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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
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...
Published on October 27, 2002 by not4prophet

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128 of 151 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Even the 5 star reviews have reservations
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...
Published on December 10, 2005 by Victory


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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, October 27, 2002
By 
not4prophet (North Carolina) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (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. "A Fire Upon the Deep" is very well paced, and Vinge never keeps you confused about a concept for very long before providing an explanation. I personally felt that the ending did a good job of wrapping up the plot while at the same time giving readers a few facets to wonder about. Overall, this book deserved its Hugo Award, and a place on the shelf along with the best science fiction works of all times.
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339 of 379 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some like it, some hate it. Regardless, read it., November 16, 1997
By 
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (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. You will see many of Vinge's concepts become commonplace in science fiction, and you'll be able to say you saw it here first. :)
Vinge is a scientist/mathmetician, after all, and he seems constitutionally unable to write the soft-science glop which is taking over science fiction. His science fiction is as hard as diamond, and the only bad side effect is that the people you read between the 'good ones' will seem much more inept and unimaginative.
Don't worry about Vinge's characterizations... they're strong and capable (especially those of the skroderiders (plants) and the tines (pack intelligences)). You'll be fascinated by his treatment of alien mentalities... and if you aren't, well, luckily science fiction isn't about characterization anyways.
If you want character, read a novel, which is the genre of the character. If you want science fiction, you could do MUCH worse than come here... you'll be adding a nice thick book to your small stack of 'extremely good' books.
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70 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex hard sci-fi, but still filled with imagination., June 24, 2000
By 
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (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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128 of 151 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Even the 5 star reviews have reservations, December 10, 2005
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (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.

You'll like it if you don't mind taking a leisurely, extended stroll with alien dogs that can't readily communicate with humans. If half the fun in your mind is finding out how aliens would effectively communicate with humans then you'll like at least half of this book. The other half is a race to beat a net virus, a Power, that seeks to destroy worlds like a boy pouring gasoline on an ant hill. The overarching plot weaves the two halves together. Sounds great but beware.

So I think I can define what TYPE of reader would like this book.

You might like this book if . . .
-You like cyber sci-fi (William Gibson)
-You like "bio" sci-fi
-You like the "Rama" series by Clarke for its unique aliens and the way they interact with humans
-You like the "Hyperion" series by Dan Simmons for its portrayal of a future internet and advanced Artificial Intelligences
-You like "Dune" for its mental games and intrigue

You might NOT like this book if . . .
-You like fast paced adventure
-You like deep and complex characters
-You like the "Rama" or "Ringworld" series for their advanced technology and grand vistas
-You like the "Hyperion" series for its human driven plot and characterization

