The book follows a small party of humans sent to explore the Geyser Swirl, a section of the galaxy that has suddenly and inexplicably been found to have a Link point. Link points are basically manmade wormholes that enable faster-than-light travel. The fact that a Link point appeared in the Geyser Swirl is significant because it is known that none of the four sentient Galactic species (humans, Pipe-Rillas, Tinker Composites, and Angels) created the Link point, and therefore it is most likely that some other (previously unknown) intelligent race created it.

Heightening the suspense is the fact that previous expeditions to the Geyser Swirl Link point have failed to return. Overall it is a good book, and the author gives plenty of subtle hints as to the true nature of what the crew finds when they explore the strange world on the other side of the Link point. Additionally, Sheffield has created intriguing alien races in the form of Pipe-Rillas, Tinker Composites, and Angels. While we don't get to meet many of them, the behavior of the few we do see is unusual nearly to the point of absurdity--which just underscores how truly alien they are.

However, it is slightly cliched that of all the galactic races, only humans tolerate violence. Additionally, it seems improbable to me that species who categorically refuse to turn to violence would be able to effectively quarantine humanity to prevent the spread of their violence. Indeed, the quarantine of humanity is one of the most important elements of the story: it is the promise of an end to the quarantine that convinces the humans to mount the almost certainly doomed expedition to the Geyser Swirl. (The other galactic species won't go because their last expedition didn't come back, and of course they are all deathly afraid of what might be on the other end of the Link.) But the tricky part is that the humans must survive their exploratory expedition without resorting to violence (even in self-defense), lest they prove that humanity is still unworthy to be granted freedom. Of course, if they don't resort to violence they could be killed. Hmm....

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