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Zones of Thought #2

A Deepness in the Sky

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Alternative Cover Edition can be found here.

After thousands of years searching, humans stand on the verge of first contact with an alien race. Two human groups: the Qeng Ho, a culture of free traders, and the Emergents, a ruthless society based on the technological enslavement of minds.

The group that opens trade with the aliens will reap unimaginable riches. But first, both groups must wait at the aliens' very doorstep for their strange star to relight and for their planet to reawaken, as it does every two hundred and fifty years....

Then, following terrible treachery, the Qeng Ho must fight for their freedom and for the lives of the unsuspecting innocents on the planet below, while the aliens themselves play a role unsuspected by the Qeng Ho and Emergents alike.

More than just a great science fiction adventure, A Deepness in the Sky is a universal drama of courage, self-discovery, and the redemptive power of love.

A Deepness in the Sky is a 1999 Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel and the winner of the 2000 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

775 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published March 1, 1999

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About the author

Vernor Vinge

108 books2,309 followers
Vernor Steffen Vinge is a retired San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics, computer scientist, and science fiction author. He is best known for his Hugo Award-winning novels A Fire Upon The Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999) and Rainbows End (2006), his Hugo Award-winning novellas Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002) and The Cookie Monster (2004), as well as for his 1993 essay "The Coming Technological Singularity", in which he argues that exponential growth in technology will reach a point beyond which we cannot even speculate about the consequences.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,166 reviews
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
763 reviews3,486 followers
October 4, 2020
When the spidey senses are tingling, better watch out for 8 legged surprises spinning towards your colonialists.

It´s a shame that insects, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and fungi are always playing a secondary or superficial, not very detailed antagonist role, that no writer deems or wants to blow up genre conventions to mix up something new, to create a detailed vision of how a society with insectoid industrialization and culture would function, collaborate, what families, war, traditions would look like. Because it´s new land, close to anything with a not human lead protagonist species has the potential to explore ideas of how higher evolved intelligence might work out in an ant colony, with normally solitary insects who would intuitively kill each other on sight, and the other mentioned species.

What might seem cruel, sick, and disturbing for humans would be completely normal, even necessary for them, and create no real suffering because they aren´t that emotional or have a different, difficult to understand mentality in contrast to the completely oversocialized humans. Becky Chambers is big at playing with the social and cultural elements of this and Vinge is kind of a predecessor and maybe even inspiration, Octavia E Butler too. Maybe the potential of being less anthropocentric and not writing humans and humanlike aliens for sci-fi will be unleashed now, as the genre is leaving it´s decade long shadowy existence and writers can dare to publish experiments that are against the strangely and ironically very strict genre conventions.

Ok, there are humans in there too, it reminds me of Bank´s culture ideas with the brains and Brin´s Uplift concepts with still not highly developed technology and influence, not sure about comparing it with Asimov´s foundation too, but why not, but the real stars are the arachnids, those beautiful, elegant, logical beasts.

The classical that have different methods of interacting with alien races are a second plotline, but the insects are the real stars and best creative idea of this work. I´ve already said it in the review of the first part, I don´t get why Vinge didn´t expand the groundbreaking concept of The Zones of Thought with physics influencing reality and the maximum capacity of intelligence to a larger series, especially after the success of this novel.

How weather, climate, it´s possible manipulations, and the individual physiology and thereby necessities could influence culture, technology, and ideologies of nonhuman species, for instance, alien ones that combine different features and bugs of known species, is used as a plot element too and it has as endless possible combinations, just as the question of how body and mind might influence perception and social structure.

After finishing the novel, one can´t do other than look around in nature and wonder, possibly google around in biology, watch the one or other nature documentary and think of all the potential for the evolution of intelligence that must have been in the endless vastness of space and maybe even someday here. Just joking, we are destroying all of it in exactly this moment, no danger of any intelligent species on Earth surviving the Anthropocene or, as I like to call it, the sixth, worst, most stupid, and easily preventable mass extinction event. Also great that one doesn´t know how many species died out in the time it takes to read this amazing work, because nobody cares about counting ecocides, especially in what is left of the tropic rainforests.

Agent Smith is right
Humans auto self cannibalize by doing this

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Matt.
214 reviews620 followers
December 18, 2008
In the 'The Sixth Sense', the character Malcolm tries to tell a story. Unfortunately, it's a bad story, which Cole immediately picks up on, and comments, "You have to add some twists and stuff."

I tend to think that the essence of a well-crafted story is the unexpected. A good story has unexpected tragedies, unexpected joys, and unexpected crowning moments of awesome. Yet, there are a surprisingly few good writers that are also good story tellers. In fact, when it comes right down to it, I think I'd rather read a good story teller's work than a good writer's work. If you must do without something, do without beautiful prose and artsy metaphors and just tell a rip-roaring good yarn which people will sit around campfires and recount for as long as humans live under the stars. If you must dispense with something, dispense with meter and perfect Ciceronian structure and eloquence and tell a story even a caveman could appreciate. Forsake all else, but never ever dispense with having an entertaining story.

In the elite group of authors of speculative fiction that truly understand the power of story and are masters of it, we must include such names as J.K. Rawlings, Lois McMaster Bujold, and the incomparable Vernor Vinge.

'A Deepness in the Sky' is one of the novels that I wish was taught in every high school in America, as an example of great, compelling, and entertaining fiction that isn't caught up in the moment, isn't pretentious or self-serving or self-important, isn't relying on shock value that should have been tired since the days of Baudelaire, or lauded solely because of the insight white people think they get from it, or praised because of its supposed 'historical relevance'. This is the sort of novel that I'd want to teach from - that demands to be reread, that's perceptive, that's timeless, that's subtle, that looks both forward and back, and which above all has a story which brings "the twists and stuff".

'A Deepness in the Sky' is just about too good to be read just once. So much more of the story opens up when you get to the end of it and understand all the different things that have been going on all along right underneath your nose that unless you have eidetic memory you are practically obligated to make a return voyage to the On/Off star. There is too much to love here to touch on it all.

I cannot think of a villain in science-fiction that is more thoroughly hate-worthy than Tomas Nau. Though he chews up the scenery as a smiling one-dimensional comic book villain, his sociopathic philosophy is thoroughly rationalized that he never seems the least bit unreal. On the contrary, he is so very believable that rather than finding that reality causes us to question the narrative, the narrative causes us to question reality in chilling and uncomfortable ways. Could it be that there are a lot of Tomas Nau's in the world? What separates the Robert Mugabe's of this world from Tomas Nau, save that Nau's depredations will never leave the written page and Mugabes kills and destroys out in the unreal real world? Even worse, could it be that this rational calculation is rooted deeply in all of humanity, in our 'selfish genes' or our sinful condition?

While the earnestly deadly culture war is playing out above, down on the planet we are introduced to the arachnid-like 'Spiders', which have to rank amongst the greatest alien species in all of science fiction. The 'Spiders' are undergoing a scientific revolution with all the revolutionary cultural changes that come with it. I've had a great affection for creepy-crawlies since childhood - to the extent of once keeping a black widow spider as a pet - but even distancing myself from my own bias as best as I can, I personally think that the 'Spiders' are more lovable than Spielberg’s pet-like goofy E.T. and yet at the same time alien to extent that is rarely approached in sci-fi. I find myself yearning for the chapters about the 'Spiders' so that I can follow the adventures of Sherkaner Underhill, about which much could be said, but the less said the better, lest I spoil some of the story.

What a wonderful cast of characters! I could go on and on, but the point is you care what happens to these people - human or spider. You feel for them. You celebrate with them. You worry for them. And, as the story progresses, the character's seemingly separate stories become more and more tightly wound, before ending up in a perfect storm of thread tying up that would be worthy of a Victor Hugo novel.

If there is anything I could say against the novel, it is that Thomas Nau doesn't endure nearly a painful enough death. I'd be much happier if it lingered, and failing that am happy to reread the passage several times in a row just to get the necessary enjoyment from the scene. More seriously, the only thing that makes me limit my recommendation it is that it is a nerd's novel filled with nerdy references to 'Cavorite' and a surprising amount of hard science for such a far future setting. One of the central protagonists is a 'Programmer-At-Arms', and there is quite a bit in the novel about programming, systems design and 'software archeology' (a discipline I expect to come into being sooner or later) that probably will bore the non-nerd. The campfire retelling of the story would probably necessarily feature a lot less nerdy stuff, though I think we'll have to wait until Hollywood writers and producers finally evolve at least Neanderthal intelligence before they could suitably adapt a work like this.

But I'm a nerd, so it's all good as far as I'm concerned.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews764 followers
January 25, 2015
Vernor Vinge, a scientist who can tell a good yarn, another anomaly among genre writers, the other anomalous authors being China Miéville and David Brin, and they are all bald! Makes me want to shave my head, I bet Patrick Stewart can write amazing books if he wanted to, make it so Pat!

A few months ago I read A Fire Upon the Deep, Vinge's first "Zones of Thought" novel, it quickly barged its way into my all-time top 20 list. A Deepness in the Sky is not going to dislodge another book from that list but it is still an indispensable read all the same. This is a book that I imagine would be great all the way through on the second read because there would be no need to figure out the meaning of the setting of the book and the numerous characters' motivations. Initially I just could not understand Vinge's choices. Why did he anthropomorphise the aliens? Why do spidery aliens have names like Underhill, Brent, and Smith? Why not call them Zark or Vygphm or something more alienesque? The author really threw me for loop for the first quarter of the book, I thought may be he is too lazy to think up weird alien names, silly bast that I am.

