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A Fire upon the Deep (1992)

by Vernor Vinge

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Zones of Thought (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,8051271,472 (4.1)3 / 213
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence. Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.… (more)
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English (120)  Italian (2)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  Danish (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (126)
Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
Didn't do it for me. Sure, it's a classic, and all the ingredients are there, but I kept putting it down - which wouldn't even be a fault, if the cover didn't praise how "riveting" the book is.

The Zones of Thought are a good idea - or were a good idea, until they became the means for a deus-ex-machina ending. The race of dog-creatures was interesting, but hindered by rather shallow characterization. The novel reads like it is written for children: the main characters are children, or child-like, with supporting adult characters (i.e., those with actual jobs and responsibilities, who aren't just wandering around in a state of wonder) distant and mysterious. If it wasn't for the occasional adult situation thrown in, I'd think this was a book for kids.

It must be said that this book has a cult following of people who believe it has predicted AI or the internet, or some other technological fact of modern life. This must be taken with a grain of salt; these are often the same people who believe the dystopian futures of Terminator or The Matrix are actually plausible, who breathlessly talk about "the Singularity", and who can't spot the obvious flaw in Roko's Basilisk thought experiment. In regards to the claims that this book predicted the internet or social media, what is described and depicted herein is Usenet, which the author no doubt was active on at the time of writing (many sci-fi authers were, back in the early 90s). In regards to AI, it's unclear that is what the Powers actually are - their origin and composition is deliberately left vague, and they could very well be hive-minds or intelligences who have left behind (Transcended, as it were) their corporeal forms.

All in all, a lot of promise, and some good ideas, in a good tale told poorly. Many was the time I set the book aside with the lament, "ah, what Iain Banks could have done with this!" ( )
  mkfs | Aug 28, 2022 |
A Fire upon the Deep was an excellent read. My favorite aspect was the way the Vinge presented the various alien species. Many authors fall into the trap of making their aliens psychologically human or incomprehensible others. A Fire upon the Deep had alien species who were were distinctly non-human yet made for interesting and compelling characters. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
DNF. I just lost interest about 140 pages in. The world building is good but I was expecting a plot and really didn't get one. I gave up. I don't think this book is bad but rather not for me.
  pacbox | Jul 9, 2022 |
review of
Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - August 15-16, 2019

I've only read & reviewed one other Vinge bk, The Peace War (see my review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/19586411 ), wch I enjoyed. I must not've liked it that much, tho, b/c I didn't read this 2nd one until 11 yrs later. The plot begins:

"But the local net at the High Lab had transcended—almost without the humans realizing."

[..]

"It had been six months since resupply. A safety precaution early suggested by the archive, a ruse to enable the Trap. Flitting, flitting. We are wildlife that must not be noticed by the overness, by the Power that soon will be. On some nodes they shrank to smallness and almost remembered humanity, became echoes. . . ." - p 2

"The newborn looked across the stars, planning. This time things will be different." - p 7

The scale is magnificent, the atmosphere hard to get a human handle on.

"Peregrine moved up another thirty yards, keeping a lookout in all directions. He could see the straits now, gleaming rough silver in the afternoon sunlight. Behind him, the north side of the valley was lost in shadow. He sent one member ahead, skittering between the hummocks to look down on the plain where the star had landed." - p 21

What the reader sometimes experiences is humans described by non-humans.

"There were four legs per member, but it walked on its rear legs only. What a clown! Yet . . . it used its front paws for holding things. Not once did he see it use a mouth; he doubted if the flat jaws could get a good hold, anyway. Those forepaws were wonderfully agile. A single member could easily use tools." - p 28

Humans are, well, a minority — not necessarily a popular minority.

"["]We're at the limits of information management with this expansion. Egravan and Derche—" those were Ravna's boss and boss's boss "—are quite happy with your progress. You came well educated, and learned fast. I think there's a place for humans in the Organization."" - p 57

The Organization being a type of desert popular w/ many types of non-humans.

""Then you know that an archive is a fundamentally vaster thing than the database on a conventional local net. For practical purposes, the big ones can't even be duplicated. The major archives go back millions of years, have been maintained by hundreds of different races—most now extinct or Transcended into Powers. Even the archive at Relay is a jumble, so huge that indexing systems are laid on top of indexing systems." - p 82

I'll never forget when the being that looked like Swiss Cheese was teleporting the aRCHIVE I manage to me sd to me just before it had its holes filled & it melted: "They'll never suspect a desert ingredient!"

