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Quando la luce tornera by Vernor Vinge

Quando la luce tornera (original 1999; edition 1999)

by Vernor Vinge

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2,888452,002 (4.26)61
Title:Quando la luce tornera
Authors:Vernor Vinge
Info:Milano, Nord, 1999
Collections:FSBook, Your library

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A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (1999)

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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
A great book. To begin with, it has a fantastic plot in which two different human cultures, the largely sympathic traders Qeng Ho and the at least governmentwise unsympathetic authoritarian Emergents, are on their way to a planet with newly discovered alien life. The inhabitants of the planet have the forms of spiders, but are in other aspects very much like humans on Earth in the 20th century, when atomic energy, space flight, video imaging and other technologies were on the verge of being invented. This provides the ground for topics like governance, research and the benefits of public knowledge, drugs, slavery, free markets, artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction, all amidst a curious mix of new technology like localizers, focus, and mindscrub and the more known ones emerging among the spiders. Recommended. ( )
  ohernaes | Jun 4, 2014 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 2000. Spoilers follow.

The only possible aesthetic objection, on a science fictional level, to this novel is that its aliens, the so-called Spiders, are not all that alien apart from hibernating in the centuries when their sun powers down, seeing across a spectrum wider than human eyes do (which complicates and inhibits the development of their version of tv), being seemingly smarter than humans, and, of course, their appearance. While Vinge creates some captivating alien characters in Sherkaner Underhill, Victory Smith, their children and Hrunkner, they are not as strange as the Tines in his A Fire Upon the Deep to which this is a prequel (his “The Blabber” also belongs to the series).

In every other respect – speculation and literary craftsmanship – this novel succeeds very well. Vinge introduced the idea of the Singularity in his Marooned in Realtime, and it was taken up by other sf writers as well as futurists. The notion here that seems to be new is, perhaps, not as startling but perhaps more probable: the idea of a Programmer-Archaeologist. Humans, particularly the Qeng Ho, use computer systems, programs, and languages that have accreted for centuries. Some programs date back to before humanity’s venturing into space. Programmer-Archaeologists are just an extreme example of some of the tasks of modern programmers who try to determine exactly what a program can do, not do, and possibilities for modifications.

This is quite a political novel, specifically a novel with libertarian/tragic conservatism themes. This is not surprising from Vinge. His “Conquest By Default” examined anarchism, and his The Peace War examined an authoritarian state created by intellectuals (specifically scientists) who think they are fit and capable to rule the world. Here the Qeng Ho represent a civilizing (particularly after Pham Nuwen starts the Qeng Ho interstellar net broadcasts which preserve technical knowledge so planetary societies can rebuild themselves after their inevitable collapses – collapses usually prefigured by authoritarian and totalitarian states) force, civilizing and helping humanity via trade. The Accord society of the Spiders is also rather libertarian – a society which can vote to temporarily grant their constitutional monarch emergency powers. The villains of the story are the Emergents, a group that derives their name not from some notion of future transcendence or evolution but to that old incubator of tyrants, the Emergency. Russian history, as in A Fire Upon the Deep, seems to have provided some inspiration here. (That novel, the sequel to this one, featured a Tine called Steel who in both name and behavior is reminiscent of the Man of Steel, Stalin.) Thomas Nau, in his acceptance of Qeng Ho free market activity and private trade (as opposed to community property) is a bit like Gorbachev – both believe in the validity and workability of the authoritative system they’ve inherited and think a few minor reforms will make the system more efficient without threatening their authority.

The Emergents have a powerful tool in Focus, a guided infection by a bacteria that boosts production of specified neurotransmitters in specific regions of the brain. Emergent propaganda (like the Soviet state, the Emergents rule by a combination of terror and propaganda) argues that this is just an institutionalization of the often obsessive individual behavior that advances art and science. Here the obsession is done for the good of the community and to a specified end. Vinge explores how Focus would work in practice – Focused ignore personal hygiene, develop idiosyncratic jargon with Focused working in the same area, and the drifting of attention to odd, obsessive ends. Focus brings human flexibility to largely automated research and administrative systems.

Besides libertarian notions, the novel evokes a sense of tragedy important to modern conservatism. Vinge expresses a technological version of the concept of inherent limits in man’s existence: the Era of Failed Dreams (specifically general nanotechnology assembler, artificial intelligence, and immortality) that centuries of human science and technology have not achieved. (Of course, Vinge has it both ways here. Arachnea, the Spider World, has mysterious origins and remnants of alien anti-gravity technology. This sets the stage for A Fire Upon the Deep and “The Blabber” which feature some of these technologies, made possible by Man’s escape from the Slow Zone which renders them impossible. Presumably Pham Nuwen ventures beyond the Slow Zone since he’s a character in A Fire Upon the Deep. More important to the concept of inherent limits is the changes in the political dreams of Pham Nuwen. He dreams of breaking the wheel of planetary civilizations (needed by spacefaring cultures) rising and falling. Even Earth has been repopulated at least twice. Old rescuer/tutor/partner Sura says his dream of sustaining planetary civilizations, protecting them from collapse via trade, intervention, and broadcasts of Qeng Ho library material is unworkable and she sabotages it. Pham Nuwen, a disguised member of the expedition to the on/off star, thinks he can use Focus to build his stellar empire that will preserve civilization. He may well be right, but he ultimately swears off its use and is unwilling to condemn a few to a slavery of mind control in the hopes of saving millions.