I won't reveal the reason for Vinge's strange anthropomorphism, but it all makes perfect sense as you read on, and read on you must. My favorite "sf notion" from this book is Focus, a more elaborate type of mind control with no element of hypnotism. A Focused person is sort of ultra fixated on the single task they programmed to do, everything else eating, bowel movements and grooming become completely irrelevant.

Part of the book is a hoary sf trope of alien invasion turned on its head, in that humans are the invading aliens and the Spider race are the invadees. This leads to a humdinger of a climax and an Uplifting ending!

Vinge's gift for characterization is again evident here though, with lovable aliens, eccentrics and a mustache twirling Machiavellian archvillain (OK, no mustache!) called Nau. This seems to be something of a Vinge trope as Nau is cut from the exact same cloth as the villain of A Fire Upon the Deep Mr. Steel. The character Pham Nuwen is the only one from A Fire Upon the Deep, though his role is much larger here and he is not quite the same character.

I did get lost in some scientific details but most of them do become self explanatory as you read on. However, if you want some help with ramscoop, localizer and podmaster you may want to check out this Reddit thread.

I would rate this as a 4.5 stars book as I personally find it harder to "engage" with than the previous book. To engage is not merely to understand what is going on but to feel involved in the proceeding, to empathize with the characters, and generally to immerse in the book as an experience rather words printed on a book. It is for me the single most wonderful thing about reading fiction. Any way, from the half way point onward this book is very involving and you may need a deFocus treatment afterward.
Profile Image for Stuart.
707 reviews262 followers
January 31, 2018
A Deepness in the Sky: Might have been interesting at half the length
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
A Fire Upon the Deep was a big success for Vernor Vinge, winning the 1993 Hugo Award. Seven years later, he followed up with A Deepness in the Sky, set 20,000 years earlier in the same universe, and this captured the 2000 Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Award. I came to both books with high expectations and was eager for a big-canvas space opera filled with mind-boggling technologies, exotic aliens, galactic civilizations, and a big cast of characters. Sadly, the first volume didn’t engage me, and I’m afraid the second didn’t either. At 28 hours, this audiobook became a chore about halfway through, and I mainly forced myself to finish it because I wanted to be able to write a review of it as a Hugo winner long on my TBR list.

It was an interesting decision to set the “prequel” so far back in chronology that none of the distinguishing features of the Zones of Thought are known. The scale of A Deepness in the Sky‘s story is restricted to human-occupied space, before it was discovered that higher Zones of Thought exist. That was probably the most original and interesting idea of A Fire Upon the Deep, so I was surprised Vinge didn’t want to explore it further. In this book there is no FTL and humans have only encountered one other alien species that has not achieved advanced technological development.

Instead, human space has been explored mainly by the Qeng Ho, who have pursued interstellar trade throughout human space. When a new alien species is discovered on a planet orbiting an oscillating On-Off star, they immediately see this as an opportunity for potential new scientific discoveries, i.e. profit. However, a separate human civilization called the Emergents are also interested in the new alien species, so the two groups are set on a collision course.

What distinguishes the Emergents is that they have taken a ‘mindrot’ virus that plunged them into a Dark Age, and controlled it so that they can direct the mental activities of people and make them Focused, concentrating on just a single task with obsessive attention. In a sense, they are human computers, something like the Mentats of Frank Herbert‘s Dune but far less independent. Instead, they are used as specialized living tools to further the aim of the controllers, or pod leaders, and are treated as disposable equipment.

Initially the Qeng Ho and Emergents form a fragile truce as they observe the aliens, whom they dub ‘Spiders’ due to their arachnid appearance, but there are a number of plots brewing below the surface, and fairly soon there is a major betrayal that brings both sides into open conflict. Though the Emergents gain the upper hand due to their ambush, both sides suffer major losses of life and their ships are heavily damaged. This sets the stage for the bulk of the story in A Deepness in the Sky.

The story alternates with another narrative that is initially very confusing. We are introduced to an incongruous group of characters named Sherkaner Underhill, Victory Smith, Hrunkner Unnerby, Honored Pedure. Initially they seem to be people living in a simple small-town existence in an unnamed place not entirely unlike 20th century planet Earth. It is only over time that we come to realize they are very different from what we expected. It takes many hundreds of pages more to understand ‘why’ they were presented in this manner.

Once I understood why they were described in this way, the story made more sense, but it’s a major spoiler to say much more, and even after the truth emerged, I wasn’t really comfortable with how Vinge handled this part of the story. Sure, it’s an innovative approach, but it made these characters much more ‘conventional’ than they would normally be in a sci-fi context. After hundreds of pages it felt like an overused gimmick, and didn’t really reveal anything of importance about perceptions that we don’t already know.

The scientific details of the arachnid world and its unusual sun are certainly interesting — this is the hard sci-fi I was expecting. And the Spiders themselves have developed a unique society. Vinge excels at thinking about primitive alien species, and much like the telepathic dog packs in A Fire Upon the Deep, he devotes lots of pages to describing their society in depth. But unfortunately, just like the previous book, I found their societies somehow lacking in alienness or menace. They were both difficult for me to take seriously (this was also the case in C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station). I’m struggling to put a finger on what bothers me, but somehow Vinge’s aliens seem too ‘anthropomorphized’, for lack of a better term. When I think about encounters with the alien, I am much more inclined to believe in aliens that are truly inscrutable and terrifying, like those in Peter Watt’s Blindsight, for example.

The other main narrative in A Deepness in the Sky focuses on the dozens of Qeng Ho and Emergent characters as they are forced to work together to observe the Spiders as their society emerges from the darkness as their star enters the ‘On’ period. There is a huge amount of scheming, scientific meddling, and numerous discussions of the ethics of the Emergents’ use of “Focused” humans, contemptuously call “zipheads” by the Qeng Ho. It is quite disturbing to see how they are treated like disposable wetware, while at the same time being relied on as sophisticated technicians in every conceivable aspect of Emergent life. They actually reminded me a bit of the Scanners in the famous Cordwainer Smith story “Scanners Live in Vain.”

The final third of the book picks up the pace of events, as the two human factions start meddling heavily in the Spider’s technological development for their own reasons, and the Spiders themselves struggle with differing political ideas and social conflict. It’s all quite complex and detailed, and I suspect I was at a disadvantage following it on audio. Events build toward a climax similar to A Fire Upon the Deep, with numerous groups’ plots and sub-plot converging in a complex ballet of space battles, nuclear weapons, and various individual betrayals and twists. This was the best part of A Deepness in the Sky, but after 20 hours of slow-moving story, I was a bit tired and hoping the story would end soon.

That’s why I think A Deepness in the Sky and its predecessor would both have been more effective and exciting if they could drastically cut back on their overlong middle sections. But it seems that major space operas often have to weigh in at 500-700 pages to be taken seriously by fans and award committees, judging by major works by Dan Simmons, Peter Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, etc. I myself prefer them in the 300-400 page range unless the story really justifies such length. In any case, although there are plenty of unanswered questions Vinge has left after two books in his Zones of Thought series, the reviews of the third book Children of the Sky are fairly negative, so I’ll try something more promising instead.
Profile Image for kat.
557 reviews90 followers
March 12, 2012
I honestly have no idea how to even rate this. Objectively, it's a very solid book. Vinge's prose is kind of dry and his habit of throwing a bunch of hints at you before really telling you what's going on is alternately effective and obnoxious.

I found the first few hundred pages terribly hard to read, though. It's not a pleasant story, and Vinge doesn't pull any punches. If you're like me and triggered by deception, manipulation, and oh, rape with bonus memory-erasure... buyer beware. Vinge also likes to do this thing where, not only is there dramatic irony because you know something the main characters don't, but he takes you inside the head of the villain. I *hate* this. Dramatic irony is hard enough for me, but something about seeing the innermost thoughts of the bad guy makes me feel complicit.

If you can make it through those bits, it gets a little better as the story progresses.

In retrospect, I'm furious with Vinge for his treatment of women, and I think it's one reason I found this book so triggery.

So: points for world-building and the Spider culture. Bonus point for . Demerits for sexism and not really understanding how emotions work. Points for pretty epic scale. Demerits for the ending. That comes out to, oh I dunno, let's say two stars.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,630 reviews4,999 followers
December 29, 2018
I was imagining a movie version while I was reading this one. half of the movie would be animated and would feature adorable spider-aliens. love those aliens. but I don't know what I'd do with the other half, and the endless cycle of rape and mind control that happens to a particularly sympathetic character. I don't think I'd want that in my movie.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
801 reviews2,519 followers
July 11, 2017
I love science fiction stories that incorporate novel concepts, and this one introduces several intriguing concepts. First, there is the variable sun that goes through a long on-off cycle. Second, there are the alien creatures living on a planet in the sun's system that have evolved to live through this cycle. They are called "spiders" because they are short and have multiple limbs. Then there are the Qeng Ho, a loosely organized human civilization whose culture is based on interstellar trading. And finally, there are the emergents, a civilization of humans that have developed a technology named "focus" that enslaves individuals to do their bidding. Yet another novel concept is the duration of space flights. Now, probably appears in some other science fiction stories, but in this story it is a central feature. People must go into hibernation in order to last the long durations of sub-light-speed space journeys. So, there is always a clash between human lifetimes and the actual chronological time.

What I thought was somewhat amusing was the psychology of the alien spiders. While on the surface their appearance is so different from that of humans, from a psychological standpoint they are so similar! The dialogues, the emotions, and the actions are so similar to humans! Perhaps the only difference is their different attitude toward death, which seems to be more imminent due to the dangers of the sun cycling down.