Hope this helps.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost perfect, January 7, 2002
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This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (Mass Market Paperback)
I read this shortly after "A Deepness In The Sky", its 'prequel'. (A note: except for the character of Pham Nuwen there is no connection between the two books; this is neither a praise, nor a critique; simply an information which might be useful if you are looking for any connection between the two.)
The style is very similar: two different and initially completely distinct threads of action, one involving humans and one aliens, come together slowly to a common conclusion.
One thread involves two humans (well, one not-so-human: an 'evolved' Pham Nuwen from Deepness) and a pair of aliens on a desperate quest: an all-powerful evil force is rapidly taking over parts of the galaxy and the only possible solution is aboard a ship crashed on a medieval world at the other end of the known space.
The other thread takes place on the medieval world and involves two children survivors of the crashed ship and the local intelligent race, dog-like creatures who are only able to achieve consciousness in packs.
I found the ideas in this book to be wonderful.
The description of the pack intelligence of the dog race was completely new to me; perhaps it has been used before, but not to my knowledge (there is a short note somewhere on the first pages about a short story by somebody else who used the same idea). The possibilities deriving from this kind of civilizations are many, and the author explores them to the reader's complete satisfaction: partial awareness of one's self, what happens when only part of an individual survives, the nature of the soul, how the memories and personality of each individual play a distinct role. Also, the author explores the frigthful liberty this unique situation gives for the ones who want to create super beings, or packs with special characteristics.
Another idea I enjoyed was the 'Zones of Thought': the galaxy is divided into several concentric regions in which different rules of physics apply. Coming from the center of the galaxy ('The Unthinking Depths') and going outwards to the 'Transcend', FTL travel becomes possible. What functions in one zone doesn't in another. This separation ensures the protection of the under-evolved races, making it possible for them to build their own civilizations and expand outward at their own pace.
The minus of this book comes from the fact that this division is never explained in scientific terms; you just have to accept it as it is. Perhaps the author himself could not think of an explanation :).
Many reviewers have complained about the description of the Net, the communication network which unites all the worlds in the more evolved regions of the galaxy, saying that it was simplistic (being only text-based). Don't forget that this book was written in 1992, when the Internet wasn't what it is now. And the issue is not so important at all to the plot, it is just collateral.
The characters were nicely built; I have to admit that I cared more for the Tines (packs) than for the humans, though (the same as I cared more for the Spiders in A Deepness In The Sky).
The ending was very good and not rushed, even if a little 'forky'. True, no grand epic descriptions there, but in my opinion they were not necessary at that point.
What I would like now is a book that takes place before this one but after Deepness, finishing the quest suggested at the end of Deepnees and perhaps dwelling on the evolution of the human race towards the setting in Fire: how they reacted in discovering the Zone Thoughts and so on.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good far-term hard Science Fiction, for advanced readers, July 12, 2002
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (Mass Market Paperback)
I'd heard about this book for years before finally picking it up. I am a selective fiction reader and generally try to stick with hard SF. Niven ranks as my all-time SF favorite, but Vinge has impressed me with this book (as well as with its prequel).
Set tens of thousands of years into the far future, A Fire Upon The Deep is an engaging yarn of human survival amidst an alien caste system that dates back billions of years. At the center of the tale is the concept of the galactic Zones: regions of the galaxy wherein the laws of physics, technology, and even thought, change depending on your proximity to the core. The farther out you are from the core, the better.
Earth and most of humanity are lost to the past, mired forever in the Slowness closer to the core, where faster than light travel and really advanced technology is impossible. One plucky group of humans, whose origins are murky at best, have managed to make it to the Beyond--a fertile Zone far from the core in which both advanced technology and FTL travel are abundant--and establish themselves there amongst a vast community of other sentient beings. These humans and most other Beyonders are overshadowed still by the Powers from the Transcend, a Zone above even the Beyond where potential and technology are nearly limitless. The Powers are a group of god-like sentient superbeings that may at one time have been dwellers in the Beyond that evolved to their current state.
When an expedition of Beyond humans unearths an impossibly ancient computer archive of Transcend origins, they unwittingly unleash a Superpower that threatens to consume both the Beyond and the Transcend, killing or satanically "possessing" all in its path. Even other Powers.
To find out what else happens, you'll just have to read the book!
Vinge certainly keeps the Hard in this hard SF story. A college professor in his own right, Vinge's grasp of the sciences seems dizzying at times. Therefor I would not recommend this book for younger readers or for readers who prefer media related fiction like Star Wars or Star Trek. But if you think you're ready to graduate to the next level in your SF reading, I would highly recommend this book. Even I found it a satisfying challenge, and I've been reading hard SF since my first year in college. Vinge gloriously blends some gripping storytelling with compelling and believable science. I got so caught up in it that I literally spent an entire day reading from the middle chapters until the end.
It was that good.
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59 of 72 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow Going, But Worth Reading Anyway, December 8, 2000
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This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (Mass Market Paperback)
This was a very silly book for the professor of my Intro to Sci-Fi class to assign at the end of the semester. Not because of the page count, as relatively large as that is; not because it's too weighty or complex to understand, either, since it really isn't. However, it *is* a book that moves somewhat slowly--and which will not, frankly speaking, keep you turning pages late into the night out of any fervent desire to see what happens next.

Despite this, I'd still highly recommend it for the reader who doesn't mind possibly being in for a long haul. The concepts introduced in _Fire Upon the Deep_ are fascinating: Zones of Thought, Skroderiders, Powers, Transcendence--and particularly the Known Net, an Internet-like contrivance which links a good part of the galaxy together. Balanced against these science fictional elements is the more fantastic setting of Tines' World, a medieval land inhabited by dog-like creatures who communicate through telepathy and have an intriguing method of genetic engineering. Whether you're a fan of science fiction, fantasy, or just a good tale, there's something here for you. Unfortunately, the rushed and anti-climactic ending does detract from what would otherwise be an excellent story.

