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A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) Mass Market Paperback – February 15, 1993

4.2 out of 5 stars 468 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Zones of Thought Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this Hugo-winning 1991 SF novel, Vernor Vinge gives us a wild new cosmology, a galaxy-spanning "Net of a Million Lies," some finely imagined aliens, and much nail-biting suspense.

Faster-than-light travel remains impossible near Earth, deep in the galaxy's Slow Zone--but physical laws relax in the surrounding Beyond. Outside that again is the Transcend, full of unguessable, godlike "Powers." When human meddling wakes an old Power, the Blight, this spreads like a wildfire mind virus that turns whole civilizations into its unthinking tools. And the half-mythical Countermeasure, if it exists, is lost with two human children on primitive Tines World.

Serious complications follow. One paranoid alien alliance blames humanity for the Blight and launches a genocidal strike. Pham Nuwen, the man who knows about Countermeasure, escapes this ruin in the spacecraft Out of Band--heading for more violence and treachery, with 500 warships soon in hot pursuit. On his destination world, the fascinating Tines are intelligent only in combination: named "individuals" are small packs of the doglike aliens. Primitive doesn't mean stupid, and opposed Tine leaders wheedle the young castaways for information about guns and radios. Low-tech war looms, with elaborately nested betrayals and schemes to seize Out of Band if it ever arrives. The tension becomes extreme... while half the Beyond debates the issues on galactic Usenet.

Vinge's climax is suitably mindboggling. This epic combines the flash and dazzle of old-style space opera with modern, polished thoughtfulness. Pham Nuwen also appears in the nifty prequel set 30,000 years earlier, A Deepness in the Sky. Both recommended. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly

