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A Fire Upon the Deep

by Rob Friesel

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 Wake[1], 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 one[2], 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:

  1. For such a lush space opera, sometimes Vinge’s prose can be a little wooden. There are some italicized thoughts here and there which—whether they’re an acceptable literary convention or not—don’t seem to add anything except a break in the rhythm.
  2. 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…

  3. Conversely, the climax and denouement seem almost to fall flat. Not quite Stephensonian, but… after all that build-up: that’s it?
  4. 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”—and I’d agree with that. The epic scope, the alienness of the aliens[3], and the willingness to pen such a weird portrait of the imagined universe—it all adds up to a very compelling and rewarding read.

  1. See also, my review on Goodreads.com. []
  2. Esp. Vinge’s treatment of the commoditized interstellar communications network. []
  3. 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. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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