A Deepness in the Sky (Zones of Thought)
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111 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on July 15, 1999
Some have questioned the relation between A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep, complaining that, aside from being in the same universe and sharing one character, that they have nothing in common.
I beg to differ.
A Deepness in the Sky is a Fire Upon the Deep turned inside out. There is a brilliant symmetry between the two novels and I definitely believe that either novel is enhanced by the reading of the other.
AFUtD was grand space opera. It was also representative of what Mr. Vinge hopes the future can be: unlimited vistas and boundless advances in technology. As a consequence, the book had a tendency to focus on its grand vision to the detriment of its characters, who ended up feeling flattened by comparison (read some of the Amazon customer reviews for AFUtD to see what I mean).
ADitS, by contrast, represents Mr. Vinge's fear of what the future may hold for us. If technology does, in fact, plateau at some level and if the technological singularity is never achieved, Mr. Vinge predicts that humanity will be doomed to an endless sequence of technological rises and falls. ADitS makes, in my opinion, some very good cases for this. As a consequence, even though the book is chock full of high technology, with respect to our civilization, and even though it imagines humanity spread among the stars, it manages to convey a sense of claustrophobia - especially for those who have read AFUtD. Because the universe is so "cramped", the focus of the novel is directed (with almost painful intensity) upon the characters of the novel.
This novel is long and it has more than its fair share of depressing aspects. I can not, however, think of anything that ought to have been subtracted from it. As for the sense of pessimism, I think that it is absolutely critical to read this in context of the largert universe presented in AFUtD. Yes, the characters, and their cultures, are trapped within a cosmological box, but it's a box that DOES have an open end. An opening that will, more importantly, be found by Pham Nguwen... just not yet.
In sum, I think that this is a true tour de force and an entirely apt sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep.
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118 of 126 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2000
Vinge's body of work stands as a rebuke to that majority of SF writers who crank out a book or two of mediocrity every year. Although Vinge's books appear at three to four year intervals, each of them is a gem. His skills are getting even better, and this book and its predecessor, "A Fire Upon the Deep," will surely be considered classics.
Vinge has all of the tools of a good SF writer: a mastery of science, creativity in projecting future developments, and the grasp of history necessary to make future societies believable. He's also a good writer. He creates credible characters. The good guys have weaknesses and the bad guys a few admirable traits. His scenic descriptions aren't great, but he does succeed occasionally in creating a sense of place for his exotic locales.
But what marks Vinge as great is his logic. Many writers give have their protagonists win either because their opponents are stupid or are implausibly blind to key weaknesses in their position. The baddies in "Deepness" are smart and are constantly a half step ahead of the good guys, which makes for an exciting read. And, in a particularly brilliant touch, Vinge sets up the climax to look like a cheap deus ex machina, and then returns to explain how it all makes complete sense.
Finally, Vinge also plays a neat little game with part of the narrative, making it seem to be from one point of view and then slowly revealing that it is, in fact, from another.
In sum, "Deepness" is not just a good story, but a good book by a talented author who has thought through everything. If you buy it, maybe Vinge can quit his day job and give us more like it.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2000
Any new book by Vinge is a must-read for me, especially in the wasteland of GOOD science-fiction, where great reads are few and far between. A Fire Upon The Deep is still one of my favorites of all time, so when I saw this puppy on the shelf, I grabbed it right away. And despite only a loose link to that book, this is probably some of the best science-fiction I've read in years. At first I was worried that there would be too many recycled ideas, like any first-contact novel. But really this is a book about the limitations of civilizations, whether limited by environment, like the Spiders, or limited by history, like the Qeng Ho and every other human civilization mentioned in the book. And at a broader level, for those who've read A Fire Upon The Deep, it's indirectly about the limits of technology, and the Failed Dreams which the characters could never realize are caused by their location in the galaxy. The book also has a lot to say about cultural blinders and how we perceive others-I also thought the Spiders were too human at first but by the end Vinge patiently and cleverly explained it all. And while a lot of what the book has to say about human nature is very pessimistic (slavery and the inevitable fall of civilizations), it ultimately ends on a positive note. Although lacking the scope and grandeur of the galaxy as protrayed in Fire, this book complements Fire by being more inward-looking, and manages to deliver what most science fiction can't deliver-real, believable people. Buy it! Now! Why are you still here? Go!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 1999
