What sci-fi oughtta be

I tried to describe what I liked about this book by telling my father, «it’s con­fus­ing.» I’m not sure that I made any sense then, but this is what sci­fi should be. Vinge presents us with alien races and the­o­ries of galac­tic orga­ni­za­tion almost entire­ly with­out expo­si­tion. There’s no «The Kzin­ti were a razor-toothed war­rior race resem­bling eight-foot tall cats» or any­thing like that. One alien race the read­er is intro­duced to entire­ly through first-per­son accounts from the aliens’ per­spec­tive. Each detail is tak­en for grant­ed and the read­er gets to piece togeth­er what’s going on with­out much help from the omni­scient narrator.

So, yes, it’s con­fus­ing. Read­ing *A Fire Upon The Deep* is like being plunged sud­den­ly into an alien uni­verse, left to make false starts the­o­riz­ing about the events we’re read­ing. In the end, although the «learn­ing curve» is a bit steep, it’s a more devel­oped, more dimen­sion­al, more believ­able uni­verse than I’ve ever encoun­tered in sci­ence fic­tion. And I’ve read a bunch of sci-fi.

*AFUTD* is an all-day suck­er, too. It took sev­er­al weeks of admit­ted­ly spo­radic read­ing to get through. I don’t know how ebook pages trans­late to real book pages, but all too often I get through fic­tion in a dis­ap­point­ing­ly rapid time, and feel cheat­ed, as though the author just did­n’t have the stick­toitive­ness to write some­thing with depth or com­plex­i­ty. Dan Brown’s *DaVin­ci Code* comes to mind. *You mean that’s all?*

At 1930 (ebook) pages with­out anno­ta­tion, *AFUTD* weighs in at about one-third the length of the New Revised Stan­dard Ver­sion Bible, ebook edi­tion. So that’s a very sat­is­fy­ing­ly thick book.

Vinge also knows a thing or two about pac­ing. Some­times I wor­ry that I’ve grown jad­ed, but *AFUTD* sur­prised me by mak­ing my pulse pound as I read of an attack or a close escape from dan­ger. As pon­der­ous and com­plex as some of the con­cep­tu­al set-up is, Vinge switch­es gear and cap­i­tal­izes on the care he’s tak­en craft­ing the uni­verse by dis­rupt­ing the sta­tus quo and mak­ing the read­er run for dear life along with some of the char­ac­ters. This is no slow brain-teas­er; it’s a rapid-fire page-turn­er, but smart.

I look for­ward to read­ing more of Vinge’s work.

2 Replies to “What sci-fi oughtta be”

  1. Then I rec­om­mend the
    Then I rec­om­mend the pree­quel, A Deep­ness In The Sky. It takes place in a lim­it­ed area, and is unaware of the larg­er issues that come lat­er in Fire… and the sub­ject mat­ter is, to me, more con­vinc­ing and believ­able than that in Fire. Plus, it has a com­plete­ly fresh and orig­i­nal take on a sub­ject that was once a shop­worn pulp cliché.

    By the way, I’m read­ing The DaVin­ci Code right now. Some­one at the office was throw­ing it away.

    1. Thank you for the rec­om­men­da­tion
      > I rec­om­mend the pree­quel, A Deep­ness In The Sky

      Just pur­chased it on your rec­om­men­da­tion. I’ll let you know what I think (watch this space).

      > By the way, I’m read­ing The DaVin­ci Code right now. Some­one at the office was throw­ing it away.

      Your office­mate had the right idea. You should have nego­ti­at­ed a bet­ter price.