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A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) Mass Market Paperback – February 15, 1993
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
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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
“Fleeing a menace of galactic proportions, a spaceship crashes on an unfamiliar world, leaving the survivors--a pair of children--to the not-so-tender mercies of a medieval, lupine race. Responding to the crippled ship's distress signal, a rescue mission races against time to retrieve the children and recover the weapon they need to prevent the universe from being changed forever. Against a background depicting a space-time continuum stratified into 'zones of thought,' the author has created a rarity--a unique blend of hard science, high drama, and superb storytelling.” ―Library Journal
“A tale that burns with the brazen energy of the best space operas of the golden age. Vinge has created a galaxy for the readers of the '90s to believe in...immense, ancient, athrum with data webs, dotted with wonders.” ―John Clute, Interzone
“Vernor Vinge's best novel yet.” ―Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars
“Vast, riveting, far-future saga...The overall concept astonishes; the aliens are developed with memorable skill and insight, the plot twists and turns with unputdownable tension. A masterpiece of universe building.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“The first grand SF I've read in ages...Vinge is one of the best visionary writers of SF today.” ―David Brin, author of Earth
“Fiercely original...Compelling ideas in the book include problems and advantages of group mind, galactic communications turbidity, and the prospect of civilizations aspiring to godhood.” ―Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog
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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.