Vernor Vinge is one of the least prolific writers of the SF genre, yet his small canon contains some of the modern SF masterpieces. His True Names, along with Gibson's Neuromancer, is quite clearly an inspiration for works like The Matrix. Marooned in Real Time is one of the most unique murder mysteries, set during time travel after the disappearance of the entire human race. A Fire Upon the Deep is a masterful space opera and clear successor to the novels of Doc Smith. A Deepness in the Sky is a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep and is every bit as good as the earlier novels, perhaps even better.
A Deepness in the Sky features one of A Fire Upon the Deep's protagonists, Pham Nuwen. In the first novel, Nuwen briefly mentions his life with the space faring Qeng Ho traders. Deepness features his last and perhaps greatest adventure among the Qeng Ho. Nuwen is just one of many fascinating characters who Vinge has created. Unlike his earlier works, in which only a few characters had depth, Deepness has a large cast of characters and Vinge develops them skillfully. Vinge draws from a pool that he has created by merging the Qeng Ho with the tyrannical Emergents and alien Spiders. In doing so, he has created a massive tour de force and one of the great novels of alien first contact.
A Deepness in the Sky is a long novel (over 600 pages) with several different threads going simultaneously. We are treated to Pham Nuwen and Ezr Vinh of the Qeng Ho and Tomas Nau of the Emergents engaging in plots that are only explained in bits and pieces as the novel progresses. On the Spider side, Vinge features Sherkaner Underhill, his family and his friends. All the plot lines that feature these characters weave back and forth until converging in a near 100 page climax with twists and turns along the way. I did have some difficulty in keeping with the novel in the earlier passages. It seemed that as soon as I got interested in the Nuwen activities, Vinge would switch to the Spiders. Then as I got interested in the Spiders, he would switch to Ezr Vinh. Perhaps Vinge needs to write a novel like this because of decreasing attention spans but I found that it took more work to get back into it once I had left it.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is the development of the Spiders. They are, well, spiders. It is hard for most people to find spiders particularly attractive or endearing. Many people, myself included, find them repulsive or at least ugly. However, the reader gets attached to these spider characters as much as the human ones, perhaps more so. For much of the novel, the spiders appear to be anthropomorphized. Just when one is lulled into thinking of them as people, Vinge uses terms like "cold sucks" to describe food and "eating hands" or "baby eyes" to describe body parts. The reason for the humanization of the spiders is explained in the novel's denouement but as a plot device it is very effective.
There are some major themes that punctuate this novel. One could easily surmise, for instance, that Vinge is against the widespread use of Ritalin to sedate otherwise healthy children. I find the choice of names for the Qeng Ho and its people fascinating. The names all appear to be Vietnamese or at least south east Asian. On the other hand, these people seem more like the Yankee traders of old. They seem more like Americans than Americans. Is Vinge making a statement about the globalization of American culture and values? Perhaps the greatest message is that free trade and individual freedoms are far more productive and enriching than tyrannies and tightly controlled lives. Perhaps the WTO should consider buying several hundred copies of A Deepness in the Sky and mailing them to the Seattle protesters. Vinge has delivered a powerful statement on the value of capitalism and the importance of individual initiative.
Ultimately, A Deepness in the Sky is a hard science fiction novel in which Vinge describes humanity's first contact with an alien species. It features an insider's knowledge of computer programming without providing details that could be either dated or excessively technical. It has enough action to keep one on the edge of one's seat. In spite of the conclusion of A Fire Upon the Deep, I doubt that we have heard the last of Pham Nuwen and I certainly hope that we hear more from Vernor Vinge.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2006
I felt that Vinge's previous novel "A Fire Upon the Deep" was the best science fiction I'd ever read except for maybe Asimov's Foundation series. IMHO "A Deepness in the Sky" meets or exceeds the high standard set by its predecessor. "Deepness" is actually a prequel to "Fire", set many thousands of years earlier during Pham Nuwen's heyday.

