It is not a very dramatic name: KIC 8462852. But it could be the site for one of the most startling discoveries in science. Because this star, which is getting on for 1,500 light years away, is orbited by something that blocks the light from the star for up to 80 days at a time. That’s not a planet, it’s probably not a ring of rocks. One possibility that is being seriously considered is that it is a Dyson Sphere.
Named after Freeman Dyson, a Dyson Sphere is a massive structure that encloses the sun in order to maximise use of the sun’s energy. But we’re very familiar with the idea in sf, in fact the idea originated in sf. So here are five great novels that feature some variation on the idea.
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon. This is one of Stapledon’s massive novels full of amazing concepts. In this case, an ordinary man from Earth is taken on a tour of the universe during which he encounters a whole range of aliens and scientific concepts. Along the way, he encounters an enclosed sun, the very first appearance of a Dyson Sphere in literature. In fact, this is where Freeman Dyson got the idea from, and he said a better name for them would be “Stapledon Sphere”.
Ringworld by Larry Niven. After Stapledon, this was the first appearance of the idea in popular literature. In this case, it is not a complete sphere but a ring about a million miles wide and at approximately the same distance from the sun as Earth’s orbit, which makes for one absolutely massive piece of real estate for the three adventurers to explore. In fact it was so much that Niven went on to write sequels The Ringworld Engineers, The Ringworld Throne and Ringworld’s Children, and in the Fleet of Worlds series co-written with Edward Lerner there were a stack of prequels also.
Orbitsville by Bob Shaw. This was written around the same time as Ringworld, but publication was put off for a few yeaqrs so the two wouldn’t clash. This time the structure is a complete Dyson Sphere, which gives a living space billions of times the surface of earth, and the site for a series of political intrigues that carry over into two sequels, Orbitsville Departure and Orbitsville Judgement.
Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks. The Niven Rings have become quite popular in sf since they were invented in Ringworld, but surely one of the most interesting versions is the Orbitals that make up so much of Iain Banks’s Culture. The most interesting exploration of one has to be in Look to Windward, in which we go on a tour of the different sections of the Orbital, including some that are still being built.
Accelerando by Charles Stross. Full Dyson Spheres have also become popular (there’s one around the Radch home star in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword), but one of the more unusual versions is at the end of Accelerando where a bubble of computonium is formed around the sun to provide a massive virtual space for uploaded minds.
Bonus Pick: Pandora’s Star by Peter F. Hamilton
There are plenty more, but which ones have we missed here?
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.