Vinge writes a gripping story. Everybody is smart so obvious plots and ploys aren’t enough, plans are seldom secure or unanticipated (except for the big revelation that Sherkaner Underhill has suborned the Focused translators), the implications of ideas are seen by all. His characters are all interesting; the aliens are intriguing as are Ezr Vinh, Anne Reynolt (a rare Focused individual who can deal with people and manage fellow Focused, she turns out to have a surprising history as a tough opponent of the Emergents before Focused). It is her plight that causes Pham Nuwen, about to kill her, to swear off the use of Focus. Qiwi Lin Lisolet reminds Pham Nuwen of himself as a youngster. At first, the novel seemed to be about Ezr Vinh and his love for Trixia Bonsol – and his history is important.

But the novel really centers on Pham Nuwen, his life, and his changing vision. He is the most interesting character by far – in no small part because he combines two of my favorite character types: the man who pretends to be a fool but is far from it and the double agent. He also represents another variation on some previous Vinge character types. Like Tatja Grimm from Vinge’s “The Barbarian Princess” and Grimm’s World, he comes from a primitive, barbaric environment and, through curiosity and prodigious intellect, he builds a technologically sophisticated empire. His treachery against his Emergent captors also reminded me of the vengeful dwarf of Vinge’s “The Whirligig of Time”. Vinge skillfully unveils the details of Pham Nuwen’s life slowly, changing our views of him. At first, we see an old, bitter man in hiding on a planet and found by a centuries’ old covert search. We do not know he’s Pham Nuwen. When the Emergents betray the expedition, we know he is a clever armsmaster skeptical of the Emergents and who escapes their ambush to almost defeat them before entering their captivity. They do not know he fought them. We don’t know he’s Pham Nuwen. We only know Pham Nuwen as a legendary Qeng Ho, indeed, as their founder. Thomas Nau worships him as an empire builder he hopes to emulate and surpass. Eventually, Pham Trinli, boastful, slightly incompetent armsmaster, is revealed to us and, later, to Ezr Vinh, as the legendary Pham Nuwen, once thought dead but very much alive. We learn of his early lifeas he was sold into slavery at a young age, how a starship captain named Sura took pity on him, how he soaked up the high tech knowledge of the Qeng Ho and became Sura’s lover and how the two invented the trading culture of the Qeng Ho. But, whereas Sura sees only improved trade, Pham Nuwen thinks he can build an empire in space, break the wheel of planetary civilizations’ rise and fall. Sura is unwilling to devote the resources to what she views as an impractical goal and tricks Nuwen. He sees only stark betrayal though she allows him to save face and take an exploratory fleet of ships. Nuwen not only works for years undercover (eventually with Ezr Vinh, possibly a descendent of his – cryonic sleep means lives lived across centuries) to defeat the Emergent. But we learn that Pham Nuwen and Thomas Nau are alike in wanting to build an empire though the former’s goals are more virtuous since he wants to end the slavery and death and misery when planetary civilizations decay). Ezr Vinh is disturbed to learn that Pham Nuwen is willing to use the abhorrent tool of Focus, to which Ezr loses his love Trixia for good, to retrieve his dream. Eventually, though, he bows to Vinh’s stubborn morality.

Vinge ends the novel with several open threads for farther stories though I doubt we’ll get them given Vinge’s low level of production and that Pham Nuwen’s story is partly taken up again in A Fire Upon the Deep. Specifically, here we have Reynolt and Nuwen’s upcoming war against the Emergent civilization and the mysteries of Aracha’s existence and fossil technologies. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Nov 16, 2013 |
Most of this story didn't grab me -- it's well written, but this long after reading it I remember almost nothing about the plot and very few of the details....

...except the aliens. The spider aliens are brilliant. Vinge knows how to write non-human characters that are different yet comprehensible. I'd have been happy to read a whole book of just the spiders, with maybe the brief view of them from human eyes so we can see how alien they really are. ( )
  castiron | Sep 26, 2013 |
Wonderful! A real page turner. No blurb would to it full credit, suffice it to say that it features everything you can hope for in a space opera ( )
  IAmAndyPieters | Aug 22, 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. ( )
3 vote LisaMaria_C | Aug 18, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vernor Vingeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eggleton, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tervaharju, HannuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallejo, BorisCover Artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Poul Anderson,

In learning to write science fiction, I have had many great models, but Poul Anderson's work has meant more to me than any other. Beyond that, Poul has provided me and the world with an enormous treasure of wonderful, entertaining stories - and he continues to do so.

 On a personal note, I will always be grateful to Poul and Karen Anderson for the hospitality that they showed a certain young science fiction writer back in the 1960s.

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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.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812536355, Mass Market Paperback)

This hefty novel returns to the universe of Vernor Vinge's 1993 Hugo winner A Fire Upon the Deep--but 30,000 years earlier. The story has the same sense of epic vastness despite happening mostly in one isolated solar system. Here there's a world of intelligent spider creatures who traditionally hibernate through the "Deepest Darkness" of their strange variable sun's long "off" periods, when even the atmosphere freezes. Now, science offers them an alternative... Meanwhile, attracted by spider radio transmissions, two human starfleets come exploring--merchants hoping for customers and tyrants who want slaves. Their inevitable clash leaves both fleets crippled, with the power in the wrong hands, which leads to a long wait in space until the spiders develop exploitable technology. Over the years Vinge builds palpable tension through multiple storylines and characters. In the sky, hopes of rebellion against tyranny continue despite soothing lies, brutal repression, and a mental bondage that can convert people into literal tools. Down below, the engagingly sympathetic spiders have their own problems. In flashback, we see the grandiose ideals and ultimate betrayal of the merchant culture's founder, now among the human contingent and pretending to be a senile buffoon while plotting, plotting... Major revelations, ironies, and payoffs follow. A powerful story in the grandest SF tradition. --David Langford, Amazon.co.uk

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:32 -0400)

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On the world of Arachna, the Qeng Ho battle the Emergents, and only Pham Numen has a chance to foil the horrendous Emergents plan.

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