m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

BDO of the Day: Strata

Today’s Big Dumb Object (BDO) comes from Terry Pratchett’s 1981 science fiction novel Strata. Sadly, the BDO itself involves no stratification; the strata come from the main character’s job of terraforming planets all the way down to the trilobite fossils. Instead, the BDO is a proto-Discworld sans turtles—a sort of miniature Alderson disk enclosed within a snowglobe and lit by fake heavenly bodies.

After reading several “BDO” stories lacking any BDO, I could forgive the lack of true bigness (considering it was flat-Earth-sized rather than a small building one could jog across in under 10 minutes like the little dumb object in Algis Budrys' equally deceptively named Rogue Moon). I very much appreciated the Ringworld-parody aspect of the novel, which lends it a classic BDO feel in which the characters crash on the BDO and dodge the dangers of a primitive society (not to mention each other) while seeking the absent caretakers, or at least their secrets.

There’s an important difference here, though. Instead of being awestruck, our heroine, a planetary engineer herself, is a bit disgusted by the state of disrepair this high-maintenance indulgence has fallen into. She’s also not entirely certain that aliens are behind this BDO (as opposed to rogue elements of galactic society). The clever solution makes up for any erratic bits of the plot up until that point.