This is a very long novel, and probably could have been somewhat shorter without losing much. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable science fiction thriller. Certainly, if you are a fan of Vernor Vinge, you should read this book. Actually, I didn't read this book--I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Peter Larkin. He does a good reading, with just enough inflections and accents to help recognize who is speaking.
Profile Image for Connie.
64 reviews37 followers
December 31, 2011
4.5 stars.

First--This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time, and, despite the fact that it doesn't quite earn a 5 star rating from me (more on that later), I would highly recommend the book to anyone who's remotely interested in science fiction. It's a testament to the book that I managed to finish it while in the midst of an extraordinarily busy semester.

Vinge really hits the balance of "science" and "fiction" almost perfectly--and, even though the book weighs in at a hefty 750+ pages, it never feels too long or bogged down. In fact, my most serious criticism of the book is that it should have been a bit longer. Vinge never falls into the all-too-common trap of becoming lost in his own world of gobly-gook highly theoretical science (While I recognize that many genre fans live for that stuff, I get very tired of science fiction books that essentially become a platform for the author to share his (really, it's usually his) ideas on futuristic technology). Still, the book is not fluffy, and he introduces his science subtly, building an entire system for the readers, without ever causing the book to lose its heart.

In the end, this book is essentially a study on human nature, just set in a fantastic setting. The characters are really quite fantastic, and, though they are a lot of them, Vinge makes them all stand out; it's nearly impossible to confuse even the minor characters--even after you haven't heard from them in 300 pages.

The premise is definitely fantastic, and I'm not sure I've ever read a book with such a wonderful set-up. Two space faring races of humans discover a unique physical anomaly: a star that mysteriously turns on and off at regular intervals. What's more--the star's lone planet has technologically lagging but highly intelligent sentient race, one like nothing either race of humans has ever encountered. The two groups of humans are antithetical to one another, each group despises the very principles that the other stands for. Both groups race toward the planet, to make the first contact with this alien species. The first group to get there will likely gain extreme knowledge, wealth, fame, and the chance to discover the mysteries of this never-before-seen star. The fate of the second group to arrive is unclear, but won't be pretty. The groups arrive at about the same time--and then things begin to get interesting. To their horror, the civilization on the planet is much more primitive than they had expected, and there are no resources, no way to refuel their ships, and no chance of returning home.

Unlike so many science fiction books, Vinge presents space travel as something difficult, expensive, and always teetering on the precipice of disaster. There is no warp drive, and humans spend hundreds of years in "coldsleep," waiting for their ships to reach their destination; hoping that their pod won't fail, and hoping that when they wake up there will still be a ship to wake up to.

In this setting, then, with two warring groups orbiting around a planet hundreds of years from any advanced civilization and running short on resources, somehow these groups will have to become allies. To say anything more would venture into spoiler territory, but I will leave it at: the setting makes for some extraordinarily complicated relationships and motives, and leaves the reader with a very foreboding atmosphere. Vinge hits this atmosphere perfectly. As the reader you know something bad is happening, but damn it, you can't figure out what.

For the entirety of the book, the viewpoint switches among the two human races in orbit, and the Spider race down below on the planet.

The book sets itself up for a fantastic climax (seriously--plan to read the last 150 pages or so in one sitting; you have been warned), and, while the climax isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it seemed a bit rushed. The last two hundred pages could have easily stretched to be double that, and I think that I would have felt more satisfied with the conclusion had it had a little more detail to it.

There is a huge twist that happens in this stretch of the book, and by huge I mean huge . It's a good twist, it really is, but I couldn't help feeling robbed; without reading the book again there's no way to be sure, but I don't think I could have pieced any of it together until it happened. What's more--I'm not convinced the surprise value was quite worth it. Yes--it was a good surprise, but I want to know how it happened, the history of it--not just be presented with its occurrence at the end. I can't help but wonder if the book would have been better without it, or with adding yet another viewpoint (in addition to the two groups of humans and the Spiders) throughout the book.

There are essentially two reasons why the book doesn't quite earn 5 stars from me. The first is the twist at the end, the second is the pacing. This book is long--and I don't exactly want to advocate adding another 200 pages to it, and yet the ending just seemed overly rushed.

Looking back on the book I question the relevance of a lot of the information Vinge gives the reader. It's all fascinating--there wasn't a singe character (of the 20 or so viewpoints the reader is presented with) that I din't want to read about or cringed whenever the viewpoint shifted to him or her. But in retrospect, a lot of the personal histories, while interesting at the time, seemed to have no relevance later on. One character in particular (Pham)--while one of the most interesting characters, Vinge probably spent a good 60 or 70 pages over the course of the book fleshing out his backstory. After finishing the book, I don't think this backstory had any relevance, at least none beyond what could have been shared in 10 or 20 pages. Similarly, there are a lot of "interesting" parts of the book that just don't have much payoff. I can't help but feel that the book would have been better if it couldn't have trimmed off 100 or 200 pages of this information throughout the book, and in its place spend more time at the end.

Still though, all in all--this book does catapult Vinge to be one of my favorite authors, and I can't wait to read the "sequel" (written before this one)--"A Fire Upon the Deep." While the payoff in the end fell just a little short to me, the book is very well written, the premise is brilliant, and Vinge is a master of atmosphere. The book never once drags in its 750 pages, and I was left at the end wanting more. So please, if you're interested in the genre, pick up this book; it's definitely worth it!

Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,543 reviews308 followers
January 13, 2020
An excellent book, that I don't love quite as much as "A Fire Upon the Deep" -- but it's still pretty amazing. The review to read is Jo Walton's: https://www.tor.com/2011/09/28/a-fini...
"One of the things SF can do is show you characters with different mindsets. Anyone can write a character whose dreams have failed. Vinge’s writing people from whole societies whose dreams have failed over millennia. And yet, this is a cheerful optimistic book in which awful things happen but good wins out. It’s only a tragedy from a perspective outside the book, where you know that there’s so much more they could have had and Pham is going the wrong way at the end.

It’s a brilliant book, one of the best, well worth reading again and again." OK. Note taken to to do just that!

One of her very best reviews, I think. If you haven't come across them before, do take a look at her "What Makes This Book So Great", https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
And her editor's intro, "What Makes Jo Walton So Great," linked there.

2012 reread notes. Still a brilliant book. I did see a plot hole, that I'm sure Vinge gave some thought to: . I did some skimming this time. I can't imagine listening to this for 28 hours!

Bonus: Vinge's most recent short-short, at Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/548254a
Free and fun.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,906 reviews1,232 followers
October 11, 2010
I don't know about you, but I spend an inordinate amount of time meditating upon the far future of humanity. I don't just worry about the future of my generation, or the future of the generation after mine, or the future of a couple of generations down the line. I'm talking one-, ten-, fifty-thousand years into the future. Will humanity still exist—would we recognize it as humanity even if it does? How many times between now and then will civilizations rise and fall? Because if there's one constant across the depths of space and time, it's that nothing lasts forever. Empires and republics alike crumble under the weight of corruption, stagnation, or the simple stress inherent in managing a civilization separated by light-years. If we don't find fancy physics or technology to cast off the shackles of the light-speed barrier, we're looking at a very distorted, relativistic existence indeed. It's this sort of realistic, hard science fiction that promises us no easy answers and makes me wonder if humans are really meant to live in space. With A Deepness in the Sky, Vernor Vinge convinces me that he's a perfect example of that ethos.

I liked A Fire Upon the Deep . Taken together with this prequel, its title always reminds me of "Smoke on the Water" ("Fire in the sky!"). As much as I liked A Fire Upon the Deep, its hard-science-fiction tropes never quite cohere, and the story and characterization suffer as a result. In contrast, A Deepness in the Sky unifies some of the same tropes—as well as new ones—to create a compelling story and pathos for the plights of the characters.

The ideological struggle between the remnants of the Qeng Ho and Emergent fleets is a ripe ground for observations on human society and attitudes toward power. Tomas Nau is in many ways a moustache-twirling villain, complete with the sadistic right-hand minion (Ritser Brughel) and the indispensable trusted lieutenant (Anne Reynolt). He likes to be in control, to use people, like Qiwi Lisolet, and has no compunctions about lying or coercing when necessary. However, he has more depth than your ordinary Snidely Whiplash. He doesn't think of himself as being evil, just as doing what's necessary to survive. He is a product of Emergent society and its values, was raised from birth to be a ruthless and cunning Podmaster. Vinge manages to make Tomas a believable antagonist, one whose defeat comes not from his own incompetence but from a combination of betrayal and skillful planning on the part of the protagonists.

Speaking of protagonists, I like this Pham Nuwen much better than his clone in A Fire Upon the Deep. Just as Tomas is a multi-dimensional character, Pham isn't a paragon of goodliness. Since Pham is in the fleet under an assumed name, Vinge milks the irony cow for all it's worth by having Tomas confess his admiration for the historical exploits of Pham Nuwen. Indeed, as we learn from flashbacks and Pham's heavy ruminations, he has done things of which he is not proud. And for Pham, the Emergent slavery known as Focus is a nigh-irresistible lure, a promise that could fulfil Pham's dreams of a true Qeng Ho empire. So Pham has his flaws, and he's lucky that he has an idealist like Ezr Vinh to keep him on the straight and narrow. Because that's the difference between Pham Nuwen and Tomas Nau, despite Tomas' own comparisons to the Pham Nuwen of Qeng Ho legend: Pham knows when to give up his dreams and embrace something new.

In between these two major characters are all sorts of minor allies and enemies and people of uncertain loyalty. These are the fuel for a truly tense, suspenseful conflict. The Qeng Ho, stuck under the thumb of Nau's Emergent control, do what they do best: they slowly, inexorably wear down the stringent Emergent psyche, corrupting it with an underground market. Thanks to an Emergent sneak attack early in the novel, both fleets have been crippled, and they need to work together to survive until the Spiders achieve the technological level necessary to repair their ships. Humans are complex entities, however; even though working together is a rational response to the crisis, it's not going to be easy. Ezr, in particular, is incensed by the idea of Focus and chafes under the Emergent yoke.

