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Vernor Vinge – A Fire upon the Deep

Title: A Fire upon the Deep
Author: Vernor Vinge
Narrotor: Gary Tipton
Year: 1992

Vernor Vinge has written two novels that have earned the Hugo Award for best novel, and A Fire upon the Deep is my first experience of the author. The epic scale of the novel is set right from the start, where a few humans awaken something immensely powerful from its millennia of slumbering within an old archive left off the net for several billions of years. The power thus awakened slowly increases its influence until it is clear that not only does it threaten its immediate neighbours, but the entire galaxy might be in danger.

However, the story line of the novel itself is not focused on the power, but is instead divided into two threads. First, there is a group trying to retain something which they hope will stop the power from spreading. The only problem is that the power has spread false rumours and innuendo, making the group the prime target for a grand-scale hunt. Second, a landfall on a medieval-level planet goes badly wrong and two children are the only survivors, separated from each other and captives of two rivalling tribes. Slowly, these two story lines become interlaced and finally merge together.

There are several really cool and original things about A Fire upon the Deep. First of all, the division of space into several zones of thought is interesting. Depending on which depth one is (deeper meaning closer to the galactic core), the properties of space change to allow different things. We would live what is called the Slow Zone, which works much as we are used to. Above us, there is The Beyond and The Transcend, in which entities are infinitely mighty powers having passed beyond mere technological advances and become something entirely enigmatic to the human mind.

Apart from this, the race that inhabits the medieval planet mentioned above, is truly fascinating. Being made up of loose packs, held together by some kind of weak telepathic communication, individuals (or singletons) are disregarded in general and only the pack counts. Except when the singletons happen to be from outer space, belonging to a civilisation with an abundance of technological advances beyond the dreams of those who scheme to use it for their personal advantage.

Sadly, I do think the novel lacks in other areas. The language is not bad, but not very extraordinary either. The characters are for the most part rather dull and uninteresting. Generally speaking, the thread focusing on the rescue mission is much weaker that the part on the medieval world, which is somewhat frustrating since much time is spent on the former. The story in large is intriguing, but rather slow and not exceptional in any way. I also feel that the ending is somewhat feeble and fails to add up all the epic currents initiated in the beginning.

For the first time, I will comment on the narration of a novel (yes, I listened to it). The narrator is an American gentleman called Gary Tipton, who performs his task adequately but without splendour. His voice is somewhat drawling and at times a bit disengaged, but on the whole he does what is expected of him. He uses basically the same voice for all characters, but the few changes he employ are fairly effective.

Conclusively, A Fire Upon the Deep contains a lot of good ideas, some of them truly original and inspiring. It was a long time ago I was inspired by this kind of science fiction, so kudos to Mr. Vinge. On the other hand, I feel that the book is really not my cup of tea, either when it comes to language or story. I have already begun with A Deepness in the Sky and hopefully he has evolved into a better author in the years separating the two novels.

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