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A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) Mass Market Paperback – February 15, 1993
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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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1. The main "alien" world in this book is medieval England–with dogs. It's divided into city-states replete with castles, dungeons, balconies, scrolls, tables, cabinets, bows and arrows. (Uh, don't bows and arrows require...fingers?) There are spies, assassins, artists apprentices–even a Queen, a council, and a Lord Chamberlain. This is Earth 2.0. I was hoping for something more inventive.
2. When I say dogs, I don't mean German Shepherds. These aliens are tiny--some are menacing and villainous. Others are as cute and cuddly as teddy bears. There are vicious wolves that the author compares to gerbils. The cute and ominous work against each other.
3. And the cute little dogs aren't the only silly aliens. We also have villainous butterflies. Then there are the Skroderiders, who seem to be intelligent potted plants on wheels. The author came up with gimmicky names for the hive-mind dogs–so we end up with Peregrine Wickwrackrun, and other polysyllabic monstrosities. I feel sorry for the poor soul who had to read this for the audio version.
4. Speaking of the language...What's a sophont? What's an agrav? My eyes glazed over. Too much excessive jargon, too few orienting details, and often insufficient explanation to help the reader visualize the action. Here are a couple of examples:
"Cricketsong is a synthetic race created as a jape/experiment/instrument by the High Willow upon its Transcendence."
"Saint Rihndell had a small harbor about sixteen million klicks around the RIP system. The move was even plausible, for it happened that there was a Skroderider terrane in the Harmonious Repose system–and currently it was just a few hundred kilometers from Rihndell's second harbor.They would rendezvous with the tusk-legs, exchanging repairs for two hundred seventeen flamed trellises. And if the trellises were perfectly matched, Rihndell promised to throw in an agrav refit."
You can sort of, kinda get what the author means–but trying to wade through page after page of this is worse than reading a manual on tractor hyperdrive repair.
5. And we also have missteps with characterization:
"After a long period of normal progress, Jefri had come back with a counterplan. It consisted of a complete reworking of the tables for the accoustic interface."
Who is Jefri?
This kid Jefri is eight years old (though his canine sidekick is a budding Stephen Hawking). But do you know any eight-year-old kid who thinks like that?
6. I'll just add that there are better stories out there. For an example of an outlandish, but somehow believable, sci-fi novel read CHILDREN OF TIME. If you like dogs with your sci-fi, I also recommend CITY by Clifford D. Simak and David W. Wixon--an older book but nicely written.
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.
One detail is special- most authors fall over themselves when it comes to a rational description of time. How long is a day in space when humanity has filled the galaxy? How long is a week? A month? A year? All relate to the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun. Vinge solves this problem by having a base of seconds- Ksecs is 1000 secs, Msecs is a million secs, etc. A second is constant, based on oscillations of a certain element, which is the same everywhere, in space or on any planet. Ingenious! (I do not know if he created the idea, but this is the first book I have seen to use the definition. Bravo!)
The plot involves a grand sweep of history, covering many thousands of human years, and billions of years for the villian. The future-descriptions are seamless and easily understandable. I was at home with this story!
I TOTALLY recommend that you read this, it is an awesome read!
Top international reviews
But I'm glad I persisted as the world described has a huge amount of variety and is truly immersive in a way I've not really come across before. You really do feel like you start to understand this huge universe of different cultures, people and aliens that are all existing, trading and fighting their way through the millienia even as more powerful intelligences carry on in planes of existence beyond our level of intelligence. And then you're whipped down to specific worlds where you follow individual characters as they live their more mundane lives and fight their own microscopic battles amongst their own people. And then it all somehow all comes together as the story reaches its climax and conclusion. It's truly an impressive work.
I've now started the prequel which describes some events earlier in the history of this universe.
My biggest issue with this book is that I was immediately inspired to read the 2nd book in the series - which I'm afraid is nowhere near as good.
Like a lot of sci-fi ending isn't the best but i've come to accept that as necessary evil. Ultimately this novel ends up in a chase - what else can happen but the good guys get away?
If like sci-fi its a definite read i thinks