Sci-Fi | Series Review: The Heritage Universe by Charles Sheffield

I’m a sucker for books about BDOs (Big Dumb Objects) and the Heritage series of books seduced me with the premise of Summertide. Small, easy to read books and there’s 5 of them and I’m going to review all of them together. Charles Sheffield has woven an intricate universe full of mystery and wonder and he doesn’t disappoint!

As this is a review of the entire series, I will do my best to keep it as spoiler free as possible. I hope this review can help you decide whether to read this series or not in a conclusive way!

In the Heritage universe crafted by Charles Sheffield, there are close to 1300 artifacts spread around our arm of the galaxy made by a mysterious precursor race known simply as the Builders. The artifacts are intricate, mysterious and sometimes dangerous to explorers. Some artifacts are physical objects while others are gas clouds. The reason for the existence of these artifacts is also a mystery that is a plot point throughout the series.

The Builders and their motivations for creating these vast and complex structures are the biggest mystery for all species in the galaxy. The Builders existed millions of years in the past and then suddenly disappeared leaving only these artifacts and the mysteries surrounding them as their legacy. The Builders themselves though remain an enigma and a lot of the plot revolves around understanding them and their reasons for building these artifacts. Some of the characters we meet in the stories are experts on builder artifacts and have dedicated their lives and careers to its study.

The first book introduces us to a few of the characters that we’ll see throughout the series. Most of them that play a role in the series aren’t really fleshed out well in my opinion. Though I do feel this is how the author intended them to be. The focus of the book is on the Builders and their constructs rather than all the characters. While it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I do feel that the author made an error here. I don’t really connect to the characters or have any emotions towards them. In some books you often find yourself rooting for some character or the other and hoping that they don’t end up dead. Here though, I was ambivalent about most of them and what really mattered seemed to be the plot itself. Waiting for a big reveal or two defines the experience of these books.

Each book is paced decently well and a lot of the action happens throughout the story. Books in the series often start with a bang and continue that momentum till the end. While I didn’t find the books to be mind-blowing in any way, they were enjoyable enough that I continued to read to the end of the series. I think this speaks a lot as well, while I could have quit reading, I didn’t. I wanted more reveals and more information about the Builders and everything they did. I commend the author for building this intrigue!

The world building itself though seems okay. The species or clades in the books are not detailed in depth. Every society and culture is explained briefly and each book seems to add a little bit more here and there to keep that going. There’s a familiar quirk throughout the series where certain species are described by a single fact about them. This is done repeatedly in each and every book and sometimes multiple times. An example here is the speed at which a Hymenopt can move thanks to all their extra limbs. By book 5, I’ve already heard this tidbit at least 15 times.

I want to discuss the ending of the series but its difficult to do so without spoiling things or losing out on the context. Simply put, I’ll say that the ending was bland for me and I was really hoping for a lot more than what was provided. Sure, its of course common for people to not be happy with endings so take this with a grain of salt. The ending was left open and I imagine there could have been more books in the series if not for the author’s untimely death in 2002.

Overall my verdict for the series is, sure, go ahead and read it! Just don’t expect it to deliver to the same scale as The Expanse!