Big Dumb Object

Ringworld

In discussion of science fiction, a Big Dumb Object (BDO) is any mysterious object, usually of extraterrestrial or unknown origin and immense power, in a story which generates an intense sense of wonder by its mere existence. To a certain extent, the term deliberately deflates this.

The term’s coinage is attributed to book reviewer Roz Kaveney, but it was popularized by its tongue-in-cheek inclusion in ‘The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’ by Peter Nicholls in 1993.

Big Dumb Objects often exhibit extreme or unusual properties, or a total absence of some expected properties. Such unexpected properties are usually used to rule out conventional origins for the BDO and increase the sense of mystery, and even fear, for the characters interacting with it.

For example, the monolith in Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is an indecipherable influence on the protohumans to whom it first appears, and later in the film serves to show how little humans have evolved. Astronaut Bowman’s attempt to interact with the monolith only makes him a part of its mystery.

In Arthur C. Clarke’s novel ‘Rendezvous with Rama,’ a 50km-long cylinder is detected entering the solar system. A similar cylindrical probe of gargantuan dimensions threatens Earth in ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.’

In the movie based on Michael Crichton’s novel ‘Sphere,’ the eponymous object would reflect everything in its presence except people. If it did reflect someone, she or he was alone, and the individual was accepted as worthy to harness the device’s power.

The dome from the Stephen King novel and television show ‘Under the Dome’ is large and transparent unless touched by a person; it gives a slight electric shock when touched for the first time by someone, but not afterwards. It cannot be penetrated, even by high explosives, and is seemingly causing many mysterious events in Chester’s Mill, the town that the dome is enclosing, including causing all electronic devices near it to explode, visions, and, in one character, premature birth.

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