Big Dumb Object

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A BDO is a large, mysterious extraterrestrial artifact encountered by the heroes of an sf yarn.

The term was first used in reference to the Ringworld of Larry Niven’s 1970 novel of that name. Roz Kaveney wrote in “Science Fiction in 1970s” in Foundation (June 1981):

Niven has ceased to be the acceptable face of technophilia and come to resemble not just his collaborator Pournelle but the Chalkers and the Busbys. Early in his career he brought back into fashion—naively but effectively—the resonances and charms of Big Dumb Objects like the Ringworld: as painted stages go, his Meccano universe was sort of loveable.

It was promoted, more or less as a fannish prank, by Peter Nicholls in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. He recalled in a talk in at the SFRA Conference in June 1997 (see links below):

On April 1st, 1992, I was exhausted writing theme entries for the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, and my brain was hurting. A possible theme that had been suggested was ALIEN ARTEFACTS, but it was April Fool’s Day and I decided purely for my own entertainment, and aware that John Clute might well be cross if he found out, that it would be appropriate to write a joke entry as a prank. I would pretend that a phrase of Roz Kaveney’s that I’d always liked, but which was not in general use, was actually a known critical term. I decided that I would write ALIEN ARTEFACTS but call it BIG DUMB OBJECTS, and write in a poker-faced style, suggesting an even more absurd critical term to be used in its place, “megalotropic sf”.

Fanspeak 1981
This is a fanspeak page. Please extend it by adding information about when and by whom it was coined, whether it’s still in use, etc.