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A Fire Upon The Deep

A book by Vernor Vinge

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A Fire Upon the Deep Review

  • May 13, 2011
So I finished A Fire Upon the Deep, and I have to say it was...interesting. Vernor Vinge, the author, has done a fantastic job writing this piece of fiction and has built an interesting world for his characters to explore.

The story takes place far in the future, where many worlds and civilizations have risen and fallen, and Earth is a distant memory. The universe is split into zones, some where technology works well, and some where they do not work at all. Transcendental Powers, or "Old Ones" populate the universe as all knowing gods. In the meantime humans and other aliens crisscross the universe, going about their daily lives.

In the human realm Straumli, scientists unearth a terrible and ancient evil, The Blight. While releasing the Blight they also unearth the means in which destroy it. While trying to ferry this information out of Straumli the Blight attacks but one of the ships escapes and crashes on a forgotten world populated by Tines, or packs of dogs that can't think without the pack around them.

The ship is swallowed up in an ancient war between the Tines and most of the humans are killed except for a small boy, Jefri, and his older sister, Johanna. Both are captured by the Tines and used to develop technology for their respective side in the war.

In the meantime, the distress beacon from this ship is picked up by another human, Ravna, on the mass communication hub on the planet Relay. She, with the help of one of the "Old Ones" decides to seek out Jefri and Johanna in an effort to stop the Blight.

The Blight recognizes this danger to itself, and tries everything in it's power to stop Ravna, setting up the great adventure of the story.

Vinge creates a very detailed world in Fire Upon the Deep, and populates it with some incredibly diverse characters. The humans we can relate to, but there are the "Old Ones," the Tines, giant plants that ride motorized scooters called Skoderiders, butterfly people, and of course the Blight.

Vinge gives these characters and races their own unique personality, and it is evident he wanted to make their uniqueness highly believable. He succeeds in this task and you can't help but root for Jefri and Ravna, love the Skoderiders, and hate the Tines.

At the same time, the world seems disjointed from our reality. It's just too strange for it to work for me. I've said before that I felt that the key to good SciFi is grounding it in some kind of reality to be able to remain accessible to the reader.

Vinge also paces the book well, switching between the main storylines at the right intervals to keep the reader engaged. This, however, is where the book runs into trouble.

The story of Ravna trying to find a way to stop the Blight is incredibly good, the story of Jefri and Johanna and the Tines is frustrating to say the least. I could not wait to get through those parts and to the great space chases against the Blight. It became a bit of a slog sometimes in these parts.

The problem comes from the fact that Ravna's story is a great space opera, and the Tines' story is a medieval drama. They work well as independent stories, but at times there is too much trouble made in forcing them together.

In the end, A Fire Upon the Deep fully embodies these contradictions. While it is a great adventure story with a deep and unique setting, it suffers under these same things as well. I found the book to be good, but incredibly flawed at its core. I would recommend it to those who are truly interested in the Space Opera genre.

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May 14, 2011
Great review! I didn't regard it as quite that bad but I think the problem is that the term "science fiction" has become to generalized. Or we don't make sufficiently refined distinctions in the types and evaluate them separately.

Fire Upon the Deep makes no sense in terms of some of what we know about physics. Why does FTL work some places and nort others? But plenty of so called "science fiction fans" do not care about things like that. FUtD was reasonably entertaining and the medieval portion was even somewhat more interesting than the space opera portion. But I think we should be told when a sci-fi story is SCIENTIFICALLY WEAK before we have to buy it and read it. But we have to go by reviews of various sci-fi fan boys, many of whom do not know or really care about science. Like people who LOVE Star Wars movies.

I would give it a 2 but that would put it below my "worth reading" level. It is just one of those books that you can't really tell until you read it. It has nothing to say about life in the real world where we have to deal with real changing technology it just happens to qualify as science fiction. I call it science fiction that is disconnected from how reality works.

FUtD is not as good as Hyperion in my opinion.  Hyperion is more interesting in literary terms though possibly even more weird scientifically.  David Brin's Uplift War is better than both of them.
May 23, 2011
In 2001 a Harry Potter book won a Hugo. Just further proof that 2001 was the end of the world.
What happens is reader driven and the majority of readers are not picky about science.
More A Fire Upon The Deep reviews
review by . February 24, 2011
posted in SF Signal
   When I think of the coolest beginning chapters for space opera tales, I think of this novel. Its first few chapters are soo friggin cool. And as you read on, you find a weird alien species, and combat programmers quickly coding up their space ships so that they can fight better. Its all great, fun stuff. The imaginary astrophysics are surreal and goofy. Basically, as you get farther away from a galactic core, you get more weird and permissive cosmic laws, so that FTL travel, anti-gravity, …
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in SF Signal
This is one of my all time favorite books and one of only a handful I've read twice- and I may just read it again.
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in SF Signal
   deep and dense, Vinge's classic is one of those books that can claim direct descent from Doc Smith's legendary space operas
About the reviewer
Ian Peterson ()
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I write a Science Fiction culture blog called SciFiReaders.
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About this book


A Fire Upon the Deep is a science fiction novel by American writer Vernor Vinge, a space opera involving superhuman intelligences, aliens, variable physics, space battles, love, betrayal, genocide, and a conversation medium resembling Usenet. A Fire Upon the Deep won the Hugo Award in 1993 (tied with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis).[1]

Besides the normal print book editions, the novel was also included on a CD-ROM sold by ClariNet Communications along with the other nominees for the 1993 Hugo awards. The CD-ROM edition included numerous annotations by Vinge on his thoughts and intentions about different parts of the book.[2]

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ISBN-10: 0812515285
ISBN-13: 978-0812515282
Author: Vernor Vinge
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
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