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A Fire Upon the Deep | [Vernor Vinge]

A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale. Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function.
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Publisher's Summary

A Fire Upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale. Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function.

Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought", but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

©1992 Vernor Vinge; (P)2010 Macmillan Audio

What the Critics Say

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 1993

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (558 )
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4.1 (388 )
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  •  
    Noah New York, New York 06-20-10
    Noah New York, New York 06-20-10
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    "What a wild, wacky, awesome book!"

    A galaxy where faster-than-light communication is possible, but only at very low bandwidth...so the galaxy becomes a hangout for USENET trolls and forum spammers.

    A sentient plague of fascist oppression that spreads like a virus throughout the galaxy.

    Wolflike creatures with pack minds, so that each pack member is both a body appendage and a piece of the individual's personality...

    This book has some of the wackiest, wildest ideas I've ever read in sci-fi, and I've read a LOT. The plot moves fast and the scenery is spectacular. The characters are a bit less fleshed-out than in some of Vinge's other books, but that's OK...to find out more about the dashing space-hero Pham Nuwen, just read the (even better) prequel, A Deepness in the Sky.

    Overall, one of the best space opera books ever, right up there with David Brin's "Uplift" books and Dan Simmons' "Hyperion".

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 09-22-12
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 09-22-12 Member Since 2010

    I will listen to NO boring book. Old Fav's,Card, King , Hobb. New Fav's, Hill, Scalzi, Sawyer, Interested in Lansdale, Crouch, Konrath

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    "As the Universe Turns"

    I am coming to the conclusion that Space Opera is not for me. This is about my fourth space opera by the fourth author and I have yet to really like any of them. This started out really great, through the first six chapters I thought I was really going to enjoy the book. It had a fast start with some really cool things happening. Then it went to drool slow moving, I don't care, I am confused, just like that. I stuck it out through 27 chapters. At about the 18th chapter I was looking for a gun to put myself out of my misery.

    Space Opera seems to be like Soap Opera, watch on Monday and Friday, skip through the week cause nothing new is going to happen. There are too many good books out there for me to beating myself in the head waiting on something to happen that I care about.

    Narrator was good, although he made all aliens sound cartoonish. I don't know if that was the right thing to do or not.

    I liked the aliens. The pack people/animals reminded me of the aliens in Robert Reed's "Beyond the Veil of Stars" or the swamp like creature in Clarke's "The City and The Stars", both great books.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim N Chicago, IL 11-30-13
    Jim N Chicago, IL 11-30-13 Member Since 2008
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    "A Critically Acclaimed Disappointment"

    This novel won the Hugo award and was nominated for the Nebula award as well so I went into it with relatively high expectations. Unfortunately, it turned out to be somewhat of a bore. A Fire Upon the Deep contains some original and fascinating ideas but the characterization is stiff and the novel really drags in the middle. Vinge seems more interested in exploring the medieval world on which he's stranded some of his characters than the complex and interesting galactic structure he's created, populated with numerous intelligent races and super intelligences so powerful they are impossible for lesser being like humans to comprehend.

    Peter Larkin's reading contributed to my disappointment with the book as well. He used cartoony voices for a number of the alien characters that made it increasingly difficult to take the book seriously.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 07-02-13
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 07-02-13 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Classic post-Internet space opera"

    A Fire Upon the Deep was a favorite of mine after I first read it years ago, and it still holds up pretty well after a second visit, this time in audio. Vinge is a former computer science professor turned writer, and the guy responsible for popularizing the concept of a technological singularity. In the galaxy he imagines here, such singularities have been occurring for eons, technological races or their constructs transcending into godlike artificial minds. However, in this universe, there's a catch: faster-than-light travel and communication only work beyond a certain distance from the galactic core. Thus, the outer darkness is home to unimaginably advanced beings, while the inner "slow zone" protects newly-started civilizations from interference from above. In the jostling middle known as "The Beyond" lives everyone else, including humans, connected by a vast and ancient galactic internet (as envisioned from 1992, when it was still the age of newsgroups and slow image uploads).

    Vinge isn't a fantastic writer, but he makes up for it with some imaginative, insightful ideas for alien races. There’s a race of sapient plants that travel about in cybernetic carts and a species of dog-like beings that are intelligent only when composed into small packs, whose members share a single mind. The latter, called Tines, are important characters in the book, and live on a medieval-level world.

    Unlike some space opera, the plot here is well-constructed, comprehensible, and fun. After a contingent of humans awaken an ancient power lying dormant in the ruins of a long-gone civilization, they are killed off, except for a few survivors that manage to escape to Tines World. There, further disaster occurs, and two children, the last remnants of the crew, end up in the hands (well, mouths) of two different political factions, one with a more ruthless agenda for the captured spacecraft and its technology. Meanwhile, the newly awakened monstrosity begins to rampage through its region of the galaxy, conquering nearby worlds and instilling panic that, distorted by internet message boards (plenty of prescience there), gives rise to other horrors. Another group of characters, a motley crew consisting of a librarian, a long-frozen adventurer from the distant past, and two of the sapient plant beings, stumbles on the realization, unsuspected by anyone else, that the lost ship on Tines World may hold the key to saving the galaxy. From there unfolds a gripping plot, with many twists and turns.

