A Fire Upon the Deep

Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep

Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep (1992)

Vernor Vinge is an American Science-Fiction author who has been publishing since the mid-1960s yet who has been far from prolific when it comes to producing longer works. A handful of novels were more than outpaced by dozens of short stories as well as numerous feature articles. But what full-length books Vinge has produced are undoubtedly some of the best in the SF genre. In fact Vinge’s works of fiction are noted for their complexity, depth of story and character which has rendered him something of a grandmaster in the SF field and won him numerous plaudits from other writers (some of whom have alluded to him in their own publications – a highly unusual honour for any author).

Undoubtedly his best work so far has been the multiple award-winning ‘A Fire Upon the Deep’ (1992), set in one of the more innovative and imaginative Universes of the SF genre. Vinge’s idea is that the Milky Way Galaxy is divided up into zones of thought or intelligence, from ‘Slow’ to ‘Fast’ . This dictates the civilizations that can evolve there: from technologically primitive societies to ones where the forms of super-science are almost indistinguishable from magic. The Galaxy-spanning cultures created by Vinge are beautifully imagined, held together by a sort of interstellar network of communications points and databanks – a version of our own Earth-bound world wide web given the free reign of space. The novel introduces into this hierarchal structure of societies a malign cybernetic presence which instigates a series of cataclysmic events that brings much of the complex mesh of civilization crashing down. We follow the adventures of a small group of diverse but very engaging characters who are affected by this calamity and how they eventually combat it. Though some of the more imaginative story elements shouldn’t work, they do, and with genuine force.

Several years later Vinge followed up the novel with ‘A Deepness in the Sky’ (1999) a slightly lesser but still very worthy sequel or perhaps more accurately prequel set in the same Universe. It focused on a group of humans living in the ‘Slow’ zone of the Galaxy and their encounter with a non-human civilization, where unusually it is the human beings who play the role of those carrying out ‘first contact’ on an alien planet and culture. In ‘A Fire Upon the Deep’ Vinge showed his ability to create entirely believable and engagingly human-like aliens but in many ways he surpassed himself in ‘A Deepness in the Sky’ and justly garnered several more awards.

A long awaited return to the same Universe of the two previous books is promised in ‘Children of the Sky’, scheduled for publication in early 2011. Vernor Vinge is a writer of consummate skill and humanity, and anyone wanting to read and inhabit for a time one of the most creative universes of the Sci-Fi genre is in for a true literary pleasure.

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