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Novels about human encounters with so-called Big Dumb Objects expose certain underlying problems of SF with particular force. This may well be why these novels are so often fascinating. They seem to operate in the way that Eric Rabkin analyses in his essay on SF and the city (1986), by activating a complex of opposed qualities or possibilities: in this case, the cosmic and the domestic, the heroic and the bureaucratic. These pairings exhibit some problems of SF as narrative and they exhibit features of SF's dealings with modernity. A Big Dumb Object (Clute and Nicholls in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction are right to appeal for another term, but this is the one that prevails) (2) has the following qualities: it is artificial; it wasn't made by humans; its makers are absent so that it is or seems deserted; it is large enough to explore; indeed, it is usually very large, so that the human explorers are dwarfed; and very often the human explorers are swallowed up--they are enclosed, they are exploring an interior. This is literally the case in Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, Leinster's The Wailing Asteroid, and Bear's Eon, which is mind-bendingly larger on the inside than on the outside; a great deal in the plot depends on it in Shaw's Orbitsville, even though the sphere within which most of the action takes place is almost unimaginably vast; in this as in many other respects Niven's Ringworld does not conform to type, but even there we are very aware of the walls a thousand miles high rearing up at either side of the vast circular strip. This sense of enclosure introduces interesting affinities with the Gothic, to be discussed below.

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