Cageworld (1982-1983)

In the far future the whole Sol system is encased in shells, like a russian Matrioshka a smaller one in a bigger one, and at the core of the whole complex is the sun. The whole system of Dyson Spheres has been built by Zeus, the AI whose function is to find new space for the ever growing human race. But with time contact between the shells, and between mankind and Zeus has broken. In the first book of the Cageworld tetralogy an assassin, an illusionist and a seductress are hired to find and make contact to Zeus, whose domain is somewhere nearer to the core of the whole system.

In the second book the same team makes an expedition to the outer shells, since there are hints that another shell beyond the Jupiter shell exists (most shells have been placed where once the old planets have orbited the sun). In the third they venture even farther, beyond the Saturn shell they found in the second book, to find out who the mysterious tyrant of Hades is, a being whose powers seems to equal those of the nearly almighty AI Zeus. In the last book of the Cageworld tetralogy the team goes on a last mission to find out what lies beyond the farthest shell and if humanity has a future or if the whole system of shells is a prison of nearly unimaginable proportions without any hope of escape.

What Kapp’s conveys throughout the whole series is the scope of the shells, probably the best usage of the concept of a Dyson Sphere in fiction. One problem of the series are the main characters. Why the author resorted to using fantasy cliches (the assassin & others) is beyond me, but after a certain time they grow on the reader, even if they look somehow misplaced in this future setting. They have a certain pulp quality, they don’t really grow and there’s not much tension between them, mostly they are devices to further the plot. The real character of the series is the Cageworld system of world shells.

The writing was slow at times, and since most of the time is used to travel between the shells, you have to get past some boring passages. In the end the reward of finding out the truth about the secrets behind the Dyson shells was worth it. If you like SF with exploration, sense of wonder and big dumb objects that are just cool to think about, and you can overlook weak characterization, this might be for you.

Search for the Sun (1982)
The Lost Worlds of Cronus (1982)
The Tyrant of Hades (1982)
Star Search (1983)