Book Review: A Deepness in the Sky

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (1999, Science Fiction, 774 pages)

Deepness in the Sky is set among one of the cultures that provided backstory in Fire Upon the Deep, the Qeng Ho space-faring traders.  The story revolves around a fleet of Qeng Ho vessels journeying to a remote planetary system known as the On/Off Star (because the sun burns out and relights on a regular cycle).  They plan to make contact and trade with the planet’s occupants, a race of intelligent spiders, but their plans are disrupted by the arrival of another human culture, the Emergents.  Conflict ensues.  The story explores the cultural differences between all three groups, focusing especially on technology, trade, and mind control.  It’s creative and compelling.

I read this book because it’s a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, one of my favorite books of all time.  Perhaps going in with my expectations so high, it was inevitable I’d be slightly disappointed.  I certainly liked and enjoyed this book, but I didn’t love it.  While I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys science fiction and space opera, I wouldn’t necessarily say OMG YOU MUST BUY IT NOW!!

The main problem I had with this tale was the way it was told.  Rather than the action unfolding in uninterrupted “real time” it occurs stutter-stop over many years.  Thanks to the technology of coldsleep, the characters in Vinge’s world can live hundreds of years by periodically interrupting their normal lifespan.  While cool (no pun intended), coldsleep also stalls the action and allows a lot of character interaction and dynamics to occur offstage.  For me, this stole some of the urgency and interest from the narrative.  Also, as compared to the Tines culture in A Fire Upon the Deep, the spiders of Deepness just didn’t interest me as much – they weren’t as inventively alien.

Still, Deepness in the Sky is an intricately plotted and well-told tale, and I would unreservedly recommend it to science fiction fans.

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