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A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) Paperback – August 16, 2011
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“Heart-pounding, mind-expanding science fiction at its best.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge is a genuine galactic epic. Weaving a large cast of humans and aliens, Vinge tells an exciting story in space and on several planets packed with ideas and wonder. This is big-scale science fiction at its best.” ―Fred Cleaver, the Denver Post
“Vast, riveting far-future saga involving evil gods, interstellar war, and manipulative aliens, from the author of The Peace War and the splendid Marooned in Realtime. No summary can do justice to the depth and conviction of Vinge's ideas. The overall concept astonishes; the aliens are developed with memorable skill and insight; the plot twists and turns with unputdownable tension.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Thoughtful space opera at its best, this book delivers everything it promises in terms of galactic scope, audacious concepts, and believable characters both human and nonhuman.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Vinge, whose characters are as interesting as the science this time, has produced a cosmic epic the equal of any in recent years.” ―The Houston Post
“Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep is a wide-screen science fiction epic of the type few writers attempt any more, probably because nobody until Vinge has ever done it well. It has Hugo Winner written all over it.” ―The Washington Post Book World
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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One mind boggling idea that the galaxy has zones. The closer you get to the galaxy center, the dumber you are, and the slower you go, the longer you live. A fast, smart, malevolent force from the outermost region reaches into the lower zones spreading death and destruction.
Vinge depicts different types of non-human intelligence in a really thought provoking way.
example the Tines who are dog like animals who have human or greater than human intelligence when gathered in packs; they are intelligent, pack animals that live on a close-in feudal world. Many individuals make up a personality. They don’t have hands but use their jaws and paws together in a coordinated way to get things done.
The Skroderiders who are plant-like creatures who become intelligent when paired with carts that some being had created for them billions of years ago
and beings of nearly god-like intelligence created by evolving computer networks, and more.
He also comes up with interesting astronomy by splitting the galaxy up into zones in which physics is differentiated, so that it's possible for certain creatures to travel at beyond light speed and become advanced, and for others to be trapped in zones of slowness (like Earth).
The entertainment to cost ratio of this book is enormous. It is long, it is well written, it gets you thinking when you put it down, and it makes you want to re-read it.
There are innumerable civilizations, which rise, change, and become extinct over millions and billions of years. Moreover, some of these close to the core discover space travel, and gradually "transcend" as they are able to travel farther from the core.
The narrative and realization of this concept is not bad but nothing special. There is a basic good adventure story, but it is wordy and sometimes a bit immature. It's a long book, and I skipped over entire pages.
Also, the book falls down sometimes on the creation of alien species, especially the dog-like race at the center of much of the action.
But the concept still comes through. If Fire Upon the Deep were well-written, and all the alien species well thought-out, this would be one of the great sci-fi novels of all time.
The aliens are particularly fascinating to imagine as living things, with the Tines and Riders each having their own history and culture, and it is kind of a shame that these species had to be slightly bogged down by pulp-esque human characters. What I mean by that is that the humans in "A Fire Upon the Deep" are—for the most part—reminiscent of pulp fiction protagonists in the sense that they have a penchant for melodrama, but lack the dimensions to back it up. The kid characters aren't anything special, but they aren't annoying at least, and Johanna is developed enough to have something of an internal conflict going on when compared to Jefri, her younger (brat) brother. Even though two of the heroes of this book are in fact children, "A Fire Upon the Deep" is a deliciously dark and sometimes downright pessimistic space-opera that offers a f*ck-ton of death and destruction, much of which happens off-screen (or would it be off-page?). There is quite a bit of violence, although nothing too graphic so as to invoke queasiness, but there is definitely a level of carnage harking back to the works of Robert E. Howard. Weirdly enough, Vinge's novel has some fantasy elements mixed in with what is really a hard sci-fi tale.
Should you read it, then? I'd say so, but I'd recommend keeping your expectations in check prior to tackling this book as it is a bit of a door-stopper (a solid 600+ pages), and takes some patience to get through the slower parts. When it gets going, though, it becomes quite engrossing, and despite technically being part of a series it functions pretty well as a standalone work. Great read for folks who prefer world-building and a mind-bending premise over three-dimensional characters.