Focus is a tamed virus that increases the neurological connections in its victims' brains, causing them to become very competent in one area, like linguistics, at the expense of most of their social and interpersonal skills. It's a form of literal intellectual slavery, a substitute for the lack of high-performance computing that's the legacy of living in the "Slow Zone" of the galaxy, where no artificial intelligence is possible. Focus allows people to achieve remarkable breakthroughs, whether it's in translation or biomechanics; however, as the name suggests, it results in a narrow-minded expert obsessed with a single field of study. This breaks the heart of Qiwi and Ezr, who have Focused loved ones, even as it fires up Pham's mind with the possibilities of what one could achieve, if one is willing to pay the price.

Focus is just one of the medley of technological and social nova that Vinge introduces. Often he is explicit in the consequences for society: for example, the localizers offer the ability to achieve efficient distributed computing, but they might also result in a surveillance society. Nevertheless, like other good science fiction authors, he still develops the society in an organic, natural manner. We see the Qeng Ho and Emergents interact with their technology and draw our own conclusions about how it shapes their lives and mores. Even something like Focus can be controversial and subjective: I've been calling it slavery, but like Pham or Tomas, maybe another person might not see it that way. There are always compromises when new technology pervades society, and that's one of the reasons science fiction is so useful and compelling.

Vinge parallels this problem in the development of Spider society. Their world is the sole planet in orbit of OnOff, a brown dwarf that enjoys 35 years of life-giving brightness before dimming for 215 years (hence its name). So they have 35-year generations, each followed by the Dark, through which they hibernate in deepnesses. As the Emergents and Qeng Ho arrive, that is about to change. A brilliant scientist, Sherkaner Underhill, spurs a scientific renaissance that culminates in the Spiders staying awake through the Dark.

We get a front-row seat to the ensuing turmoil in the fractured Spider society. The natural cycle of Brightness and Dark has had a profound effect on everything the Spiders do. Children are conceived at the end of the cycle (the Waning Years) and grow to adulthood during the next Brightness. Defying this custom results in oophase or "out-of-phase" children, who are ostracized and subject to pejorative stereotypes. But now that the Spiders can live during the Dark, that, like a myriad other things, will have to change. This results in a lengthy and tense conflict between the more liberal Accord kingdom and the traditionalist Kindred, and this conflict culminates with mushroom clouds.

The Spider characters—mostly Underhill's brood, although Hrunkner Unnerby is a lovable old curmudgeon as well—are quite entertaining. The chapters presented from the Spider point of view make them seem so human, despite the references to "eating hands" and "baby welts" and "paternal fur." We watch Underhill's children, notorious for being oophase, grow up and mature. One of them dies during a harrowing kidnapping, and it changes their dynamic forever. Suddenly, they can't afford to be precocious innocents anymore. They are soldiers, even if they aren't enlisted in the army yet, and they have to be prepared. Underhill's family is at the centre of the same kind of social and political turmoil we've seen so often in human society, particularly in this past century. Technological advances allow us to do more, whether it's in vitro fertilization or putting weapons in space. There are always reactionary groups who want to stuff the technology back into its box, suppress it, get rid of it somehow. But you can't. Underhill summarizes this sentiment rather nicely when he talks about wanting to make invention the mother of necessity rather than the other way around: innovations require social change. And sometimes that hurts.

There's a lot of hurt here. Some of the characters, like Ezr or Qiwi, are probably safely labelled as "good guys," but no one is squeaky clean. A Deepness in the Sky is an utterly fascinating, sometimes chilling, always poignant book. It has characters you can care about, conflicts that end in messy and flawed resolutions, and a sense of futility regarding the longevity of human societies tempered by the reassurance that, regardless of era, humans are as wonderful and surprising as they are selfish and destructive. I don't know if we'll be Qeng Ho, or Emergents, or something completely different. In all probability, if we last that long, we'll have experienced a little of everything. No matter how much I try, I can't quite comprehend the time scales involved or the numbers of people who will live and die between my lifetime and Pham Nuwen's. With Vernor Vinge and A Deepness in the Sky, however, I can come close. And that's ultimately what great books do: not only do they show us worlds we can imagine; they show us worlds we can't.
Profile Image for David.
Author 17 books333 followers
December 28, 2014
Vernor Vinge has hit a home run twice in a row. A Deepness in the Sky had all the fantastic alienness mixed with human drama and far future sci-fi awesomeness that made A Fire Upon the Deep one of my favorite SF novels ever. I've become a lot pickier about my sci-fi, but A Deepness in the Sky has held up even better than the first book in the twelve years since it was written.

At its heart is a conflict between two starfaring cultures: the Qeng Ho, a culture of interstellar traders who take the long view and regard planetary civilizations as customers, and the Emergents, a tyrannical empire powered by the secret of Focus, a virus that turns people into super-intelligent, docile slave-minds. The Qeng Ho and the Emergents arrive simultaneously at a strange star that flares into brilliance for a few decades and then goes dormant for centuries in a perfectly regular cycle.

On the single planet orbiting the OnOff star is a race of spider-like aliens who have evolved to live on this planet that is only inhabitable for a few decades out of every couple of centuries. When the Qeng Ho and the Emergents arrive, the Spiders are dormant, frozen in their deepnesses, but when the star flares to life, they are poised to enter a modern technological age in the next generation.

This three-way contest, with Qeng Ho and Emergents fighting a bitter war with each other full of treachery and dashed hopes, while the fate of the Spiders hangs in the balance, makes for a compelling story all the way through to the end. Vinge didn't drop the ball once, and he even made the Spiders relatable and interesting characters, so that the shift between human and Spider POV never annoyed me the way some books do when a more interesting character's story is left hanging to shift to a less interesting one. There is a whole raft of characters and you root (or hiss) for all of them. The book was epic and fully self-contained and one of the "harder" space operas out there, meaning it's mostly believable. Vinge does not rely much on hand-wavium to make his technology and plots work.

Just plain awesome. I give my highest recommendation for both this book and A Fire Upon the Deep.
Profile Image for Gabi.
689 reviews117 followers
December 20, 2019
Unfortunately this book wasn't meant for me.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first Zones of Thoughts novel, but this second one was too much of several things for me to care: too many characters, too much talking, too many (and too long) flashbacks.

There are terrific ideas like the on/off sun and what this means for the evolution of a species, or the conflict of two human fractions with very different ideas of society.
Even though it was handled a bit clumsily prose-wise the irritating view on the spider species and the later explanation thereof was a nice twist. I guess I would have loved the book if Vinge would have handled it like his first novel, namely in concentrating on a few characters and a tight narration structure. But he juggled with loads and loads of characters, backstories and pages of explanations so that I lost all interest in any of them. In the end I was only relieved that it was finally over.

I would guess that this novel is a good pick for readers who like Cherryh's Alliance books or Corey's The Expanse series. For myself I have to conclude that drawn out multi POV space politics with a rather dry take on prose and characters just aren't my thing.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,475 followers
December 20, 2022
Sometimes the sequel is better than the first book. That is definitely the case here where as great as A Fire Upon the Deep was, this was better. The character of Pham Nuwen gets center stage here but 30000 years before the events in Fire. I loved this book from beginning to end and found that the spider aliens here were so much more compelling than in Children of Time. The bad guys are among the evilest ones I have ever come across in science fiction and the odds against the good guys are among the longest as well.
Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Maria Dobos.
108 reviews43 followers
July 26, 2017
Cu mii de ani înainte ca omenirea să descopere existența Zonelor Gânditoare, Qeng Ho, o organizație interplanetară a comercianților, a recepționat o serie de semnale ce ar indica prezența unei specii inteligente în apropierea straniei Stelei Fluctuante. Entuziasmul posibilității stabilirii unui contact cu o specie necunoscută le înflăcărează imaginația comercianților și pe cea a emergenților (de-a lungul a opt mii de ani de călătorii prin spațiu, oamenii au întâlnit doar alte două civilizații inteligente, una demult apusă, iar cealaltă stagnând în etapa pre-tehnologică), fiecare lansând o flotă către îndepărtatul sistem solar.

În ciuda avantajului tehnologic, odată ajunși la capătul expediției, Qeng Ho hotărăsc să încheie o alianță cu flota emergentă, fără a bănui cât de diferite erau cele două culturi. Relația dintre cele două grupuri este marcată de egoism și interese ascunse, ajungându-se inevitabil la trădări, crime și mușamalizări. În cele din urmă, folosindu-se de virusul minții , emergenții obțin controlul flotei și hotărăsc să supravegheze evoluția tehnologică a păianjenilor până când dezvoltarea acestora va permite repararea flotei și a habitatelor distruse în conflict.

În același timp, pe planeta înghețată, păianjenii se luptă pentru supraviețuire. Supuși ciclicității Stelei Fluctuante, viața lor se împarte între sutele de ani de hibernare în Întuneric și cele trei decenii de lumină, departe de a suspecta intrigile ce se țes deasupra lor. Totuși, schimbarea încolțește în mijlocul civilizației când în scenă intră Sherkaner Underhill, un tânăr și genial inventator păianjen are vrea sa răstoarne constrângerile, tradițiile și mentalitatea întregii specii.

