I think I’ve written before that Vernor Vinge has restored my love for science fiction. For years I’d been mourning the genre and then came across A Fire Upon The Deep, which surprised me by not talking down to me. As much as sci-fi writers are wont to make assumptions about the readers’ knowledge of technology and science, rarely do they break out and assume the ability to read and infer the way perhaps a literature geek who never found the computer lab might. Vinge is a damn good writer.
Two things he did very effectively: he described an alien race to the degree that I felt some visceral revulsion at imagining them move and converse, and he made those alien characters sympathetic enough that I cared about them at the same time that I felt the revulsion.
I’d never cried for a two-meter spider before.
The story was smart and engaging. I’m tempted to reread A Fire Upon the Deep to get a fresh look at the reconstructed Pham Nuwen and see if there is any more depth I can find. I also may actually read the annotations the next time I read AFUTD.
Vinge is very good at pacing and building tension. He understands the relationship between slow descriptive passages and tense sequences and uses that relationship to good effect. The end result is a smart, brisk, mindbender with depth, soul, and development.