A fire upon the deep (Vernor Vinge, 1992)


A fire upon the deep, by Vernor Vinge (1992).

Score: Good, entertaining read.

In this space opera, the Universe is divided in different zones, where different laws of physics apply. The Earth would be in the Slow Zone, where FTL and AI are impossible. Most of the plot takes place in the Beyond, where these and more are possible. The story starts when a human settlement awakens a malign AI, the Blight, that tries to kill them. Only two adult researchers with their kids and the rest of the children in the settlement, put in cryosleep right before the accident, manage to escape and crash in a planet just into the Slow Zone. The planet is inhabited by the Tines, an intelligent species of canids where multiple bodies constitute one individual. Meanwhile, in the Beyond, the news of the Blight arrive and Ravna, a human librarian, tries to help out the stranded humans at the Tines planet.

I enjoyed this even though it’s not as fleshed out in some parts as other space operas such as Hyperion and Mass Effect, but it was entertaining. In the first part, the chapters with the Tines were quite compelling and the descriptions were appropriate to picture what that world was like, but the part with Ravna the librarian, the vegetables on wheels and the douche from space… Felt sketchy. He could have described with more detail the super cool technological city and it would have felt more immersive.

The second part gets better but the chapters with the Tines are still the best. I have mixed feelings about the Skroderiders: they’re halfway adorable and ridiculous but most of the time the scales tip to the side of ridiculous. And it’s a shame because I find the Tines super cool and well developed, and then you’ve got this sort of ficuses on a cart that behave like Mr. Magooish space traders and keep forgetting that they just shut the hatch because their creator forgot to give them short-term memories. The last part was okay, I guess. The part with the spaceship race I found a bit confusing and uninteresting, and the end was sort of what everyone expected: ***SPOILERS, or not really, if you’ve read more than ten books in your life*** Steel is taken out of the plot with a swift punch in the nose, Woodcarver and Flenser make peace, the Big Bad is stopped in heroic sacrifice of the douche from space, who is reassured that his memories were real before kicking the bucket, and Ravna is left to repopulate with a bunch of kids once they remove them from their popsicle state. Nothing you weren’t expecting, really.

Entertaining read and not much more, would be good for a summer afternoon, if it weren’t so long.

I had the version with annotations but didn’t read them because I didn’t want them to spoil the plot for me, though I guess they would be interesting for a re-reading.

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