După ce m-am obișnuit cu stilul lui Vernon Vinge din Foc în adânc, aș spune că firele inițial paralele ale poveștii nu au fost o surpriză, ci doar mi-au stârnit curiozitatea. Alternând acțiunea între mai multe planuri, Vernor Vinge împletește cu ingeniozitate cele două lumi, conturând milenii întregi de evoluție, mentalități, conflicte sociale și politice. Din punct de vedere al complexității Universului și al introducerii de noi concepte, Adâncurile cerului nu m-a șocat, limitându-se la planetele cunoscute de către oameni, a căror tehnologie nu permite călătoria cu viteze superluminice.

M-au încântat personajele ilustrate atât de complex, întâlnirea finală dintre cele două specii, acumularea treptată a detaliilor poveștii și amplificarea tensiunii în ultimele sute de pagini. Printre alte aspecte interesante, mi-a rămas în minte ideea construirii unei culturi care să depășească individualitatea planetelor, un imperiu spațial care să păstreze tot ce e mai bun din fiecare civilizație.

Profile Image for Phil.
1,540 reviews88 followers
August 27, 2022
I reread this just after finishing A Fire Upon the Deep and lets say I was more than a little disappointed, especially since A Fire... is just so good. This is something of a prequel to A Fire..., but, like Banks Culture series, there is no need to go in order and in fact, this came out several years after A Fire... in any case.

We were briefly introduced to the Qeng Ho in Fire as the 'reconstructed' human there was Pham Nuwen who hailed (and in fact helped found) the Qeng Ho, an interstellar trading 'family' existing across human colonized space. I loved the idea of the Qeng Ho and found it the best part of this book. Humanity never broke the FTL barrier here and the Quen Ho travel from star to star in ram scoop ships that manage about .3c. These ships are equipped with cold storage for humans, so the century-long trips are mostly in status; this means that the Quen Ho travelers/merchants live quite long objectively and indeed, Pham Nuwen here is almost 3000 years old subjectively (and about 300 objective-- gotta love modern medicine!). Human civilizations come and go, but the Quen Ho rise above it. Pham also helped create a broadcasting center where the Quen Ho send tech notes and such to the stars.

That stated, this starts off with a Qeng Ho captain tracking down Pham in a lonely colony on the edge of colonized space and starting on a long mission to the OnOff star, somewhere humanity has never gone. The OnOff star lights for about 50 years and during that time it is a normal G star (like Earth's), but then switches 'off' for 200 years or so like clockwork. Amazingly enough, an alien 'spider' civilization calls this system home, living on its only planet. The spider's world is remarkably like that of Earth, with several states and even a cold war between the two largest. More on this later.

The Quen Ho mission barely beat out another human mission to the OnOff system by the so-called Emergents; humans from a ruthless, totalitarian system. Neither side trusts the other and soon enough, treachery happens shortly after both sides begin to investigate the spider planet (which is currently in a 'dark' or 'off' period). Both groups are basically crippled after the treachery, but the Emergents (who started it) end up on top what is left due to their use of human mind slaves. The Emergents call this 'Focus'; it is a virus or something that infects the brain, but can be almost programed via a MRI to make the person incredibly focused, almost like a machine, on whatever task they are put to. They use these Focused people to run/manage the hardware and also to keep tabs on the Qeng Ho folks.

While the Quen Ho/Emergence folks are tied up in a L1 orbit above the planet, lurking, Vinge takes us to the spiders and tells there story. This is where I started to lose interest. I do not think it is possible to anthropomorphize aliens and their society any more than Vinge does here. The spiders are over the cusp of an industrial revolution and politically, the spider planet is pretty much like Earth circa 1960, complete with nuclear arsenals by the two most advanced states. These two states have been in a hot war for years until this new On period in something like WWI. Now, they have 'progressed' to the Cold War proceeding WWII...

Yes, the spiders are different, but they act human, think like humans and are motivated by the same things humans are. Vinge dropped the ball here after his remarkable portrayal of the 'group mind' aliens from A Fire... and gives us cheesy Star Wars type aliens instead.

Finally, A Deepness in the Sky really puts the opera in space opera. For almost 800 pages, Vinge takes us through a wide range of relationships, both human and spider, and if you love this type of thing, you will be enthralled. Me? I never really felt vested in any of the characters and this book dragged on and on. I almost DNF it a few times, but it kept me interested enough to finish, but that ending? Pile on the extra cheese. 2 non-enthusiastic stars!
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews658 followers
April 8, 2015
I had, it must be admitted, a hard time getting into this one. I'd pick it up and read a bit, but not make much real headway. Partly it's because other books that people had on hold at the library came in, or I needed to blast something through to be ready for my book club. These external factors, however, weren't all of it. Once I finally did get into the book, I really enjoyed it.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,049 reviews100 followers
May 24, 2020
This is a ‘hard’ space opera, with speed of light limit on communication/travel, quite unusual for the genre. While this is a prequel/sequel (the story happens earlier, but the novel was written later) to award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep, it can be read as a standalone, even if in this case you’ll miss the tragedy (warning: spoilers). I read is as a Buddy read in May 2020 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group.

The story has an amazing start, that sets the scope of the novel:

“The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light-years and eight centuries. It had always been a secret search, unacknowledged even among some of the participants. In the early years, it had simply been encrypted queries hidden in radio broadcasts. Decades and centuries passed. There were clues, interviews with The Man’s fellow-travelers, pointers in a half-dozen contradictory directions: The Man was alone now and heading still farther away; The Man had died before the search ever began; The Man had a war fleet and was coming back upon them.”

In order to give the setting of the story, there are some spoilers from about the first 10% of the book. A strange star is discovered, which turns on and off cyclically (with on part about 50 and off about 250 years). Just prior to its last turn-off there were radio messages from there – the first ever non-human industrial civilization and two expeditions are sent to make a contact. The first are Qeng Ho, wandering traders, who try to keep the human civilization (light years apart) the whole. The second are the Emergent, a tyrannical civilization that just returned from the dark ages, who have a unique edge: the Focused, people affected by brain-infecting virus, which allows to turn them into autistic monomaniacs, focused on any given task. The two groups came to the On/Off star almost simultaneously and are about to research the planet of sentient ten-legged spider-like creatures.

The novel can be seen as a homage to many SF classics, from Foundation with its idea of rise and fall of civilizations and the attempt to prevent it; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress with its pro-free market libertarian and anti-tyranny ideas and a lot of others.

The book is extremely strong, but it is hard to read it in one go; it clearly benefits from a reread.
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews326 followers
August 18, 2013
I loved this and was up all night finishing it. That's rather rare with science fiction, at least hard science fiction. Few science fiction writers--hell, few writers--have Vinge's sense of pacing and ability to create suspense. That's because you care about his characters intensely, human as well as alien. Not something you find enough in Hard Science Fiction--and Vinge brings off some mind-blowing concepts without ever falling into infodump or other awkward constructions. I thought I had read this novel before--I know it had been sitting on my shelves for years, even somehow had a rating, but I couldn't remember anything about it--for good reason--I'm sure I hadn't read this before--I would have remembered.

This is a prequel to the first book of the Zones of Thought trilogy, but not only can this stand alone, I think it might be best to read it first. It involves the most memorable and vibrant of the human characters, Pham Nuwen and his time among the trading fleet, the Qeng Ho. It's notable though that in A Fire Upon the Deep, what got mentioned in my review and made the greatest impression were the alien characters, the dog-like Tines. This book also features aliens--a Spider-like race. Like the Tines they are memorable and striking both as a species and in their individuals. I found the Tines a bit more endearing--but not by much. But in this book I found the human characters as strong or stronger than the aliens. Part of that is Pham Nuwen, who is central here. But the dystopia here--and Fire has one too--is a human one. The "Focus" is one of the most chilling forms of slavery I've seen in fiction--one where with your mind enslaved, your body follows. So the story of the "Emergents" versus the Qeng Ho was every bit as interesting as what was happening on Arachna. Vinge shifts between points of view and that in itself ups the tension--I was never impatient to get past a section, but at the same time I'd be left worried about what was "happening" to others while our attention was elsewhere.

The next and last of the trilogy was published only about two years ago and is a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep and starts two years after the close of events there. I'm sorry to say goodbye to Pham Nuwen and the other characters of A Deepness in the Sky, but I'm already excited at the thought I'll soon be back with my old friends among the Tines.
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews629 followers
February 24, 2015
Have you ever read someone else's review of a book and thought, "Yes! That is exactly how I felt!"

Well, Apatt has nailed this one for me. To the extent that I'm not sure what else to add.

Seriously. Go read his review first, and then come back to hear me witter on if you're still interested...





So what can I add to that?

My first experience with Vinge was Rainbow's End, which I did not get along with. I thought it was rubbish. I picked up A Fire Upon the Deep as a Hugo winner, with a kind of grim determination to trudge through it, come what may. Instead, I loved every second of it and have since enthusiastically recommended it to friends. So coming into A Deepness in the Sky I had a kind of hopeful trepidation - would it be another smash hit, or another dreadful miss?

It's a definite hit. It's a really good, interesting book - Vinge does a fabulous job (again) with his alien characters and creates a culture that will live long in the memory.

As Apatt aluded to though, there's something about the book that doesn't ring 'right' to start with. By the end, that all makes sense, but it makes the reader suspicious, you're trying to put your finger on what's out of kilter - it makes the book a bit of a puzzle - and in that mindset you're not engaging with the characters, you're not investing emotionally. It takes longer than it should for the ties to grow strong enough to tug on your heart-strings, and somewhere in that delay the fifth star is lost from the rating.

The third in the trilogy, The Children of the Sky scores significantly lower here on Goodreads than either of the first two (an average of 3.5 vs 4.1 & 4.3), and considering only fans of the series are likely to have carried on to book three - that doesn't bode particularly well.

