Classic Book Review: “A Deepness in the Sky”

A Deepness in the Sky” is actually a loose ‘prequel’ to Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep“, (a novel about ever increasing “Transcendant” Zones of Thought). Only one main character is consistent with both novels, Qeng Ho (pronounced ‘Cheng Ho’) legend Pham Nuwen, creator of the modern Qeng Ho Fleet.

(First paperback edition)


I found the book rather long in spots and it goes into a lot of ‘flash-back’ style history of Pham Nuwen, but most of the scenes are not redundant to the plot.

Other long spots are the ones in which the enemy “Emergents” are ruling the Qeng Ho after a short, bitter fight the Emergents won only after employing “Focus”, a genetically engineered weapon based on a natural phage from the Emergent’s home world. Most of the storyline here is Pham’s scheming (along with a distant descendent) to regain control of the Qeng Ho, along with the Emergents using a tamer version of Focus.

In the background there are the “Spiders”, the sentients inhabiting the planet that circles the “OnOff” star, which only shines 215 years out of 250. The Spiders have a civilization that matches early 20th Century Earth, which is interrupted by their hibernation periods, triggered by the “on-off” cycles of their sun.

Pham Nuwen wins of course and he sets sail to the Emergent’s civilization to “clean it up” and if he survives, plans to find the source of the OnOff star, which might be an artificial construct.

The novel won the Hugo, Prometheus and John W. Campbell Jr. Awards in 2000 and was a runner-up for the Nebula in 1999 for best science-fiction novel. It was good, but personally I thought was too long-winded and left some important characters out to dry in one dimensional land.

Also I saw evidence that Vinge theorises that his Technological Singularity never happened. The Qeng Ho constantly refer to the “Age of Failed Dreams”; Singularity ideas such as self improving-self replicating machines, human immortality and self-conscious AI systems “failed” to be realised, in spite of thousands of years of Human civilization. There’s a post he even wrote on Ray Kurzweil’s site about what happens if the Singularity never materialises?

That’s okay, good sci-fi doesn’t need the damn Singularity.

All in all, it was a space opera in the classical sense and a very good read. I’d read it again in a couple of years, it’s that good.

So whether Vinge is a believer in his own Singularity or not, he still spins a great tale about the far future.

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