Zach's Reviews > A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
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's review
May 11, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 11 to 20, 2012

There are two really remarkable ideas in this book, both of which are mild spoilers (but very mild), so feel free to stop reading at this point.

The first is that the galaxy is composed of "Zones of Thought," which apparently is the title of this series. The Slowness, where Earth and most of the stars in the galaxy are, is limited to light-speed travel. The Beyond, which largely is outside the main cluster of mass of the galaxy, permits superlight travel speeds and computation, in varying degrees related to how "high" in the Beyond one is. The Transcend is inter-galactic space, and it's there that the godlike Powers live. These aren't just neighborhoods, but physical boundaries derived from complex properties of space-time. The Zones serve to protect nascent space-faring civilizations percolating up from the Slowness from the caprices of Transcendent Powers -- that and provide for some interesting plot twists ("oh no, we accidentally entered the Slow Zone, now it will take 1000 years to reach our destination and everyone we're trying to rescue will be dead!").

The second remarkable idea is the portrayal of a race of dog-like creatures with collective intelligences. Each individual in the species is actually four to six dog-aliens, and using their collective brain power they form one potentially brilliant conscious mind, with each member of the pack acting as effectively one limb. More intriguingly, intra-pack thought is accomplished via sound generated and received by special organs on the shoulders. This means that although packs might be very smart, cooperation is almost impossible since they cannot approach another pack to within closer than 10 meters or so without literally losing themselves in the other individual.

I fucking loved those dog aliens. I can't overstate how rad I think they are.

So I give these fascinating ideas (and others, like Vinge's idea of what galactic internet would be like) five stars. Sadly, in pretty much every other aspect, such as characters, plot, and the general aesthetics of the writing, this is a three-star book: competent, but hardly brilliant. I'm splitting the difference and calling it four stars, and I'll definitely be sampling some more of Vinge in the future.

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