On reflection, I think Vinge has earned enough goodwill with me to give him that chance - and I'll be adding book three to my labyrinthine reading/shopping list system tonight :-)

After this I read: Aerie
Profile Image for Jostein.
103 reviews5 followers
May 25, 2021
I was yearning for the resolution of this story, but now I’m sad that the book is over!

This top notch sci-fi novel revolves around two star-faring factions of humans that converge on a planet of interest and the spider-like aliens that inhabit said planet. The spiders are by far the most sympathetic, but every character is interesting and there is a lot of them. We follow some spiders through large parts of their life, and their stories sometimes left me in tears.

I am very impressed by how Vinge manages to mix cute alien spiders and evil mind-controlling humans in a seemingly realistic and down to earth way. The spiders and their culture are of course highly affected by their biology and environment but the characters seem very human. This is from the spider perspective however. Later in the book, we get a description of the spiders from a human perspective and that is very different. The bad guys of the human characters are terrible and evil but evil in an intricate way which makes it seem plausible and therefore even more terrible. The third aspect of the novel is the bulk of human characters, their relationships and backgrounds, scheming and struggle to unlock the technological secrets of this star system.

The book is a slow burn, and it took me about a quarter of the book to realize I was hooked. After that there was still slow parts, but it made the story seem realistic and not forced, and the story built up towards the end climax beautifully.
Profile Image for Mark.
980 reviews63 followers
March 16, 2012
This is a fantastic story. Books like this are why people read science fiction. Sure, it's got aliens and spaceships and technology that you have to use your imagination to understand, but at the core of it is a series of characters who are undergoing struggles that are truly timeless. I love this stuff.

I probably never will get tired of a well-written story where people are struggling against a ruthless tyrant. This is represented well here by Tomas Nau, the Emergent Podmaster, in control of his army of enslaved intellectuals, running his totalitarian closed state in this cut-off Lord of the Flies environment. Pham, Ezr and all the rest: everybody is playing his or her own game against this force, and everyone thinks they are making a difference, and maybe they are.

Ah, but the real stars here are the Spiders. They inhabit a planet that orbits a sun that is called the OnOff star, because it's off for 200 years and then on for 35 years. What are the physics behind this? Who really cares? The point is that it happens. This means the Spiders have a unique culture that is based around this, although as we meet them we find they are undergoing some rapid change thanks to the seemingly insane brilliance of one Sherkaner Underhill. The merchants and the totalitarians are stranded alike, and they need the Spider civilization to develop enough to get spare parts to go home.

I felt like the best parts of the book were the Spider parts. Vinge does something really clever with how he writes the Spiders. Their alien-ness is introduced gradually. When you first meet Sherk he could almost be human. He is described as having won a car at a casino thanks to some kind of shady card counting. "How are these guys aliens?" you start to think, but the next time you meet the Spiders they are a little weirder, and weirder still. The emotions all remain human even as it becomes increasingly apparent that the physiology is not.

The book is long, but it's definitely worth it. The plot moves at a slow, steady burn, so it never seems to drag, or at least it didn't to me. We spend some time in characters' heads. We get to know them, and like them, or hate them. This is important for the story because nobody ever quite understands everything that's going on, though they all try to do so. Heavy with dramatic irony, then, where the reader knows a bit more than the characters, sees collisions building but can't do much about it.

Loved this from cover to cover. Heartily recommended to anyone who can get over the spaceships and the aliens to enjoy a good story.
Profile Image for Kostas.
303 reviews32 followers
May 26, 2019

Following the superlative A Fire Upon the Deep that showed his vision of a far future, reminiscing something from the magic of the Golden Age’s best and crafting a space saga of grand-scope, Vernor Vinge goes in the Hugo Award-winning A Deepness in the Sky, the second novel of the Zones of Thought series, thirty thousand years into the past, taking us in a story of Traders, slavers and aliens, but also of exploration and exploitation, conspiracy and treachery, and conflict and survival; in a captivating, epic first contact prequel.

In the eight thousand years of space travel, Humankind has steadily spread outward of the Earth’s solar system, exploring the unknown wonders of the galaxy, colonizing one planetary system after the other, and establishing the supremacy of its civilisations across the Human Space; yet now, with the Trilanders to have picked up emissions from the OnOff star: a bizarre, mysterious system with only a single planet that turns itself off for 215 years out of every 250, and has drawn over the millennia the interest of astrophysicists, two human expeditions, the Qeng Ho and the Emergents, are on the verge of first contact with an alien race, arriving to discover the treasures of their world and to learn its secrets – but Ezr Vihn, an Apprentice Trader and the main heir of the Vihn.23 Family, having left his royal life to become a member of the Qeng Ho and show his parents that their boy made good, has been attending along with Trixia Bonsol the banquet of the Emergents.

Gazing across the seated Qeng Ho among the Emergents, observing his people’s conversations with their hosts and admiring their newly-built habitat, Ezr will settle back in his seat, listening for anything that could give him an idea about their attitude.

Nevertheless, with the Emergents’ toasts of friendship to have divided the Trading Committee, worrying between the risk of their stay and the potential profit in their joint operations, and coming to an impasse, when their promises prove to be lies, and the very survival of the Qeng Ho depends solely on their willing cooperation, Ezr will find himself in a life he’d never have dreamed, putting him in a role among friends and enemies.

At the time of the Waning Sun, Sherkaner Underhill, a postgraduate student at Kingschool in Princeton, having abandoned everything behind to take his first trip to Lands Command and sell them on his schemes in of hope becoming an engineering officer, has been revelling his driving with his newly-acquired automobile.

But, with his trip down to Lands Command to have taken him through wondrous and strange places, seeing how the Dark affects their world and thinking about the means they’ll need to change it, when he reaches the end of his journey, and his schemes fall on the ears of the only person who could really hear them, Sherkaner will find himself in the years ahead in a post of great responsibility, holding in his hands the future of all of them.

Meanwhile, Hrunkner Unnerby, collaborating with the most fanciful person alive and observing the craziest ideas materialize, will see his world from a different perspective; Tomas Nau, playing the deadly politics of the Emergents and gambling big to win, will do everything he can for his absolute success; Pham Trinli, rejoining the Qeng Ho after a long time and working hard to maintain his cover persona, will begin to set up his own schemes; Qiwi, living half her childhood between the stars and growing up learning about survival in space, will fall victim of the political games; and Little Victory, born along with her siblings out-of-phase and spending her years in hiding, will set off on adventure that will mark her life forever.

However, with the years of continuous advancement to have passed before their eyes while they play their own games of deception and politics, seeing their technologies growing out of primitiveness and bringing their life’s works closer than ever to their completion, when the states of the Spiders – wanting through diplomacy to avoid the Great War between them – attempt to come to terms with each other, and the Emergents take advantage of this opportunity to put their long-awaited schemes in motion and seize power, Ezr and Pham, Nau and Qiwi, and Sherkaner, Hrunkner and Little Victory will be faced with the crunch of their whole lives, putting them in the midst of a great conflict – a conflict which, if they fail to carry out their operations and restore their cultures to their former glories, could cost them much more than of what they worked hard to gain in the first place.

With the first novel to have set the Zones’ main background, showing through his vision the consequences of their impact on intelligence and bringing to life a vast galaxy full of many and different races, Vernor Vinge takes us in A Deepness in the Sky deep into the Slow Zone, focusing this time on two human groups: the Qeng Ho, which – having maintained a continuous technological presence for thousands of years – has travelled from planetary civilisation to planetary civilisation, gathering the best of living things and of technologies, and creating the largest interstellar trading fleet across all Human Space; and the Emergents, who – having grew out of disaster – have followed their own authoritarian ways, seeking to transform each new conquest to their advantage, and using Focus – a technology that converts the brightest people into dedicated machines of thought – to give them a power that surpasses any machine and any human.

But also to the planet Arachna, where the Spiders – descendants of a nonhuman starfaring intelligence – have passed generation after generation building their civilisation under the transitions of the OnOff star, falling into hibernation in their deep sanctuaries (known as the deepnesses) during the Dark Time in order to survive the lower temperatures, and resurfacing two hundred years later with the New Sun to start all over again.

A second novel in which Vinge, coming with a much more compelling writing than before, showing a greater ease – and experience – in his plot- and character-development, and making his narration even more realistic and powerful, creates a long yet absorbing story of conflicting cultures, technological advancements, unexpected and brutal plot twists, and mind-stretching ideas.

A prequel which, although only has a loose connection to A Fire Upon the Deep, focusing all the action to the Slow Zone, where worlds remain in ignorance of the rest of the galaxy, plunges deep into Pham Nuwem’s and the Qeng Ho’s past, bringing to light their origins, the rise and fall of planetary civilisations, as well as the discovery of Spiderkind, and revealing through a large cast of characters and multiple points of view a Human Space full of optimistic dreams and flawed ideals, crafting masterfully an unmatched epic with real, human repercussions.

In the end, A Deepness in the Sky is a hefty but spectacular novel, with Vernor Vinge – coming with a much more compelling writing – crafting masterfully another epic story, revealing through their adventures a long-lost past, and a Human Space with all the dreams and flaws one can expect from Humankind.

*Ελληνική κριτική:

Profile Image for Palmyrah.
256 reviews57 followers
July 23, 2012
An interesting variation on a science fiction theme I am especially fond of, the first-contact story. In this case, the monstrous alien invaders are the humans, conspiring to foment nuclear war among a race of unsuspecting intelligent arachnoids. To make things more interesting (and give us some anthropomorphs to cheer for), the humans are also divided up into good guys and bad guys.

