Review: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge


A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
1992, Tor

Review Summary: An enjoyable read, although I felt that something was lacking throughout much of the novel.

Full Review: An enjoyable read, although I felt that something was lacking throughout much of the novel.

The author’s “zones of thought” are somewhat interesting, but are never really explained to my satisfaction. Essentially, different levels of technological feats are obtainable in different zones of space, with the barely civilized planets tending to start in the “slow”, bottom zones, then eventually migrating higher in the universe, progressing from one zone to the next, with a handful attaining the level of a “Power” in what is thought to be the highest zone. It’s kind of like an evolutionary migration, but I’m a little fuzzy on why different areas of space behave differently – all other physics appear to be the same, at least between the lowest and middle zones. Since the difference in the nature of the zones is ultimately critical to the novel’s plotline, perhaps this is part of what was missing.

Another thought, however, is character development. While the author is successful at positing at least two other races besides humans, the Riders and the Tines, and is able to make these aliens’s physical characteristics very interesting (the Riders are essentially intelligent plants riding around in mobile carts that also act as their mechanical short-term memory, and each of the Tines are a single consciousness shared by multiple bodies at the same time), their cultures and history are almost non-existent. The same goes for the humans in the story. While the characters function very well, they have minimum back-story, and their expressed feelings and thought processes are not very deep.

The story is definitely plot-driven, but even here I feel the author could have done more with what turns out to be a fairly vital character to the plot, the recombined human Pham Nuwen – the character has such a potentially rich part to play in the story, as carrying the “godshatter” from a Power which may or may not end the threat of the Blight, but very little is done with the godshatter in my opinion – this could have been a much more interesting element of the story. (And again, the emotional and mental conflict this character must be feeling was almost completely disregarded.)

Oh, and the child characters which played an important part of half the novel were just kind of annoying. I would say that writing from a child’s perspective is not one of the author’s strengths, either.

Overall, the writing is good, but the focus of the novel just seemed to be a little off, in my opinion. Its worth reading for the interesting ideas, but not really one of the better books in my collection. I’m interested, and will probably at some point in the future pick up a later book from this author to see if he has been able to refine his focus at all.

08/06/06 CSL

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