Among other recommendations, A Fire Upon the Deep appeared on io9’s “Twenty Science Fiction Novels that Will Change Your Life” post and after Newton’s Wake1, I thought it would be a chance for that list to redeem itself a little. Though far from life-changing, this story is strong and plays with a number of interesting tropes in novel and intriguing ways. The notion of an interstellar (intergalactic?) apprenticeship program for librarians/systems administrators is a fascinating one2, but you can also tell that it’s just the long-leash to guide the rest of the story.
I take some fractional points off for some minor quibbles I have:
- For such a lush space opera, sometimes Vinge’s prose can be a little wooden. There are some italicized thoughts here and there whichâ€”whether they’re an acceptable literary convention or notâ€”don’t seem to add anything except a break in the rhythm.
- The Prologue is nearly Baroque in its inflated style, and I rolled my eyes a bit.
Thought ceased for a moment as a shadow passed across the nodes they used. The overness was already greater than anything human, greater than anything humans could imagine.
*sigh* If you must…
- Conversely, the climax and denouement seem almost to fall flat. Not quite Stephensonian, but… after all that build-up: that’s it?
- And as with any space opera (and/or epic fantasy)… there’s so much tedious traveling.
But what Vinge gets right (i.e., everything else) he seems to really nail. The io9 piece calls A Fire Upon the Deep “quite simply one of the most inventive, astonishing, and humane space operas you’ll ever read”â€”and I’d agree with that. The epic scope, the alienness of the aliens3, and the willingness to pen such a weird portrait of the imagined universeâ€”it all adds up to a very compelling and rewarding read.
- See also, my review on Goodreads.com. [↩]
- Esp. Vinge’s treatment of the commoditized interstellar communications network. [↩]
- Though, truth be told: everyone in the universe seems to operate in a pretty narrowly defined and very human economic system. There’s nothing alien about mercantilism and venture capitalism. [↩]