Of course, the above variation has already been explored in SF. Frederik Pohl's Jem springs to mind; indeed, Pohl seems to be a strong influence on Vinge, and I was reminded of the former many times while reading this book. Pohl is, however, by far the better writer.

Vinge, a professor of mathematics by day, doesn't seem to be able to write convincing characters. Out of a cast of dozens, he manages to make us care about just one: an old soldier named Hrunker Unnerby – who happens to be one of the arachnoids. The real humans are all cardboard.

Of course, cardboard characters are pretty much to be expected in hard SF. The virtues of the genre lie elsewhere, and its aficionados (rightly) don't give a toss for the traditional literary ones. But Vinge has problems that go beyond the usual. For one thing, he aims higher. However, he reveals an amateur's clumsiness in deploying his characters, clearly finding it hard to move them around and make them interact convincingly. Nearly all the scenes involving human interaction are cartoonish and unconvincing. This includes scenes featuring the aliens, who are presented to us by the author as human in all respects but the physical.

This, incidentally, is one of many places in the text where the reader's willing suspension of disbelief falters, for the aliens are utterly different from us in terms of their physical structure, sensory perceptions, instinctive tropisms and reproductive behaviour. Even given the excuse that we see them, for most of the book, through the mediating lens of human perception, they shouldn't be quite so like us. Surely these physical differences must make for mental ones as well? But Vernor Vinge appears to be immune to the fascinations of speculative xenopsychology, and we are left with creatures that look like giant spiders but act just like people.

Other aspects of the plot also beggar belief. The regularly interrupted social evolution of the arachnoids nevertheless proceeds incredibly fast – they go from early experiments with internal-combustion engines to intercontinental ballistic missiles within a single generation. The turning of the human Ezr Vinh, a critical plot element, is based on an impossible chain of extrapolations from an obscure hint dropped by another character. A starship explicitly not designed for operating within a planetary atmosphere, last seen falling at one hundred metres per second, wreathed in flames and starting to break up, somehow manages to land without killing its crew. Civilizations rise and fall within the timeframe of a mere thousand years, yet humans undertake trading voyages between the stars that last for centuries. The whole thing is confused and rather nonsensical.

The author is so uninvolved with his characters that he casually dumps the two most sympathetic ones for good in a scene that takes place offstage. Indeed, many vital scenes are pushed offstage. Among them is the action climax of the novel, the aforementioned starship crash. Perhaps it's just as well; the only big action scene in the book, which takes place inside the chief bad guy's artificial water-garden, is a clumsy, sodden mess. The chief villain's comeuppance is also unsatisfyingly quick and merciful, while that of his sadistic lieutenant takes place – again, and frustratingly – offstage. This is a scene we are dying to see through his eyes, but he's long gone by the time we hear what's happened to him. Equally incompetent are the handling of an early, mandatory scene in which the bad guys are revealed to be sadistic perverts, and various other scenes of violence, cruelty or complex action – frankly, the author is too squeamish to write them properly, and he shouldn't even have tried.

So, with all these complaints, why am I giving this book three stars? Well, it kept me reading. Some of the technical ideas were interesting, though nothing was actually new or even very freshly rendered. And first-contact stories are my favourite kind of hard SF story.

Yes, there were times when I grew bored with the endless backstory expositions, the cartoon characters, the long, long gaps between important scenes – Vinge captures the tedium of deep-space exile only too well – but for all that, I kept reading. Of course, I'm a genre slut – I always have round heels for SF – so for me it was a three-star book despite its decidedly two-star qualities.

I shall now go and re-read one of Iain M. Banks's Culture novels to remind myself that hard SF doesn't always have to be lousy literature.
Profile Image for Peter.
571 reviews19 followers
October 5, 2021
It's been thousands of years since humanity has spread to the stars. There is no galactic empire, the physics of star travel don't really allow for that, but there are hundreds of worlds, some of which have fallen into barbarism and recreated their civilization several times over. But rarely has there been something truly new... until now. Two of these distantly separated branches of humanity reunite at an astrological anomaly, chasing radio signals that are truly alien... one is the Qeng Ho, an interstellar trading culture. The other are the Emergents, a high-tech totalitarian government. The two naturally clash, but then find themselves having to work together to survive and secretly watch the alien culture develop. Because neither of them can go home without the help of the alien Spiders below, who are decades away from their own Spacefaring Age... if they can survive war among their own nations.

This book is technically a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep... however, there is only one character in common, and possibly hundreds of thousands of years separate the events, so it can be read independently. If you only plan to read one, it doesn't really matter which... but if you might read both, A Fire Upon The Deep is a better start, merely because A Deepness in the Sky definitively answers some things that are left mysteries in the other. I've read both several times, and this time around I'm reading them in chronological order, rather than publication order.

This is one of my favorite books. It's jam-packed with ideas, breaks my hearts at times, is at moments both inspiring and depressing, and is filled with plots. In this book you feel like you get something like 2 novels, and a bunch of extended short stories all in one package, but they all come together perfectly, and it explores enough SF concepts that could fill 5 or 6 books each focused on one idea. The book has one of the most chilling hi-tech tyrannies I've ever seen (all the more so because, at it's core, there's something extremely tempting), a well-thought-out alien race with an evolutionary history that suits its strange environment, and also has one of my favorite science fiction characters, the great Pham Nuwen.

It's not a perfect book by any means, though, despite my five-star rating. There are flaws... the villains are occasionally on the edge of too cartoony-evil. Some might feel the aliens are too "relatable" for a truly alien race (however, there is a deliberate purpose to this). I don't buy into some of the social theories. And it's heavy at times on tech and jargon: This is not a book to hand to somebody who's never read SF before, or has only read a little, unless they also happen to be very well-versed in science. If you're a big SF fan, you shouldn't have any trouble understanding what's going on, but it may still put you off a little (and the humans measuring all time in units like ksecs and Msecs can get frustrating even for me).

But I love it so much it deserves the score. Every time I start, it sweeps me up in the story and takes me on a ride like few others.
Profile Image for Jamie Collins.
1,421 reviews262 followers
August 9, 2015
This is a prequel of sorts to another of Vinge's Hugo Award-winning novels, A Fire Upon the Deep, although it can be read independently. They're both good books, but I liked this one better.

It's fascinating far-future hard science fiction with some unusual elements: humans have spread out into the galaxy but their technology does not include faster-than-light travel or anti-gravity. Human lifetimes have been extended to a few hundred years, but the interstellar travelers featured in this story use suspended animation to stretch those years across millennia. Isolated by vast distances, human civilizations rise and fall cyclically while only a very few intelligent alien races have been discovered. This book tells the story of one such discovery as two clashing cultures rush to investigate and exploit the denizens of a remote and very unusual solar system.

I admire Vinge's universe very much, and I really enjoyed this story. It has a slightly smaller scope than A Fire Upon the Deep which allows for more emotional investment in the fate of the characters. But I do find Vinge's writing a little frustrating. The narrative often feels obscure, as if entire sentences have been accidentally omitted. I think sometimes it's appropriate, to invoke a feeling of alienness, but most of the time I would prefer more clarity. Still, a very enjoyable book and I'll read more of Vinge's work.
Profile Image for Jeraviz.
900 reviews390 followers
August 6, 2019
Un abismo en el cielo es la segunda parte de la saga Zonas del Pensamiento pero está ambientado miles de años antes de los sucesos del primer libro.
La única conexión con la primera parte es el personaje de Pham Nuwen, cuya historia es lo mejor que he leído de Vernor Vinge. Si el libro entero fuese sobre él, sería 5 estrellas absolutamente.

A su vez, la historia de Pham Nuwen está enmarcada en una space opera muy entretenida, con conspiraciones, ciencia, y juegos de poder y política que llegan a las 4 estrellas perfectamente.
Si el libro fuese solamente sobre eso, las 5 estrellas le hubieran caído también.

Pero, ay amigo, Vernor Vinge vuelve a meterse hasta la coronilla en una trama que desarrolla una raza alienígena, con sus constructos sociales, culturales y científicos. Y a esta historia le pondría 2 estrellas.

Es una pena que le vuelva a pasar igual que en el primer libro porque las ideas y el universo que crea Vinge son alucinantes.
Profile Image for Luke Burrage.
Author 5 books642 followers
November 19, 2019
Some books aren't what you remember, and aren't worth revisiting. Unfortunately for such a huge book, this is both.

I remembered lots more spiders and far less humans. It's also way more baby-boomer focused than I want from my fiction at the moment, which is the most "november 2019" thing to say, but soooo true.

Full review on my podcast, SFBRP episode #412.

Profile Image for Gavin.
1,070 reviews312 followers
September 21, 2018
A beautiful portrait of pragmatism vs idealism, colonialism and collaboration, surveillance culture vs everything, the possibility of deep translation, the beauty and gaucheness of trade, and the ultimate fate of civilisations.
Programming went back to the beginning of time. It was a little like the midden out back of his father's castle… There were programs here written five thousand years ago, before Humankind ever left Earth. The wonder of it — the horror of it… down at the very bottom of it was a little program that ran a counter. Second by second, the Qeng Ho counted from the instant that a human had first set foot on Old Earth’s moon. But if you looked at it still more closely… the starting instant was actually about fifteen million seconds later, the 0-second of one of Humankind’s first computer operating systems…

“We should rewrite it all,” said Pham.

“It’s been done,” said Sura.

“It’s been tried,” corrected Bret…“You and a thousand friends would have to work for a century or so to reproduce it… And guess what—even if you did, by the time you finished, you’d have your own set of inconsistencies...”

