Something huge has been spotted on the edge of uncharted space. It's miles long with a maw that could swallow a dozen star ships. It could hold a crew of tens of thousands or a crew of thousands ten miles tall. It's on a direct course for our solar system and we need you to investigate it.
Such is the Big Dumb Object. It's really, really big and really, really powerful. It could be a weapon or a habitat. The Big Dumb Object is always technologically more incredible than anything the discoverers have ever seen before, but, if it's dangerous, it probably has a silly weakness like logic
, antimatter, or a well placed torpedo
in the right air shaft. Sometimes it's disguised as a natural phenomenon. See also That's No Moon
Its makers may be alive in a far-off, remote region. They may have Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence
, and this object is nothing more than leftover dust in comparison to their new existence. They may have gone extinct, and this object may be the last artifact of their society
. The object may be some device or even an organ used by Starfish Aliens
to devour other worlds; it's possible that the object is an alien
. In any case, if they were so powerful and now they're all dead, what chance do we have?
Since Big Dumb Objects are so old and filled with advanced technology they are often the target of a race by several parties to unlock their secrets. In this case many Big Dumb Objects double as a MacGuffin
, often a MacGuffin Location
The term "Big Dumb Object" for these things was coined by author Roz Kaveney.
May overlap with Mile-Long Ship
or even Planet Spaceship
. Compare That's No Moon
, Standard Sci-Fi Fleet
, Dyson Sphere
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Anime And Manga
- The Bell in Magic Users Club, a giant alien something, invades Earth and floats off the coast of Japan with its own weather pattern.
- The Gauna colony from Knights Of Sidonia three lightyears from the Sidonia. And to them, of course, the Sidonia itself.
- Outlaw Star's Galactic Leyline is a massive library left behind by an ancient and now dead race. Several different factions spend the entire series theorizing about it and looking for it, and the eponymous Cool Spaceship and accompanying Spaceship Girl were created for the purpose of finding it.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has the Seeds of Life, which are left from a super-powerful dead race, and are extremely powerful in their own right. And they're definitely big, almost 14 kilometers in diameter, hidden neatly underground. Incidentally, there's an implication that these are just the dispersal cores of the ships that brought them here. The remnants of Lilith's ship, after her vessel impacted onto the Earth? The Moon.
- Galactus of Marvel Comics fame is arguably a Big Dumb Object. Or, possibly a Big Smart Object. He just sort of wades through the galaxy eating things and creating general terror.
- His ship, Taa II, fits the bill being the size of our solar system and so complex that Reed Richards is unable to even guess at most of its functions.
- The first New Mutants annual featured an abandoned spacecraft the size of the inner solar system. It was also programmed to self-destruct. In a This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman moment, the only hope of averting the self-destruction was Cypher, a kid whose mutant power consisted entirely of the ability to learn new languages quickly.
- The Homeworld of the Evrons in Paperinik New Adventures: they turn it into a spaceship. They also have "smaller" spaceship to supervise the conquest of other planets.
- The Star Trek movies have a few Big Dumb Objects for the Enterprise crew to contend with:
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a cloud-covered super ship called V'Ger (or Vejur). It was built around an old Earth probe named Voyager (no, not that Voyager, but rather a fictional 6th iteration in the real-life Voyager program) and sent back to meet its creator.
Kirk: Bones, there's a thing out there.
McCoy: Why is any object we don't understand always called a "thing"?
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has a "Whale Probe" that disables every ship in its path by
just looking at communicating with them and begins vaporizing Earth's oceans in search of an extinct species.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey pits a single human up against a giant monolith in orbit around Jupiter. The Monolith serves as an alien teleportation device.
- Well, you can argue that it also serves as a gigantic computer, an accelerator of human evolution and more or less (at least in the end sequence of the movie) as a total Mind Screw machine.
- The monolith is best described as a "cosmic Swiss Army knife." It's capable of doing essentially anything required of it.
- And there are more than just one...
- ... and each is capable of self-replication...
- 2010 ends with a whole fleet of them turning Jupiter into a second sun to kickstart evolution on Europa.
- The Event Horizon from the film of the same name is a large ship stranded in a planet's upper atmosphere containing horrors and secrets.
- On the other hand, it was human-made.
- The SciFi Channel film Epoch starts with a huge spinning alien object popping up from underground in Bhutan. As an added bonus, the Torus (as its labelled) heals everyone in the vicinity, including mortal wounds. It turns out that the Torus is responsible for the evolution of life on Earth. By "responsible", it means that if it perceives that the experiments has reached a dead end, it will "wipe the slate clean" and start over. It had already done that once. The sequel, Epoch Evolution introduces two more Toruses (Tori?). One is identical to the first one, and one that looks the same but kills anyone in the vicinity.
- The Tet from Oblivion2013.