& just when its surface was brown & bubbling an unexpected communication came w/ a pop:

""There is one other thing, my lord. Jefri thinks it may be possible to use the ship's ultrawave to call for help from others like his parents."" - - p 146

""Oh, that's okay. He meant a special call. Jefri says the ship has been signalling . . . all by itself . . . ever since it landed."" - p 147

Oh, the parents just set the microwave to infinity before they got cooked themselves. Well, if you believe that you'll believe the next one too.

"They had picked up the refugee ship's "I-am-here," and then—ninety days later—a message from a human survivor, Jefri Olnsdot. Barely forty messages had been exchanged, but enough to learn about the Tines and Mr. Steel and the evil Woodcarvers." - p 169

Ah ha! But had they subjected those messages to the Turnovers Test? Maybe the Woodcarvers were really a Waffle Iron!

"And some messages were patent nonsense. One thing about the Net: the multiple, automatic translations often disguised the fundamental alienness of participants. Behind the chatty, colloquial postings, there were faraway realms, so misted by distance and difference that communication was impossible—even though it might take a while to realize that fact." - p 226

Eventually humans get blamed for everything & things start to get hot for them.

"Don't be fooled by humans telling you about themselves! In fact, we have no way of testing the creatures that dwell in Straumli Realm; their protector will see to that.

"Death to vermin." - p 249

Eventually, there's a character who starts seeing thru the lies & the reader gets to release a huge sigh of gas.

""No . . . no, it's not that. I think this 'Mister Steel' is playing games with our heads. All we have is a byte stream from 'Jefri.' What do we really know about what's going on?"" - p 302

It's somewhat like your situation vis à vis this reviewer. I might be some sort of avatar for a non-human entity of dubious motives. How do you know? What cd be my motive for misleading you about this bk? Maybe you'll buy the edition of it that looks just like a paperback but is really a pleasure-creature from Gas Cloud X. The next thing you know, some gas bags are threatening you w/ indigestion.

""We sent them a description of our" digestive needs "hours ago. Why should it take so long for a simple yes or no?"

""Because they're haggling," said Pham, his grin broadening. "'Honest' Saint Rihndell here—" he waved at the scrimshawed local, "—wants to convince us just how hard the job is. . . . Lord, I wish I was out there."" - p 316

There's only one way out.

"["]I know how these mantises think. If you can kill the child, especially before their eyes, it will break their spirit—just as puppies can be broken by the right terrors."" - p 554

Sheesh. All I wanted was some fucking desert. Now, if only I can get out of this novel w/o paying.

"The sunlight was fading. He could see black dots on the surface. Sunspots. He had seen them often enough with Scriber's telescopes. But that had been through heavy filters. Something stood between him and the sun, something that sucked away its light and warmth." - p 580

"Pham answered. "That's temporary. Something has to power this maneuver."" - p 581

Wham, bam, Thank you, Pham.

"They sat for a time, human looking out to see, Rider looking he wasn't sure quite where, and pack looking in most all directions. . . . There was peace here, even with (or because of?) the booming surf and the haze of spray. He felt his hearts slowing, and just lazed in the sunlight." - p 599

Oh, don't mind me, I'm just waiting for the bus. ( )
  tENTATIVELY | Apr 3, 2022 |
Rambling. Hard to care about any of the characters. SF for people who want to argue about relativity. ( )
  wunder | Feb 3, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
Mr. Vinge writes what might be called thoughtful space opera. His setting is nothing less than the galaxy we call the Milky Way. I don't mean that he simply lets loose a few spaceships and has them chase one another among the stars to act out another old-fashioned shoot-'em-up plot. The human and nonhuman characters of "A Fire Upon the Deep" live in a complex galactic society that Mr. Vinge has worked out in admirable if economical detail, and the scope of his story is such that it requires just a background.
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vernor Vingeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Frenkel, JamesEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, ElissaCartographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tervaharju, HannuTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallejo, BorisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my father, Clarence L. Vinge, with love.
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How to explain? How to describe? Even the omniscient viewpoint quails.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence. Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

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Book description
A Fire Upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale.

Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

A Fire Upon The Deep is the winner of the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Haiku summary
Galaxy's at risk.
And you thought SkyNet was bad.
Kill all the AIs.
(Carnophile)
Evil shows its face.
God-in-man is here to help.
Let's hope this thing works.
(milotooberry)
Race to the bottom.
Crashed ship holds key to rescue.
Will we make it there?
(milotooberry)

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