Vinge's great skill is in drawing out sick tragic tension for hundreds of pages, driving the reader on to ever more complex injustices, until... The smooth-talking fascist antagonists are a bit too simple, a bit Harkonnen; their mind-raping slavery, their inversion of justice by lying perfectly, their flat-toned planning of atrocities:
"At which time, we'll feed them the story of our noble effort to limit the genocide." Ritser smiled, intrigued by the challenge. "I like it."

You are made to wait 500 pages for a comeuppance. The "Focused", the mindwiped slaves are extremely creepy; weaponised savants (see Ada Palmer's set-sets for a less straightforward treatment of human computers).

Pham Nuwen, the great programmer-statesman, is far more interesting here than in the first book. He stands out in a large cast of interesting characters, all laying down schemes and intrigues with at minimum 20 years until payoff (at maximum 2000 years). Not ordinary, but not unrealistic; there have been dozens like him, possessed of or by the force that drives Napoleon off his island, Washington over the river, Alexander everywhere. He is a psychopath:
The [armed fascists] might try to chase him around in here. That would be fun; Nau's goons would find just how dangerous their tunnels had become...

The evolutionary role of such people - both the fearless hero, Nuwen, and the bloodthirsty predator, Nau - is not handled explicitly, but Pham is held up as a paragon.

The arachnid aliens are much better than the hivehounds of the last book: Vinge and his translator characters' anthropomorphisations (or, rather, personalisations) are successful. Though maybe I'm just biased because the Spiders are shown going through their Information Revolution rather than their Pre-Renaissance period. It shows the deep connection between lack of economic growth, lack of intellectual growth and lack of social progress. The great scientist Sherkaner is also the one to challenge his society's sexual oppression. ("Either way, the cycles were shattered forever") The "counterlurk" is the Enlightenment. It's an exquisite portrait of the great promise and risk of a technological society; you get the end of hunger and disease, you get spaceflight, but you also get nuclear standoffs.

There are wonderful symmetries between the Spiders and humans: they each have odd, distended sleep cycles (the humans going into cryogenic suspension most of the time, the Spiders hibernating centuries until the sun reignites). There's also the Sura/Pham, Qiwi / Ezr, and Victory/Sherkaner pairings, the actual beauty of complementing another, of power couples with aims beyond their own power.

The title looks clumsy but isn't: it refers to a very large thought, that decentralising a system is the only way to make it last; that space is not only a cold and hostile place, it is also the way to break the terrible forces that might work against mere interplanetary civilisations:
Pham would get their localizers in return for decent medical science. Both sides would benefit enormously. Magnate Larson would live a few extra centuries. If he was lucky, the current cycle of his civilization would outlive him. But a thousand years from now, when Larson was dust, when his civilization had fallen as the planetbound inevitably did—a thousand years from now, Pham and the Qeng Ho would still be flying between the stars. And they would still have the Larson localizers...

"If you accept the trade I'm hoping for, you will live just as many years as I. But I am Qeng Ho. I sleep decades between the stars. You Customer civilizations are ephemera to us."

One unintentional detail: the "huds" that all the human characters depend are I think just Google Glass.

Stayed up late to finish it. Maybe 5/5, will re-read in a while and see.


How does it do as Serious science fiction?

Social development: all three societies depicted are very distinct and have believable economies, genderings, . The Qeng Ho - the empire without a capital, the force without an army - are a lovely depiction of the humanistic and progressive side of trade. The Emergents are maybe a little too simple, too feudal and dastardly.

Software development: Fantastic. Central to the plot (titanic cruft as feature), with a subtle twist on the horror of legacy systems: an entire multi-planet civilisation is shown collapsing because its software is too fucking crufty to live. (That might sound ridiculous, but I promise you I see this story in miniature everywhere at my work.) No one does it better.

Actual Science: Lots, with a breathless romp through all of C20th physics and engineering - though there's also a magic antigrav ore.

Profile Image for Andrew Leon.
Author 61 books44 followers
June 21, 2017
Wow, it's been a whole year since I reviewed A Fire Upon the Deep. If you remember back to that book, I said I was only going to read this one if it was better, and it was better, better enough that I wanted to know what happened even though I had some major issues with the book going in. And this one was slow, too, but not quite as slow as Fire. But let's just cut to it...

The first major issue with this book is that it's barely related to the first book in this "trilogy." Vaguely. Like, there's a character... Well, it's like going to a party somewhere and meeting someone who is your very distant relative through marriage. Or, maybe, two marriages. Like, you know, the divorced spouse of your fourth cousin twice removed. That's how related this book is to the first book. They're both set in the same party, um... universe, but there's really no connection other than that.

Which is probably part of why I liked it, because I thought the first book was, for lack of a better word, stupid.

Which is not to say that this book doesn't also have a strong dose of stupid, the main one being a star that turns itself on and off. Yeah, like it has a switch, except that it's on a timer. So for a couple of centuries, it's a faintly glowing dwarf somethingorother, then it will flare to life and burn bright for 50 years or so then go back out. And, somehow, there's life on the planet that orbits the star, highly evolved life, that has adapted to this pattern, something we're not even going to touch, because the problem is the star.

There is no explanation offered for this. It's just some mystery of the universe. Or, maybe, it's an alien artifact. Whatever. We don't care enough to try and find out, and the author doesn't offer any kind of rational explanation for it. Because, you know, physics, and physics doesn't allow for something like this, so the author didn't bother other than that it enabled the plot he wanted.

Look, if you're going to make up some piece of stupid shit like this for your story, you need to at least offer some kind of explanation as to why it exists. Well, unless you're Lewis Carroll and your whole book is full of the absurd.

The next major issue I had was the aliens. There's a problem with aliens in sci-fi and that's that almost always the aliens turn out to be just humans in costumes. Metaphorically speaking. The aliens act like humans, think like humans, pretty much are humans except for the fact that they look some other way, though, frequently, they're also based on bipedal symmetry, just like humans. I have a philosophical difference with this approach to aliens. BECAUSE THEY'RE ALIENS! If they're aliens make them act... I don't know... like... ALIEN! In some way! Make them different other than just cosmetically. Vinge completely fails to do this with his spider creatures.

Look, I get it: Aliens are hard, but at least make the effort. Rather than make the effort, though, Vinge makes excuses and tries to pass it off as the humans (in the book) anthropomorphizing the spiders as they learn about them, and that does work for certain sections of the book BUT there are clearly sections where the humans have no relation to what's going on with the spiders, and the spiders still act just like humans. He barely ever mentions the fact that they extra limbs. It's like they're just hanging around useless... like they would be if it was a human in a spider costume.

For all of that, though, the story was interesting enough to keep me involved, which says a lot about it considering the fact that I came into it with the idea that it needed to do something right away to get me to keep reading it. Mostly, that had to do with the characters, which were much better than the characters in the previous book. I especially liked Sherkaner Underhill; he's probably the reason I kept going at the beginning.

Actually, there are a lot of good and likable characters in this, just don't get too attached to most of them. Vinge is a bit like George RR Martin in that respect. They are all the characters who must die to prove the situation is serious. Or they all could be, and you never know which ones will make it through.

The book is also incredibly topical from a political standpoint, and that part I found very interesting. The political conflicts among the spiders, with their truth-denying conservative faction undermining the more progressive scientific community is somewhat engrossing. It wouldn't have surprised me if dogmatic religious spider had started saying, "Climate change is a hoax." That narrative is definitely worth a look considering the current status of American politics.

But is the book, as a whole, worth reading? I don't know. I would just skip the first one for sure if you think you might be interested in this one. Since this one serves as some kind of "prequel" for the other one in that it happens chronologically first, it might even be better to read this one first. But, really, unless you're just into hard sci-fi, I would give these books a pass. I'm not going on to the third book (but, then, it's the actual sequel to the first book, and I didn't like any of those characters, and I don't care what happens "next").

Last note:
Having said all of that, I do have some ideas about how this book relates to the first book in a more substantial way, but there's no way to verify any of it; it's all speculation on my part and, although it would be neat, it also doesn't matter, not to the story. Maybe if there's ever a fourth book and Vinge pulls all of these threads he's left lying around together, maybe, I'll read that one; otherwise, I don't plan on reading anymore Vinge.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,135 reviews1,017 followers
August 16, 2017
This is an Michener-sized epic tale of conflict, cooperation and betrayal between two human civilizations racing to make first contact with an alien race.

To a very small extent, this is a prequel to Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep — it is set much earlier in the same universe, and features the character Pham Nuwen (who plays a somewhat unusual role in Fire).

While Fire involves the interactions between many races, Deepness takes place before humans had met any other technological civilizations. It is the story of a race to that first meeting, but the books have other similarities. In both books, the new alien race is relatively primitive in technological terms, and in both books Vinge describes how a radically non-human society and non-human physical type explores the same science and technology that we recognize from our own history. Also, both stories involve the convergence of two conflicts: one on the aliens' planet (although, of course, they aren't the aliens there) driven largely by the sociological interplay between social mores, governmental forms and quickly changing technology, while the other follows a simpler conflict in space. The two tracks accelerate towards a breathless convergence when contact is made, at which points all subplots and tensions resolve within a few dozen pages.

Wikipedia's definition for Space Opera would seem to preclude this from being included (due to the lack of a central romance), but if Star Wars "closely follows many traditional space opera conventions", then so does Vinge's Fire and Deepness:
Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing powerful (and sometimes quite fanciful) technologies and abilities. Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale.
Vinge's books are more complex than Star Wars, but otherwise similar in these respects. The increased complexity is understandable — this book is in the 97th percentile for word count, so we're talking very long for a science fiction book. But don't worry — it's at a comfortable 6.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Index, so while it might take twice as long, we're not dealing with a Dune or a Hyperion here.

Strongly recommended for moderately advanced science fiction fans.

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