- The Jokers in The Dark Side of the Sun and the predecessor species from Strata (both by Terry Pratchett) had a hobby of building Big Dumb Objects. The Jokers built probably the biggest, dumbest object of all, which was a chain-link star system made with (as far as humans and other remaining species can tell) a complete disregard for the laws of physics.
- Larry Niven's Ringworld is probably science fiction's most famous Big Dumb Object. It is a habitable ring the size of Earth's orbit circling a sunlike star. The original builders were decimated and forced to live in primitive tribes scattered across the ring's inner surface.
- Rainbow Mars, by the same author, features a tree large enough to conceivably be used as a space elevator. Turns out to be a very, very bad thing to have on your planet though, as it literally requires the entire planet's water supply to survive.
- The eponymous object in Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama is an alien ship fifty kilometers long which comes zipping into the Sol System. It is seemingly abandoned but eventually slingshots around the Sun and disappears back into space, basically using the sun as a refueling stop.
- In the sequels it's revealed that the Rama spacecraft is part of a vast intergalactic network tasked with collecting samples of intelligent life, which was made (essentially) by God. Nobody likes the sequels though...
- Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence novels feature an object called "Bolder's Ring" (or just, "The Ring") built by the eponymous aliens; it's constructed out of the remains of galaxies. It's a cosmic string - essentially a black hole that has been stretched into a one-dimensional loop millions of light years in length. In the series it is explained to be the cause of the Real Life "Great Attractor". At it's center? The sheer torque on spacetime from the gravity of the Ring tears a hole in the fabric of the universe, creating a portal to alternate universes.
- Also, the "Sugar Lump" from the same series - a perfect cube the size (and mass) of a small moon. One character walking across one notes the strange gravity field: as you walk toward one of the corners, the flat "ground" under you increasingly seems to tilt until it seems like you're walking up a 45 degree incline. Once you reach the edge the gravity makes it feel like you're on top of a mountain sloping down on all sides.
- Lots of these in Iain M. Banks' The Culture series.
- The Excession from the novel of the same name is probably the purest example of this trope in Banks' work.
- In Look to Windward we see Airspheres, planet-sized bubble-like artificial habitats with no internal gravity and filled with air (and bizarre airborne lifeforms) built by a long-vanished race for reasons unknown. They double as Worlds In The Sky.
- Much of Matter is set on a Shellworld, which is an artificial planet consisting of multiple hollow concentric spheres. Each internal sphere consists of a different discrete planetary habitat. We are told that there are thousands of Shellworlds and that they were built by a long-vanished race for possibly nefarious purposes. They also have a nasty habit of killing their inhabitants, though nobody has worked out what triggers them to do this. We also see a Nestworld, a vast Topopolis-like structure surrounding a star built by a contemporary neighbouring race of the Culture; we are told just this one Nestworld is home to 40 trillion beings, which is more than the entire Culture combined.
- in Simon Ing's Hot Head a cluster of Von Neumann machines mining the Jupiter system go cancerous. The result is the Massive: it's growing exponentially and heading for the richer pickings of Earth. This is a classic Dumb Object: a gigantic mouth on the move. Ironically it's also anything but dumb: behind the mouth is a lump of computing substrate the size of a small moon. It's got so much virtual reality real-estate that the real world it is gobbling up is simply being overlooked.
- The Dragon Rises by Adrienne Martine-Barnes mentions Precursors who'd become known as "Gamesters" because among their artifacts was a scattering, on many worlds, of huge cubes, purpose and makeup unknown, which resembled dice right down to having dots marked on the sides. The Gamesters also built warships some of which, despite being millennia old, were still capable of wiping out substantial battle fleets all by their lonesome.
- The eponymous cube in Risto Isomäki's Xanadu-kuutio ("The Xanadu Cube") is a strange hollow cubical device that is Bigger on the Inside - so big, in fact, that its internal volume is apparently several times that of the rest of the universe.
- Most artefacts and monuments left behind by already extinct alien civilizations in Alastair Reynolds' works (particularly the Revelation Space series).
- Troika by Alastair Reynolds has the Matryoshka - a enormous spherical object that suddenly popped up into the solar system in the near future, made up of several concentric spherical layers. The outermost layer is made of up of debris being held together by field lines - which will slice anything apart upon contact. Fundamental physical laws begin to break down or diverge as one gets closer to the center of the sphere - such as Planck's Constant becoming larger. And the entire structure is pulsing to the rhythm of the Soviet anthem, as it is a structure sent back in time by humanity to warn itself of imminent danger.
- The sphere in Sphere. Most of the book is spent figuring out what is does. It makes things you imagine real.