It has been six years since Vinge's last book ( Marooned in Realtime ), but the wait proves worthwhile in this stimulating tale filled with ideas, action and likable, believable characters, both alien and human. Vinge presents a galaxy divided into Zones--regions where different physical constraints allow very different technological and mental possibilities. Earth remains in the "Slowness" zone, where nothing can travel faster than light and minds are fairly limited. The action of the book is in the "Beyond," where translight travel and other marvels exist, and humans are one of many intelligent species. One human colony has been experimenting with ancient technology in order to find a path to the "Transcend," where intelligence and power are so great as to seem godlike. Instead they release the Blight, an evil power, from a billion-year captivity. As the Blight begins to spread, a few humans flee with a secret that might destroy it, but they are stranded in a primitive low-tech world barely in the Beyond. While the Blight destroys whole races and star systems, a team of two humans and two aliens races to rescue the others, pursued by the Blight's agents and other enemies. With uninterrupted pacing, suspense without contrivance, and deftly drawn aliens who can be pleasantly comical without becoming cute, Vinge offers heart-pounding, mind-expanding science fiction at its best.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Zones of Thought (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (February 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812515285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812515282
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.4 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (468 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Finally, a science fiction novel that does actually live up to the hype. "A Fire Upon the Deep" is a fast-paced, exciting, and incredibly inventive book. As many others have mentioned, Vinge's unique vision of the future is one of the novel's biggest strengths. He has created a galaxy where different species are moving upwards through a series of "zones of thought" as their technology becomes more sophisticated. The catch is that once humanity has ventured into "the beyond", it's difficult to go back to "the slow zone" because the new spaceships and computers won't work there. Vinge's ingenious plot device is to have a spaceship carrying two children and some vital information crash-land on a planet that's right on the border of "the slow zone", forcing a ragtag group of spacefarers to attempt a desperate rescue mission. While almost all science fiction writers include intelligent aliens, the species that Vinge dreams up are quite different from anything I've ever seen in any other book. There are the Tines, a race where a single consciousness controls a group of several individuals, the Skroderiders, a species that was sessile until they were provided with mechanical carts, and numerous others that help add color to the book.
But in addition to its remarkable futuristic world, "A Fire Upon the Deep" also contains an action-packed plot. The author springs a major surprise on you in almost every chapter: characters that you though were good turn out to be traitors and vice versa, certain groups turn out to be more powerful than you thought, etc... The bottom line is that you never know what's going to happen next, and Vinge manages to keep the suspense up throughout the entire book, despite its 613 page length.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Most of us are probably aware of how, as you read more and more science fiction, your stack of 'extremely good' books stays mostly level while the stack of 'acceptable' books outgrows your bookshelf. You start to appreciate the writers who have done their duty to science fiction by studying the Drexlers, the Minskys and Feynmans -- the scientists whose sheer extrapolative powers really push the borders of imagination.
Vinge is one of those hardworking writers. He is the author of the hard-to-find "True names and other dangers..." which means you can credit him for adding several of the future- or tech-based memes most of us take for granted today.
The ratings for this book waver between 6-10, with a '2' thrown in by some poor fellow. Don't worry about Vernor Vinge's grammatical capabilities -- he writes a mean sentence, and some of the best technical descriptions I've ever read. For a genre which pedestalizes Asimov, who could hardly string 6 words together coherently (guess he was moving too fast), some people are MIGHTY picky!
Also, you won't find the "-oid" syndrome which you get with Bujold, for example, where contemporary items are made to sound science-fictiony just by giving them a new name. You won't read sentences like "He grabbed his key-oids and jumped in his car-oid..."
Vinge's science is deep, and the ramifications of everything from the 'slow zone' to the 'unthinking deeps' to the 'agrav fabric docks' to the hi-tech of the beyond, to the cute extrapolation of an Internet of galactic scope, to the effect of radio upon the Tines (a sophont race), to the matter-of-fact acceptance of racial senescence... all of these things are well thought out and brilliantly presented.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Vinge introduces you to a new viewpoint of our galaxy, it's future-history and it's stratified physics, through the eyes of those who live in it. Don't expect a lesson, you're learning through exposition. Subsequently, you spend much of the first part (3 part book) discovering how this galaxy "works"; including a usenet-type of communication backbone. [I was amazed that the book was authored in '91, before most of us knew what a newsgroup was... then again the author is a comp sci professor.]
The meat of the book takes place in three locations: 2 of which are on a "medieval" world with an amazing race and the other is in the greater galaxy. There are subtle but distinct parallels between the good/evil battle on this planet and the one waging in the galaxy. Both contain complex and engaging characters and races.
The book becomes harder to put down as the characters in these three locations move together, eventually occupying the same space. Like three volatile chemicals coming together, you know it's going to be big!
A Fire Upon the Deep is a wonderful read for fans of "hard" science fiction. Vinge brings so much into it: the physics, races, and technology of hard sci-fi; the history, conspiracy, and duplicity of a political thriller; the excitement and passion of a great war novel; and even a little romance and weightless space-sex!
I strongly recommend it to fans of Larry Niven and Arthur C. Clarke.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is tough. "A Fire Upon the Deep" is not for everybody. I read review after review trying to figure out if I should devote the time necessary to read such a tome. Now I understand the mixed yet overall positive reviews here.

This read is not like a "York Peppermint Patty" commercial. I never got the sensation of "driving those huskies across the frozen tundra!" No. This read was more like "slogging through the jungle underbrush with nothing but a machete and a heavy pack." It's like reading Hamlet when you're not that crazy about Shakespeare. (By the way, I LOVE Shakespeare, but that's something that came over time). While reading "Fire" I got the idea that this was a great and important book but perhaps wasn't my type of book.

Try as I might, I couldn't give a rip about the dog packs. Each pack is a character with sub-character individuals acting as only part of the whole pack. If a pack member dies, the pack will accept a new member into its character. The pack "character" is a little too fluid in this case to effectively sink into a reader's psyche. It is appropriately "alien" to the reader and the gap is never fully bridged from familiar to alien.

The kid characters living with the alien dogs have child-like personalities and so are appropriately 2 dimensional.

The most interesting conflict is between the main female character, Ravna, who is racing to save the children and thwart the evil Power and a resurrected Asian scoundrel, Pham, who has an affair with Ravna and who surreptitiously is acting as a Power's spy. Unfortunately, this conflict is in the back seat of the plot and is revealed in the first half of the book.
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