Unlike in Fire, this novel is set entirely in the Slow Zone and within a single solar system at that, except for the prologue and a couple flashbacks. But even those are set nearby, within some dozen light years. None of the characters, nor even the third person omniscient narrator, know of the other Zones of Thought; space travel in the Slow Zone is simply far too protracted to make exploration beyond the immediate stellar neighborhood practical.

The Amazon editorial review lays out the premise of the novel well. About half of the events transpire on the surface of the "spider" planet, while the other half take place on an asteroid base at the LaGrange point of the star-planet system. The scope of "Deepness" isn't as sweeping as that of "Fire", but this is made up for by much more comprehensive character development and complexities in the plot. The phenomenon of Focus is a brilliant construct and an absolutely chilling plot element. The reader is left in suspense for a while about the Emergents' secret, and when Focus is finally explained it was quite staggering to me.

The ending? Not quite as climactic as the total victory in "Fire" yet very satisfying and with deeper implications. "Deepness" gets an easy five stars from me; I read most of it while in Norway six weeks ago, reading until 3 AM with the western horizon outside still in twilight. Several nights I'll never forget thanks to this novel.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 1999
Having read and loved A Fire Upon The Deep and Across Realtime, I had high expectations for this novel. Unfortunately, I feel that this book did not live up to the scope and vastness of Vinge's previous works. As a science fiction book it wasn't bad; the plot kept my interest, and the characters weren't all bad. What lacked were the awe-inspiring vistas of his other books... the universe seemed so much smaller in "Deepness". Science Fiction attracts us with those little glimpses of a larger world to which humanity shrinks in insignificance, and this was the one quality I found lacking, both in the plot and in the concepts presented. As for his aliens-- any of the briefly mentioned alien species in "Fire" were vastly more interesting than the "spiders". The best thing about this book was the disturbing use of mind control and the violation associated with it... gave it another star for that alone. All in all, a good read, but not as good as some of Vinge's other works.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2003
The Alien. A beautiful, strange world thriving in a uniquely alien climate. A totally alien sentient race, described in an evolving, and fantastically evocative, thoughtful manner. Problems of first contact language and societal issues are crucial to the story, and handled amazingly well.
The Human. Terribly cruel despotic rule, involving slavery, rape, bigotry, and "state-of-the-art" diplomacy and duplicity. Millennia spanning civilizations, hemmed in by extremely well-chosen scientific, economic, ecological and societal barriers.
Love is crushed, lost, rampaged and explosively rediscovered. Dreams are buried and reawakened.
Deepness in the Sky is one of those very, very few novels that encompasses all of the above, in a beautifully interwoven story. A civilization of millennium spanning space traders races to an astronomical anomaly, a newly discovered planet in an on/off-star galaxy. They are met there by another group of space travelers whom they had not previously encountered. Both groups are hoping to harvest huge profits from being the first to interact with the new non-human civilization just discovered on the planet. We learn about all three civilizations in detail, via big picture views/histories, and through many, many personal characterizations. This book manages to get us involved with, and caring about at least 12 major characters.
Vinge's amazing story is beautifully, tragically, magically, heartrendingly emotional, and at the same time mind-bendingly thoughtful on many levels. I cannot overstate how great this book is. The way he evolves our understanding of the alien civilization, until we can still care (strongly!!) about these beings as they are described not in translated human-conditioned terms, but rather in a true first-contact, "eye-to-eye" manner, is only one of the rare, and beautiful, back-shivering moments Vinge brings us to. Absolutely, read and enjoy this book!!
I do wish a sixth star could be found to rate books like this!! 5 stars are given for lesser books, because these are such rare finds.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Deepness In The Sky is one of those sequel/prequel books that might be read before, during, or after its predecessor, A Fire Upon The Deep. There is nothing in one book that gives away much of anything in the other, yet having read one book it will be relatively easy to link it to the next by way of the shared universe that both inhabit.
Taking place three hundred centuries before the events of A Fire Upon The Deep, A Deepness In The Sky is at least as sharp--if not sharper--than the original and gives us a double helping of one of the major characters from the original, named Pham. In many ways Pham is the archetypical SF hero: long-lived, ever-resourceful, sardonic, trying to outwit a numerically superior and tyrannical enemy while making a profit on the side. Pham believes in humanity, for better or for worse, and faces some very compelling choices during his ride through this story. Reluctantly, he does the right thing in the end.
As a Niven fan I enjoyed A Deepness In The Sky with its fleets of slower-than-light Qeng Ho trader ram ships plying the space lanes. Like the original, though, Deepness blends in some horrific elements focusing (no pun intended!) on mind control and the ethics surrounding slavery in an automated society. The Spider aliens are rendered almost more human than the humans who populate the book; something I believe Vinge did intentionally. I think I wound up caring about and rooting for the Spiders more than I did any of the humans, even Pham.
As with Fire, Vinge's grasp of his sciences in Deepness is strong and clear. Maybe even more clear, since the gosh-wow fantastical technology of Fire is nowhere to be found and the technology at hand, while still being more advanced than current day, is recognizable.
I enjoyed this book a hell of a lot. Good work again, Vinge.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2004
I just finished reading "Deepness," and I would classify it as one of the top five SF novels I have ever read. Many reviewers have covered the plot, so I won't reiterate that here. Suffice it to say it is unusually complex, with heros and villains that are neither entirely good nor entirely bad.

Vinge is a professor of Computer Science, as an engineer I appreciated that his imagination of future technology seems firmly grounded in an understanding of the limitations and risks of the scientific approach to physical reality. No magic here, but there is imagination.

Yet the literary side of the novel is impressive as well. He successfully intertwines a large cast of fairly complex characters in a complicated, tense situation. The depiction of the alien race is especially good. He manages to make us care about the fate of various members of the spider race, but when the two finally do make direct contact, the clash between the human expectations and the realities of the strangeness of the spider race is skillfully drawn.

I think a few of the reviewers are a little too hard on Vinge and his appreciation of the virtues of capitalism. He has accomplished something quite difficult, combining economic philosophy, scientific speculation, and literary technique in a unique and satisfying way. More power to him. I hope he continues to write in this vein.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2009
This book is a worthy read in its' own right, completely disregarding its' cousin "A Fire Upon the Deep". Long, convoluted, and masterfully written, it is a worthy addition to any Science Fiction fan that likes the ideas of First Contact, Interstellar Culture, and how humanity adapts to the technologies of the age.

Having said all that, TOR really let Kindle users down with this one. If you haven't read this book, buy a Paperback, avoid the Kindle version at all costs. The entire book looks like someone at TOR took an old photocopier to the pages, scanned the text into a PDF, and then converted that to AZW/Mobi format. There was no proofreading, error correction or even a readability test. The font is HORRIBLE. Letters are frequently split down the middle, in some cases the scan was so bad that text overlays itself. In some extreme cases, some of the text is reduced in size to a quarter of whatever fontsize you have selected.

This is quite possibly (almost certainly) the worst attempt at a Kindle/Mobi conversion I have ever seen. Read the book, just not on your Kindle.
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