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Bigger Than Worlds

As the great Douglas Adams wrote in his most famous of stories The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.” With such a vast space filled with, well with mostly nothing, what better way to fill it than with ming-bogglingly big construction projects.

The Bigger Than Worlds sub-genre is all about setting—a really big structure out in space. And by big, I mean really big. These structures are as big as planets—and even bigger! They span lightyears. They encompass stars. They take many forms: discs, rings, spheres. The unique setting of this sub-genre is a fascinating background for all sorts of stories.

The term “Bigger Than Worlds” was applied to the sub-genre after the publication of Larry Niven's 1974 article of the same name. The article describes different types of really big structures and specifically, he describes how to build a ring world.

Other Features of Bigger Than Worlds Science Fiction

  • Level of Real Science

    Variable. There is certainly potential for a high level of science in the construction, maintenance, and mere feasibility of these big structures—it's quite the engineering feat—and some stories will engage with the science and technology of the structures. But not all stories

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    Moderate. Really big structures in space have social significance. What does living on an artificial world mean for society? How does this setting effect politics and social structures?

  • Level of Characterization

    Variable. With such an emphasis on setting, characterization can sometimes be less of priority for the story. Yet, in other stories the setting is just a background, which means there will be room for the author to spend some time on character development. It really just depends on the author's intentions and ability to balance the exploration of the really big structure with the rest of the story

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Variable. Like characterization, plot may or may not be super important to the story. And while many stories will incorporate Bigger Than Worlds, it's more of a setting than a plot requirement and so plots vary. Often, plots are not too complex so that readers have plenty of time to explore the really big structure

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. The level of violence depends more on story than on setting and because this sub-genre is defined by setting, the level of violence is completely flexible

Related Science Fiction subgenres

  • Space Opera. Space Opera's are epics, which seems to blend well with really big structures—big adventure and big structures

  • World Building Science Fiction. When a megastructure in space is built a world must be built along with the structure.
    Most other Sub-Genres. Bigger Than Worlds science fiction is defined by its setting which makes it a great basis for other types of stories.

  • Most other Sub-Genres. Bigger Than Worlds science fiction is defined by its setting which makes it a great basis for other types of stories.

Popular Bigger Than Worlds Books
  • 1 Star Maker

    By Olaf Stapledon. The first real example of the sub-genre, this novel features artificial planets and huge star-enclosing structures.

  • 2 Across a Billion Years

    By Robert Silverberg. The book is about an archeology student who searches the galaxy for an ancient and almost godlike alien race. Dyson spheres feature in the story.

  • 3 Ringworld.

    By Larry Niven. Perhaps the best and most well-known example of the sub-genre, this series is about a ring around a star.

  • 4 Rendezvous with Rama

    By Arthur C. Clarke. Huge artificial worlds make their appearance in this book about an alien starship mistaken for an asteroid bound for Earth.

  • 5 Midnight at the Well of Souls

    By Jack Chalker. Another example of an artificial world. In this first book of a series, an artificial world has been left behind by an alien race and humans try to unlock its mysteries.

  • 6 Titan

    By John Varley. The first book of the Gaea trilogy and introduces readers to the huge alien creature that orbits Saturn, and houses other aliens.

  • 7 Hex

    By Allen Steele This novel ties in to Steele's Coyote universe and features a well-thought out Dyson sphere, a bit different than the traditional version, that may offer a new home for humanity.

  • 8 Book of the Long Sun

    By Gene Wolfe. In this series the Dyson sphere is used as the basis for the story.

  • 9 Ring

    By Stephen Baxter. This novel features quite possibly the grandest ring structure, which spans millions of lightyears.

  • 10 Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers

    By Harry Harrison. This book is a bit of a satire, but it is also an epic adventure that features a ring world.