Book Review: A Fire Upon the Deep

I’m hitting the road again; this time I’m headed to Vegas (for a writers retreat) and then Phoenix (for a family getaway).  I’ll try to be good about posting while I’m gone, but no promises!  In the meantime, here’s a book review of A Fire Upon the Deep.

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge (534 pages, Science Fiction)

This book was the one that made me want to write science fiction and fantasy.  Round about 2002, I was on a 6-month excavation project in Honduras and I found a battered copy of Fire Upon the Deep stuffed into the project book shelf.  I picked it up, and within minutes was totally engrossed.  Fast forward to 2011, when I spotted a copy on a markdown shelf at Borders (poor, sad, dying Borders) and grabbed it for a re-read.  Man had I forgotten how good it is.  There is much genius in this book – genius in plot, structure, and story, and genius in world-building, too.

On the surface, the coolest thing about Fire Upon the Deep are the Tines, the group-mind species Vinge creates to inhabit a wild, ferocious back-water planet at the Bottom of the Beyond.  They’re like dogs, but “individuals” are created by combining several members into a pack.  Each member performs different functions or brings different personality traits or types of intelligence to the whole, and they think and operate as one.  Though the Tines are truly alien, they are also deeply familiar to us humans in terms of their hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.  Into this world come two children fleeing an interstellar terror set on destroying the entire galaxy (called The Blight).

The deeper genius of the book is how it structurally juxtaposes the plight of these kids as they attempt to survive on the Tines world with the malicious plans of the Blight.  A third plot line involves a group of humans – one of whom may actually be a puppet for a god-like intelligence – and Skroderiders (another fabulously ingenious alien species Vinge dreamed up) as they attempt to rescue the marooned children.

The pace is brisk, yet Vinge still manages to find a way to world-build and exposit without weighing the story down.  As he switches between story lines (and eventually brings them all together), the reader is treated to the full scope of this incredible universe – from the great powers that shape interstellar events all the way down to the tiny individuals caught up in those events.  Honestly, it’s completely masterful.

If you haven’t read this classic, do it now.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: A Fire Upon the Deep

  1. Catana

    The first thing of his that I ever read, and still among my favorites, is True Names. The full name of the very old edition I have is True Names and Other Dangers. It’s a novella and short stories. I don’t know if that’s how the current edition is set up. I’d also recommend Rainbow’s End. I haven’t read a whole lot of his books, really, but what I have read, I’ve really liked. Across Realtime, two connected novels, is considered a classic by now.

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