    On my second read, I still enjoyed the humor and warmth Vinge brings to his characterizations, and the way he makes the Tines sympathetic to the reader, turning their initially bizarre pack minds into something that feels very familiar by the end of the book. There are goofy sidekicks, brave heroes, and villains that are dangerous, cunning, and manipulative. While there could have been a firmer ending to the larger plot (Vinge came back two decades later to write a sequel), I thought the personal stories concluded satisfyingly enough. Peter Larkin’s audiobook reading may have made some of the characters a little more “cute” than I originally saw them, but it wasn’t enough to bother me and he did a decent job otherwise.

    Given the explosion of harder-edged techno-space opera since 2000 or so, Vinge's ideas might not seem as novel as they once did, but I think there's still a charm to his fanciful-but-smart universe-building, his experimentation with unusual alien physiologies, and his familiar characters. Depending on your tastes, this might be a friendlier entrée into the subgenre than Reynolds, Banks, Hamilton, Stross, etc. The other classic book of his that gets a lot of attention is A Deepness in the Sky, which I didn’t think was quite as good as Fire, but it has lots of fans, too, and is worth checking out.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colin Detroit 05-11-11
    Colin Detroit 05-11-11 Member Since 2009

    Thanks Audible for your continued support of "This Week in Tech" over at TWiT.tv

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "hard to follow, but in the end it makes sense"

    first thing is there are these "zones" that are not explained at all really but they are sections of the galaxy that are separated by the types of technology that would work there, Earth (old Earth since this is way far into the future) - Vinge first used the concepts of "Zones of Thought" in a 1988 novella, "The Blabber", which occurs after Fire. Vinge's next novel, A Deepness in the Sky (1999), is a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep set 20,000 years earlier and featuring Pham Nuwen. As of 2009, Vinge was working on The Children of the Sky, "a near-term sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep", set approximately ten years later.

    it starts with an imaginative description of the evolution of this super-intelligence through exponentially accelerating developmental stages, ending in a transcendent, nigh-omnipotent power that is something that normal Humans cant understand at all - then before its final "flowering", the changes in a single minute of the Blight's life are said to exceed those of 10,000 years of human civilization.

    so at first this was really hard to follow, as someone was going into some kinda ancient archive and had "awaken" some type of programs that started to get sentient and they had to get out of there before it became a problem for them, it didnt work and they crash onto a planet with these "Tines" which are like dogs in packs but with long necks and smart as humans only when they are in groups of 3 or more - they are at the level of medieval Earth so just cross bows and axes and stuff like that

    things get really hard to follow but in the end you will understand most if not all of it, I do feel that this could have been about 5-10 hours longer and told a story with more things explained but its ok


    also get the other one "A Deepness in the Sky" if you want to know more about Pham Nuwen

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew Eugene, OR, United States 08-06-10
    Matthew Eugene, OR, United States 08-06-10
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    "Some of the best SF ever"

    There's a reason this and the followup (A Deepness in the Sky) are in any top 25 SF list. Fantastic books, and certainly worth the somewhat higher than normal price.

    With that said though, you can't help but notice that the tone of the narrator often doesn't truly reflect the adult and serious nature of the story being read. It's good narration for sure, but often the content and narrator tone just don't seem to match. I almost regret not buying the paperback for this reason, so my minds voice could capture the suspense and all seriousness of the situations that often gets lost in elocution by Mr Larkin. But I'm not disappointed. Still 5 stars.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Edward Beaver Falls, PA, United States 10-24-13
    Edward Beaver Falls, PA, United States 10-24-13
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    "Could not finish - Not interesting"
    What would have made A Fire Upon the Deep better?

    A better plot and less non-stop weird names - just not interesting enough to finish


    What do you think your next listen will be?

    Heinlein or Ender - something like that


    Would you be willing to try another one of Peter Larkin’s performances?

    No


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    No offense - It had the potential to be okay -- but No


    Any additional comments?

    Want my money back...

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pam United States 04-13-13
    Pam United States 04-13-13 Member Since 2007

    Science writer in America's heartland

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Galactic war, librarian heroine"

    This is the story of what happens to humans and other residents of the galaxy when they encounter more ancient beings in the far beyond. The Internet (or whatever the Internet has become in this future time) plays an interesting role, in that various powers use it to spread information and disinformation in the growing war. I really liked that the heroine was a librarian, so her knowledge of how to find information and act on it made her critical to the humans' survival.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peregrine Los Angeles, CA, United States 01-22-11
    Peregrine Los Angeles, CA, United States 01-22-11 Member Since 2006

    If it weren't for Audible I'd never get any reading done.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Good science fiction; reader has a cold"

    It's a fun and sometimes very interesting story--especially the parts on the dog-pack planet--but it's actually rather difficult to follow the story via audiobook. There are many made-up names for technology, planets, civilizations, etc. and I often wished for a paper copy to rifle back through to figure out certain things.

    The reader does a good job with voices but he seems to have had a cold for at least a couple of days of the recording. So careful-- it's distracting.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tamara 09-06-10
    Tamara 09-06-10 Member Since 2007
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    "Loved the universe and the aliens"

    Highly recommended. Overall, I liked "A Deepness in the Sky" better, but this book was great too. The first part of "Fire" was excellent, exploring a fascinating universe and a unique alien race. I *really* liked the way the race was introduced --- realization of its differences only slowly coming into focus. And the idea of the universe having slow and fast zones was really great. Unfortunately, once the universe was introduced, the second half was much weaker --- just a slow march to a predictable conclusion. (Ironically, "Deepness" was the opposite. It was so slow in the beginning, but ended on a high note.) Despite this minor weakness, Vernor Vinge is definitely on my list of favorite authors. I read this book before "Deepness" and recommend that order (even though this occurs later in time).

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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