REVIEW by J’aime: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures, and technology, can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing this galactic threat, Ravna crash lands on a strange world with a ship-hold full of cryogenically frozen children, the only survivors from a destroyed space-lab. They are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle.



About the Book

A Fire Upon the Deep
by Vernor Vinge

Zones of Thought Series

Science Fiction

Tor Science Fiction

Publication Date
March 20, 2007

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J’aime’s Review

This science fiction novel from the 1990s got a lot of attention: it got big thumbs-up from genre fans (in the form of a Hugo) and from the literary establishment (the New York Times listed it as a Notable Book of the Year). I’m not sure what it says about me that I had mixed feelings about it.

The things that author Vernor Vinge does well, he does very well: enough to get me through six hundred pages. The aliens he creates are just outstanding. They are so creative and vivid, and so very different from humans. There is a race with group minds, so that an “individual” consists of four or five physical bodies sharing thoughts. There’s also a treelike race that is naturally immobile except when placed on mobility devices. I loved reading about them. The world building in general is so meticulous and distinctive.

And then there are the things I loved less about the book. The human characters come across kind of bland. It took me half the book before I started to warm up to them. And the antagonistic forces didn’t really work for me. There’s a big impersonal one called the Blight, which I honestly didn’t understand, and I lost patience with Vinge’s explanations. And there’s a more human-level villain called Steel, who would be a mustache-twirling stock villain if he were in a human body instead of being composed of several doglike bodies.

I’d recommend A Fire Upon the Deep if you are a serious science fiction fan willing to dive deep into a detailed world and tolerate some info dumps of made-up science, for the reward of meeting some really cool, very alien, aliens.

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The review copy of this book was purchased by the reviewer. All titles reviewed on this blog are a fair and honest assessment of the book. No monetary compensation was received in exchange for this review. For more information regarding our review process, please visit our Review Policy & Review Request Submission page.

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