Know what to expect before you buy this book: interesting--and fresh!--ideas, wonderfully vivid characters, a bit of humor, a bit of horror, technological exposition, and a good, solid plot. Don't read this if you're out for something quick and light, and be prepared to put it down now and then, maybe even picking something else to read before you finish. This isn't a fast or easy novel to get through, but the virtues of it make it worthwhile to endure.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative, Well Written Sci-Fi That Stalls Occasionally, October 19, 2000
By 
Elyon (Emerald City, Inland Empire, WA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (Mass Market Paperback)
I should qualify the comments that follow by stating that I am not a huge fan of science fiction, feeling that often elements of storyline and characterization become sacrificed at the expense of scientific theories and content. Any true fan of the genre should therefore temper my observations accordingly.
That said, I found this work by Vernor Vinge in large part enjoyable and imaginatively written--so much so that he dispelled many of my normal reservations regarding alien races based upon animals with earth-based antecedents. Normally I would find an intelligent and manually dexterous race predicated upon wolves preposterous, both visually and scientifically. However, Vinge imbued them with so much individual character and inventively wondrous social interaction, that I quickly found myself accepting the premise despite my initial skepticism, and I felt the marvelous exploration of pack consciousness justified their inclusion. In a similar way, the author made the plant-based Sroderiders entirely credible.
I both agree and disagree with some earlier reviewers' comments. I found that the story stalled during the initial chapters of Part Two, in which a great amount of discourse is devoted to the space travel between Relay and Harmonious Repose, and the nature of Zones, the Net and various matters of propulsion and ship design. This slowing of pace is also reflected concurrently in the events taking place upon Tines World. It was here, for me, that the elements of story were abandoned in favor of theoretical and scientific exposition, and the unfolding of the narrative suffered accordingly. In other sections of the book, most notably Part One, these elements are present, but more effectively balanced and interwoven with the storyline and evolving characterization, and it was this theoretical indulgence and diversion that prevented me from according the novel full marks. Also, while the inclusion of communiques on the Net were often effective as a means of updating the reader to events occuring elsewhere in the galaxy, after a time I felt the device became too repetitive and obvious, at times interrupting the flow of the narrative unnecessarily.
Part One and the events following Harmonius Repose do not suffer from this slowing of storyline, and the setting established in Part One is masterfully done. Some have complained about the lack of suspense at the conclusion, but I found the events building in expectation in Part Three, and could not put the last hundred pages down. While the final chapter has a summary feeling, I was well satisfied by the conclusion, especially the fate of the Society for Rational Investigation, one of the occasions where I felt the use of Net messages both appropriate and commanding.
All in all an enjoyable and entertaining read, written with skill and imagination. Recommended, and, if you are willing to wade through the exposition that dominates the early chapters of Part Two, I believe you will find yourself amply rewarded.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most epic novels ever., January 31, 2000
By 
Randall Miyashiro (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (Mass Market Paperback)
I read A Fire Upon the Deep right after completing Donaldson's Gap novels which was promoted as a huge epic story. Although the Gap series left me drained and exhausted, A Fire Upon the Deep had me craving for more. The story also reminded me of David Brin's Uplift novels, although I enjoy Vinge's characters more. They both have an epic feel which encompases an ensemble of characters from a variety of races, who must solve major problems against all odds. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys science fiction.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A science fiction work of novel concepts and grand proportions, if somewhat clunky writing and characterization, October 22, 2008
By 
Christopher Culver (Cluj-Napoca, Romania or Helsinki, Finland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) (Mass Market Paperback)
Vernor Vinge's 1991 novel A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is certainly a work of great proportions. Vinge takes us from the wider view of a universe filled with sentient life who fly starships and debate on galactic message boards to the political intrigues of a pre-spaceflight world inhabited by dog-like creatures.

Vinge's unique twist on space opera is his concept of "zones of thought". In the universe of A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, the Milky Way was "partitioned" at some point into four zones: the Unthinking Depths, where neither machine nor intelligence is possible; the Slow Zone, where Earth is located and travel is exceedingly slow; the Beyond, where nanotech works wonders and faster-than-light travel is possible; and the Transcend, a region where space-faring races eventually migrate to and become godlike, almost immediately cutting off their links to the rest of the galaxy for some unknown paradise. This idea of regions of space limiting thinking possibilities isn't new. Poul Anderson's 1954 novel BRAIN WAVE had the human race becoming five times more intelligent when the Earth moves out of a region of space. Nonetheless, Vinge elaborates on this setup with a level of detail that hadn't been seen before.

Most of A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is set in the Beyond. A human colony has crossed into the Transcend to do an archaeological dig on a planet there, but awoke a great evil. This turns out to be a malevolent form of nanotechnology that enslaves whole civilizations in a hive mind, but is spoken of in nearly magical terms by the sentient races of the galaxy. As the Beyond falls to this thread it calls the Blight, it is discovered that a human ship managed to break away from the archaeological dig with an antidote against the evil, only to be stranded on a backwater world. A team races to reach the planet and activate the countermeasure, while two children who survived the landing are caught up in the politics and warfare of the dog-like creatures who inhabit that world.

The alien races in A FIRE UPON THE DEEP are generally interesting. The dog-like species called the Tines consist of group minds created by the union of three or four individuals, unintelligent on their own but conscious in tandem, communicating their thoughts around with ultrasound. A major role in the plot is played by a race of sentient plants, originally sessile inhabitants of beaches with no short-term memory who are given an electronic apparatus to move about and think more clearly. Still, Vinge doesn't portray alien psychology too well, since the Tines seem stock human characters, with qualities such as humour, and even a predisposition to James Bond villain monologues.

Breaks in the novel's action come with postings from the galactic discussion network, based on Usenet as it existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These are often very funny, as Vinge depicts well the sort of informative debate mixed with puerile arguments that characterized this Internet community, which is sadly now almost defunct. Another nod to nerd culture is the use of encryption, but it's striking that Vinge wrote the novel before PGP was written and embraced by nerds.

While A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is good science fiction in the novel concepts it prevents, I think it fails as literature. When one looks to the best work of authors like Wolfe, there's no excuse for a book that has interesting ideas but unpoetic prose like this. Also, the pacing is strange, with so much space unnecessarily spent on development that Vinge had to rush through the climax. Nonetheless, if you are a fan of science fiction, A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is worth reading as a thought-provoking set of novel concepts.
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A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought)
A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) by Vernor Vinge (Mass Market Paperback - February 15, 1993)
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