- Robert Reed's Great Ship universe has the... Great Ship. It is a ship the size of Jupiter, made of the highest grade hyperfiber. Discovered streaking towards the Milky Way at a third the speed of light by a human built probe, its origin is unknown (the area behind it is the emptiest part of the visible universe), it carries an entire world inside it, and it has tens of millions of caverns and fusion reactors all there to make the interior livable for almost any species. It may be as old as the universe, and one character suggested that it created the universe, or functions as a control center for it - the visible universe simply being another layer to the ship's hull.
- The Arch in Spin. Technically, it's a circle, not an arch, but it's halfway underground.
- Sister Alice has Sister Alice's Dyson cylinder in the Brother Perfect chapter, an enormous hollow habitat totally enclosing a star. The cylinder is made mostly out of dark matter with a sprinkling of baryonic matter, causing to appear simply as an oddly shaped Oort cloud around the star unless one knows what to look for. The life on the habitat is similar to plankton, made mostly of dark matter, and lives at a balmy temperature slightly above the freezing point of liquid helium.
- Jack McDevitt's The Academy Novels (aka the Priscilla Hutchins series) have a couple of examples:
- The Omega Clouds, known as the "Engines of God" in the alien legends that first put humanity on to them, are planet-sized organized clouds of unknown nature which sweep through the galaxy in waves approximately every 8,000 years, destroying obvious signs of civilization. They seem to be primarily attracted to right angles. One now-extinct race went around building fake cities with lots of right angles on various uninhabited moons to try and distract them. The next wave is expected to reach Earth in about a thousand years.
- The giant alien ship known as the chindi in the novel Chindi, which is discovered refueling itself in orbit around a gas giant in a remote system.
- In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, January and his crew find an underground hoard of such objects — all unmoveable except the Dancer.
- The Sobornost gubernyas in The Quantum Thief-trilogy are diamonoid pseudospheres 10,000 kilometres across that act as the central brains of the Sobornost mind upload collective. Each has the face of their dominant Founder intricately carved on their surface. They are made of matter mined from the Sun and when they need to leave their orbits they use collapsing miniature black holes for propulsion, shooting streams of Hawking radiation across the entire Solar System and cause massive gravitational disturbances in all the planets they come close.
Live Action TV
- Various Star Trek series featured Big Dumb Objects:
- The Original Series:
- The Doomsday Machine can chop planets into rubble with an anti-proton beam and use the chunks as fuel. Its hull material is derived from neutron stars somehow.
- The Fesarius is a sphere ship a mile in diameter that contains a crew of only one and is used primarily as a bluff.
- The generational ship Yonada is disguised as a giant asteroid. Its crew doesn't know they are on a ship and would not be told until they disembark on their destination planet.
- The Next Generation:
- Scotty is found by the Enterprise D marooned on the surface of an abandoned Dyson Sphere that is still programmed to draw ships into its docking bay with a powerful tractor beam. The Dyson Sphere is abandoned because conditions inside have become very dangerous. The Expanded Universe strongly implied that the builders of the Dyson Sphere went on to become the Borg.
- Tin Man is a sentient biological ship that's been stranded for thousands of years without a crew. Both the Federation and Romulans want access to it, but only a powerful telepath can operate it. It is attempting suicide by supernova due to loneliness, having not had a crew in forever. A rather terrifying sort of existence, if you think about it.
- The original Borg Cube is a semi-mindless killing machine looking for technology to assimilate with itself.
- The Caretaker's Array is a giant space station whose technology is all but forgotten by those that made it. It can power a planet and transport ships from tens of thousands of lightyears away.
- There are 2 of them, by the way.
- Delphic Expanse spheres were moon-sized devices that could create spatial anomalies when networked together.
- Blake's 7 featured not one, not two, but three Artificial Planets: Crandor, home of the Thaarn; Ultraworld; and Terminal (first called an "artificial planet," later called an "artificially modified planet").
- The Red Star in BIONICLE, until it was revealed to be a Space Station whose crew have almost completely lost contact with the Matoran Universe 100 000 years ago due to a malfunction. Dead inhabitants of the MU were supposed to be recreated and sent back from there, but since only the first step of that process worked, the crew (mysterious beings called Kestora) began doing horrible experiments to the reborn beings to find out why they remained stuck there.
- Warhammer 40,000 has Space Hulks, large mashups of starships that will occasionally drop out of the Warp in orbit around a planet at random. While the Space Hulks themselves (usually) aren't a threat, they can serve as hideaways for Orks, Daemons, or Genestealers.
- The title ship in Alternity's Star*Drive setting adventure "The Last Warhulk".
- The HUB in the X-Universe. A hollow sphere 60 kilometers in diameter, orbiting a red giant and extracting power directly from the sun's core, capable of modifying the Portal Network that links all the solar systems together. The builders are (likely) the same race who built said Portal Network.
- The Halo rings in Halo are superweapons capable of destroying all sentient life in the galaxy; they were built to stop The Virus (Flood) from spreading.
