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Vernor Vinge – A Fire Upon The DeepA Fire Upon The Deep was the first book to come out in Vernor Vinge's Queng Ho series, although it's the second one chronologically, with the (only very loosely connected) A Deepness In the Sky playing earlier, and a 3rd book in the sequence (The Children Of The Sky) expected in October 2011. Vinge himself has 7 Novels and 3 story collections to his name meanwhile, for which he was nominated for(and won) most major awards. Repeatedly. The book at hand is a Hugo winner, too.

A Fire Upon The Deep plays in a multi-race universe, linked by the Galaxy-spanning 'Net' (the extracts we see are rather reminiscent of the Usenet, although there is live video etc, too). The space around our Galaxy is layered in different zones, from the Unthinking Depths at the core, the Slow Zone, via the Beyond, to the Transcend(where transcended races/AIs range); each with a different level of how it affects intelligence, travel speed (FTL is only possible in the Beyond and, er, beyond), computing and manufacturing capabilities etc.
It's a fascinating and cleverly devised universe, although, at the end – but no, that would be telling.

The story starts with the Straumli Realm, a culture in the High Beyond, finding and accessing an Archive in the Lower Transcend which has lain dormant for 5 billion years. They find out why, when it spawns a Perversion (er, evil AI blight, taking over technology, living beings, and entire planets and cultures). One of the ships fleeing from the disaster (and the only one to make it away) carries a countermeasure, equally old. When it sets down on a world which is inhabited by dog-like beings, who are pack intelligences at a medieval level of developments they get caught in a surprise attack, which only the children survive; who are now at the not-so-tender mercies of these 'Tines'. But the rescue call from the ship is heard, and an expedition is sent to retrieve the countermeasure (and the Children, of course. Let's not forget the children...)

The story is told in multiple strands, and some of those from multiple viewpoints. This is very well done I found, with different strands and viewpoints displaying very different characteristics and approaches. There are also many interesting parallels – e.g. the local, medieval fantasy style world is rapidly improving its technical capabilities due to the information the ship's computers and portable datasets contain. The high-tech rescue mission is dumbing down more and more as it approaches the Slow Zone (the planet sits right at the border. And there is a Zone border storm...).
Vinge does a rather great job to make the reader engage with the various protagonists. This can be quite intense, and not always in a completely enjoyable way, as one starts to share the protagonists view, worries, and losses. And there is the always-present meta view, with the author letting the reader know a bit more than the actors in the story; although he does a great job of misleading the readers views and sympathies – usually just before showing the opposite side of the coin, just as convincingly. A master at work, was my impression.

If there's anything negative to be said about the book then it would be that I found that, if anything, Vinge crammed too much into the story – too many concepts, races, pieces to the puzzle. Even if these are cleverly arranged the simple jumble of it eventually distracts from the well told story. There also a some sociological and/or developmental strands and events which are overdrawn, or overly optimistic to the point where they appear unrealistic, even within such a Space Opera setting.
What I really liked were the pack minds, though, with the impact that losing a member and gaining a new one has on them; the way they are bred (within the pack, and integrate the puppies, to stay very much the same?) and, especially in some cases, created and re-combined. Where does breeding for a purpose end, and Eugenics/artificial creation of personalities begin? Very very neat, in my opinion.

If you're still reading, and haven't read this yet, then stop now, and go get the book. It's well worth your attention!

More Vernor Vinge

Title: A Fire Upon The Deep
Series: Queng Ho
Series Number: 2
Author: Vernor Vinge
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Tor
Publication Date: 1993
Review Date: 110606
ISBN: 0812515285
Price: UKP 5.99
Pages: 611
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Space Opera


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