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A Fire Upon The Deep


Vernor Vinge

A Fire Upon The Deep
average rating is 4 out of 5

Science Fiction, Fantasy

R. Alex Jenkins

Language path: Triskweline > English, to all Goodreads units.

This book hovered between five massive stars and a near DNF for me at times! Five stars because it's brilliant and the author has incredible imagination. DNF because of how bonkers-ridiculous it is and how badly I sometimes toiled through 650 pages.

I ended up giving it four stars, with view to to a possible upgrade in the future.

A Fire Upon The Deep is like Narnia in space! You fall in love with the characters while also needing to take a massive pinch of salt. Even though the book is inaccessible and meandering at times and regularly veers off into secondary stories and subplots, it's like nothing I've ever read before and deserves major recognition.

It's an almost overwhelmingly complex book that needs applied determination to make initial progress through because of the sheer amount of alien concepts and vocabulary. I was out of my depth at various points and needed to do extra research. For more experienced sci-fi readers, this might be a lot easier.

Interestingly, AFUTD is rated the No. 1 SF creation of ALL TIME in certain circles, so there's got to be something substantial going on, right? Questions, so many questions.

What are the Transcend, Beyond and Slowness?

They are technological space layers from top to bottom, with technology working best at the top, and medieval life forms functioning better at the base.

And skroderiders?

Intelligent plant-like creatures that ride around on wheelie cart things! Really.

And agrav?

Anti-gravitational layers for improved building capabilities and other possibilities in space.

The scope of the story is fantastically reminiscent of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin and its sprawling politics and deceptions. There's a concept called 'brood kenning' that helps fuse individual members into cohesive dog-like packs made up of males and females that interbreed and regenerate over centuries, not too dissimilar to 'kemmering' in Le Guin's work. If you love either of these books, I suggest seeking out the other for brain-warping accompaniment.

To be or not to be, that is the question, or "can you dig it" in the words of Cyrus from The Warriors. If you can't, it's difficult to commit fully to AFUTD because Vernor Vinge lays it on thick and fast and you either get to grips with it or flounder. The author doesn't explain technical details to the extent you really need to know, but goes for a space opera approach where it's best to go with the flow.

The good guys are fighting against a 'blight' or virus that seeps out from the top technological layer in an attempt to dominate the universe. The hope for us all hangs on a marooned spaceship crashed at the lowest and most primitive level. It's at this lowest level that the story really takes off between rival clans using basic weapons and tools: a species of rat-headed pack-fused dogs called Tines.

The world and character building are exceptionally creative as the dog-like Tines hunt in packs, with each head cooperating in unison like an individual pincer or finger. Making for an unusually intelligent and intellectual work of science fiction and fantasy. There aren't too many space battles, but much more arrow-flinging action at base level, and if it wasn't so fantastical, this could almost be historical fiction in the realm of King Arthur. It's ridiculous, farfetched and amazing. Everyone is so cute and cuddly - your want to squeeze their fronds and cheeks and muzzles, even the enemy, who look like doe-eyed butterflies.

We're all seeking the best possible lives for ourselves at the expense of someone else or something, even if it's nothing more than chomping down on a sacrificed chicken breast. It's a dog-eat-dog world! This whole book is nuts whole hazelnuts and Vernor Vinge is a bit of an unsung hero in my eyes.

It's also hard-science work.

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