Saturday, February 23, 2013

Now THIS Is Science Fiction

A Fire Upon the DeepA Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two human children crash-land on a planet populated by wolf-like aliens, and they are soon enmeshed in a local war. But beyond the planet an even more desperate war is being waged--one that will determine the fates of entire species and change the fabric of the galaxy itself, but hinges on the doings on the surface of the alien world.

Wow. Reading this book reminds me why I love grand-concept science fiction. It's been a while since I read a story that absorbed me so completely, and to my joy it's a stand-alone (though there is a prequel and a sequel)! There is genocide on a galactic scale, ethnic cleansing on a medieval scale, and a complex, satisfying story in one volume. It's amazing that in telling the story of such huge events, Vinge never loses sight of the individual characters we come to care about.

Human beings are only one sentient race in a galaxy populated by super-intelligent beings known as Powers, which exist in a special area of space known as the High Beyond. Their doings are as unfathomable to us as our doings would be to an ant. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, this does not stop us from messing around with things beyond our comprehension and resurrecting a Perversion, a Power dedicated to the subjugation and destruction of other creatures.

The human survivors crash-land on a planet populated by the Tines, a species of alien absolutely brilliant in concept and execution.

I won't add more, simply because Vinge tells the story so well and spins out the difficult exposition slowly, building tension in the reader as new understanding illuminates this complex and well-designed universe. If you liked David Brin's Uplift trilogy, Orson Scott Card's Enderverse, or even the 2004 Battlestar Galactica TV series, you'll enjoy this book as much as I did. (I do not recommend it as an entry point for non-science fiction readers, however.)

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