- Halo 3 introduces "The Ark", an even bigger even dumber object that can build Halo rings inside of itself very rapidly by a completely automated process and then supposedly teleport them directly wherever they're supposed to go. It's also built outside of the Milky Way so that people could hide out there while the Halos kill all life in the galaxy.
- The novels also introduce Shield Worlds, Dyson Spheres designed to protect anyone inside from the Flood and the Halos. For some reason, they were not used by the Forerunners. They are hidden in slipspace, which also creates a Time Dilation effect for those inside.
- Infocom's Interactive Fiction game Starcross is about the player discovering and exploring one of these.
- Mass Effect has the Mass Relays, giant space constructs believed to be left behind by the Precursors. While they are the definite means of interstellar travel for the humans and other races, they are also part of the Abusive Precursors' omnicidal plans. The Citadel station applies as well.
- The Prothean Beacons, which can range in size from slightly taller than a human to nearly a hundred feet.
- In The Crucible at the end of Mass Effect 3 arguably counts. Especially since it's barely explained how it works.
- The eponymous object in Rama, is an alien ship fifty kilometers long which comes zipping into the Sol System.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation game A Final Unity has the eponymous Unity Device, which has all the earmarks of one of these. It's actually a Dyson Sphere created by the Chodak to hold their vast galactic empire together by manipulating the very fabric of reality; it has the power not only to destroy an entire fleet, but to eliminate or create an entire species. A group of Chodak rebels, worried about the damage being done to reality, gained control of it and disappeared along with the device itself. When the rebels bonded with it, it ceased to be a Big Dumb Object and became a living one. At the game's best ending, Picard chooses not to wield its massive power to destroy the Borg, and it vanishes again to continue its peaceful mission of repairing rifts in the space-time continuum.
- The entire Xenosaga trilogy's main plot is driven by the Zohar.
- Shores of Hazeron has the Ringworlds, massive ringworlds left behind by unknown objects. These are fully colonizable and can have multiple cities.
- The Yggdrasil is this in every Etrian Odyssey game.
- Strike Suit Zero has the Relic, a massive alien superweapon found by the Colonials before the start of the game. Its full power can obliterate entire planets, cracking them open and leaving the rest in a perpetual inferno... and it's headed for Earth. To make things more complicated, the ship had a mind of its own, that's trying to reunite with its body.
- Orion's Arm has a number of variations. Ranging from the more mundane Dyson Sphere and Banks Orbital, up to unique examples like the Leviathan which is 10 lightyears across, has a mass of over a billion suns, and is on a collision course with the Triangulum Galaxy.
- In Transformers, Cybertron could be considered a Big Dumb Object, as it is artificial and no one knows who made it or its inhabitants.
- The Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Beyond the Farthest Start" featured an alien podship a mile long and 300 million years old whose pods were exploded from the inside. The ship's insectoid crew left behind only a message warning of an invasive being that forced them to self-destruct rather than bringing it to their homeworld, which the mains take down fairly easily.
- The same ship (or a very similar one) is a level in the Star Trek: 25th Anniversary point-and-click adventure game. Instead of the invader it is occupied only by the trader called Mudd, who has legally established salvage rights. The cause of its destruction is not discovered, but there are plenty of pirates in the area.
- Superman: The Animated Series featured a tremendously old alien colossus that landed on Earth and was fed by heat. Its original purpose was as a construction tool.
- The Megas XLR episode "TV Dinner" featured a planet-sized mobile world that is attracted to electromagnetic signals.
- There's a hexagon on Saturn. To comfort the paranoid, the shape has been shown to be a natural phenomenon that is rather common in fluid dynamics.
- There is a 600 light-years wide frozen ribbon spinning around the center of our galaxy.
- On Earth, we have many examples stemming from the architectural achievements of ancient civilizations. These objects and the mysteries that have surrounded them might have been the original inspiration for all the other examples of this trope.
- The pyramids of Ancient Egypt and Mesoamerica.
- The moai of Easter Island, though they're not actually ancient—the oldest of them are 12th century.
- The Nazca Lines in Peru.
- This thingy in the seabed of Baltic Sea. Looks man-made...
- The Great Attractor. A supermassive... thing affecting the movement of some galaxies (including the Milky Way). We don't even know what it is.
- Big Dumb Boosters are launch vehicles built on the premise that it's more cost effective to mass-produce large, robust, heavy, and (relatively) simple rockets as opposed to more sophisticated ones. The R-7 Rocket Family is an example of this put into practice. It was originally designed in the 1950s to be an ICBM. A modified version was used to launch Sputnik 1 and its Soyuz derivatives are still in use today. Compared to its American contemporaries from the 1950s and 1960s, it is enormous. Roscosmos currently charges NASA about $63 million to ferry someone to and from the ISS in a Soyuz, which is a mere fraction of what doing the same job with the Space Shuttle used to cost.