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A Deepness in the Sky (Zones of Thought) Mass Market Paperback – January 15, 2000
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“Huge, intricate, and ingenious, with superbly realized aliens:a chilling spellbinding dramatization of the horrors of slavery and mind control.” ―Kirkus Reviews (pointer review)
“A feast of imagination. As always, Vinge satisfies with richly imagined worlds and a full-flavored story.” ―Greg Bear
“Wonderfully engaging!” ―Cleveland Plain Dealer
About the Author
Vernor Vinge has won five Hugo Awards, including one for each of his last three novels, A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), and Rainbow's End (2006). Known for his rigorous hard-science approach to his science fiction, he became an iconic figure among cybernetic scientists with the publication in 1981 of his novella "True Names," which is considered a seminal, visionary work of Internet fiction. His many books also include Marooned in Realtime and The Peace War.
Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and raised in Central Michigan, Vinge is the son of geographers. Fascinated by science and particularly computers from an early age, he has a Ph.D. in computer science, and taught mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University for thirty years. He has gained a great deal of attention both here and abroad for his theory of the coming machine intelligence Singularity. Sought widely as a speaker to both business and scientific groups, he lives in San Diego, California.
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How to tell if a Sci fi is worth the suspension of disbelief? Would you read it regardless of its science fiction context? For "Deepness in the Sky" the answer is a resounding Yes. Virtually all the characters are believable; from the brilliant prodigy Qiwi, to the friendly stooge Stud, to the creepy villain Nau, the players have motivations that are well described and understandable.
Of course, the true hero of this tale is the epic scope of the tale and the hero who Vinge allows to emerge so beautifully. As we are taken through the Odyssey of his quest, his cunning and his humanness are captivating.
Finally, as with many of Vinge's works, the introduction of an alien race is developed with such care and thoughtfulness that it bends the perspective in wonderful and enticing ways.
It's a bit disappointing that a book in the Zones of Thought series takes place entirely in the Slow Zone. The other zones are not directly referenced even once in this book, as the characters simply do not know they exist. There are some things that the reader can draw conclusions from, having read A Fire Upon the Deep. We know why the "limitations" exist, why the Failed Dreams were never realized, and it's because they live in a region of the galaxy where they aren't possible. And some of the amazing discoveries on Arachna... well they probably didn't originate in the Slow Zone. Vernor Vinge does not spoon feed his readers, you've got to figure some things out on your own. Which is nice if you enjoy that, and I do.
I was also initially kind of baffled at the book centering around Pham Nuwen's past. In AFUtD he was an "okay" character; I didn't find him hugely compelling. He was kind of two dimensional, though his role as the godshatter was interesting, but I didn't really care about his past. When I first realized the book was about his Slow Zone days, I admit I rolled my eyes. Let me tell you that changed. I had no interest in Pham Nuwen's past, and I was wrong. His character is really fleshed out in this book, much beyond what I expected, and it's very well done.
For the most part, the book is very well written. The characters are smart, complex, and for the most part aren't just massive cliches. Some of Vinge's libertarianism comes through a bit heavy-handed though. One of the trader good guys' ships is called the Invisible Hand, one of the space communist bad guys' ships is called the Common Good. As soon as I realized this I groaned. But it doesn't come up often enough to be obnoxious or really detract from the story. There is plenty of "trade is good, excessive government is bad" stuff throughout, though, if that kind of thing rubs you the wrong way. It is much more reasonably presented than say, a frothy Fox News pundit, and not as in your face as an Ayn Rand book, but it's there.
It is, essentially, a novel of competition over a bizarre star system called "OnOff," where the star has periods of normal star-like behavior followed by long "dark" periods. The major actors in the starfaring segment of the book are humans, as few true extraterrestrial intelligences have ever been found by human society so far. OnOff Star is thought, however, to have a sophisticated, possibly industrial society on it that somehow survives its star's long cold periods. It's thought that this life must be starfaring, or once was, because the cyclical nature of the heated periods make it seem as if life could never have originated there. So, two interstellar powers, the "Qeng Ho" merchant syndicate and the mysterious, malevolent "Emergents," compete to contact this nascent civilization.
In the process there is betrayal, secrets are revealed, and uneasy alliances are formed. Every character, from the youngest Qeng Ho to its most ancient hero, has some kind of agenda to help bring about their goals. The Emergents, likewise, are fully-formed, if often disturbing, characters.
Then there are the aliens themselves, who live on the planet below. They are spider-like and for reasons that are well explained in the book, have a society that is remarkably similar to industrial, pre-spaceflight Earth society. This can be jarring at first, but soon we learn that the alien scenes are understood through the language of metaphor and a rather liberal "translation" by several of the human characters.
This is a very moving novel with a lot of struggle for all the groups of humans and aliens. Vinge is brutal to his characters, and they grow for it. It's difficult and not as lighthearted as A Fire Upon the Deep can be at times, but the experience is very fulfilling.
A few key differences to note are that the large, diverse alien society of A Fire Upon the Deep isn't in this book. The interstellar information networks composed of many different sophontic races are absent. There's just humans and the spiders, struggling. And there's a lot of history of how the Qeng Ho came to exist. It's worthwhile and a lot of fun, but if you're looking for a continuation of the same experience you got in A Fire Upon the Deep, this isn't quite it.
For the rest I love how the alien civilizations are treated and the split alien/human is as masterfully executed as in the previous book, even better there is never a moment where I felt I wanted to skip ahead to another PoV character.
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