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A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) Mass Market Paperback – February 15, 1993
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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
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 the Paperback edition.
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Also interesting is the technological juxtaposition which makes up the central story line. A medieval world set in a universe with limitless (and accessible) technology somehow made each setting seem more alive.
What truly sets this work apart are the "zones" of the galaxy and the variety of alien life forms present within. Breathtakingly original ideas that leave the mind reeling. Rarely does the scale of a novel reach the level that was created here. And maybe that is the key point, as the zones represented a major plot device, understanding and visualizing the scale of events throughout the novel was critical. Add in wolf-like pack animals with combined conscientiousness that are more clever than humans... tree-like creatures as old as history that use computers to store memories and a 4-wheeled cart to move around... yes please!
There is not much wrong with this work, and oddly the one detraction may also be considered a strong point. The focus of the novel is very narrow, at least from a character perspective. Many times, very interesting and critical events were given a few sentences. A billion lives lost... civilizations destroyed... etc. In the end, the narrow focus in an such an interesting setting makes this a great read that is not as daunting as some other sci-fi classics.
This book was a complicated read that pulled me into it. Not sure I can properly find words to describe it. I highly recommend it if you don't mind a long read. There are 4 books in the series.
A Fire Upon the Deep explores various "zones of thought" through many different non-human life forms, distances and even God-like omniscious forces called "Powers"--that actually fight amongst themselves--for reasons and by means beyond human comprehension. If you want a good mind-blowing just read the first couple chapters of this book.
If you prefer your scifi to be character driven, stay away from this one.