The Children of the Sky

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Overview

After nearly twenty years, Vernor Vinge has produced an enthralling sequel to his memorable bestselling novel A Fire Upon the Deep.

In Children of the Sky, ten years have passed on Tines World, where Ravna Bergnsdot and a number of human Children ended up after a disaster that nearly obliterated humankind throughout the galaxy. Ravna and the pack animals for which the planet is named have survived a war, and Ravna has saved more than one ...

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Overview

After nearly twenty years, Vernor Vinge has produced an enthralling sequel to his memorable bestselling novel A Fire Upon the Deep.

In Children of the Sky, ten years have passed on Tines World, where Ravna Bergnsdot and a number of human Children ended up after a disaster that nearly obliterated humankind throughout the galaxy. Ravna and the pack animals for which the planet is named have survived a war, and Ravna has saved more than one hundred Children who were in cold-sleep aboard the vessel that brought them.

While there is peace among the Tines, there are those among them—and among the humans—who seek power…and no matter the cost, these malcontents are determined to overturn the fledgling civilization that has taken root since the humans landed.

On a world of fascinating wonders and terrifying dangers, Vernor Vinge has created a powerful novel of adventure and discovery that will entrance the many readers of A Fire Upon the Deep. Filled with the inventiveness, excitement, and human drama that have become hallmarks of his work, Children of the Sky is sure to become another great milestone in Vinge’s already stellar career.

One of Library Journal's Best SF/Fantasy Books of 2011.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Vernor Vinge's 1992 novel A Fire Upon the Deep (9780812515282) won a Hugo Award and put fans on tenterhooks waiting for its sequel. Now, nearly two decades later, it's here. In the novel, Ravna Bergndot and "the children of the sky" have aged ten years, but little rest awaits these survivors of a human catastrophe. One early reader set the stage: "Imagine bootstrapping a fallen civilization into transcendence using nothing but a collection of hive-mind Machiavellis, a crippled hyperadvanced spaceship, and a pack of surly, scheming orphaned adolescents. Oh, and then there's the vengeful god ramscooping itself to relativistic speeds a mere thirty light years away." A masterful sequel by a three-time Hugo Award-winning author.

Publishers Weekly
The sequel to Vinge's Hugo Award–winning A Fire Upon the Deep (1992) undergoes a jarring but effective change in scope. On a distant planet, 10 years after creating a technology-crippling "slow zone" to defeat the encroaching Blight, Ravna Bergsndot and the surviving cryo-frozen Children attempt to rebuild a civilization with the help of the telepathic, doglike Tines. Their efforts are stymied by hostile Tines and humans skeptical of the Blight's menace. Vinge has brilliantly shifted gears, offering a postsingularity novel in which the singularity has been destroyed and the formerly advanced humans struggle to cope. Vinge throws in political intrigue and even a road trip (complete with characters going incognito as circus performers), and the resulting low-tech tale is a sharply crafted masterpiece. Fans should forgive the shift in subgenre and lack of recap, but will likely chafe at the frustrating ending, which makes it clear that this is the middle book in a trilogy. (Oct.)
Library Journal
It has been ten years since Ravna Bergnsdot brought 150 children to the primitive planet Tines World and, with the assistance of the native species, caninelike creatures with a pack mind, formed the last stronghold of humanity in the galaxy. Residing in the universe's "slow zone," in which faster-than-light travel is impossible and technological developments are limited, Ravna hopes to keep her colony safe from the alien Blight, which has already destroyed high-tech worlds. Not all the children brought to safety, however, believe in Ravna's tale of technology gone wrong or in the existence of the Blight, and their actions might bring about the cataclysmic disaster Ravna and her Tinish partner, Woodcarver, hoped to avoid. In this long-awaited sequel to his Hugo Award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), Vinge's unique thinking about time and space remains fresh and exciting two decades later. VERDICT One of the genre's most accomplished writers and storytellers, Vinge has crafted a tale that should captivate his fans and win for him a larger and well-deserved audience. Libraries should anticipate demand. Highly recommended.
Kirkus Reviews

Long-awaited sequel—19 years later—to Vinge's tremendous, far-future spectacular, A Fire Upon the Deep (1992).

Following a horrific tussle with the Blight, a vampire-like predatory intelligence, what's left of the once-godlike Straumli Realm—librarian Ravna, teenagers Johanna and Jefri and others preserved in cold-sleep capsules—is marooned on a planet in the Slow Zone, where complex intelligence, advanced computation and faster-than-light travel are impossible. Despite its technology, therefore, the Straumlis' spaceship is virtually helpless. The planet is inhabited by Tines, multi-bodied dog-like aliens whose group minds communicate via complex sonic pulses partly inaudible to humans. Ravna made an alliance with the powerful Woodcarver and thereby earned the enmity of psychotic megalomaniac Vendacious and the inventive, acquisitive, ruthless Tycoon. Having awoken the sleepers in the undamaged capsules, Ravna settled down to build an industrial civilization as quickly as possible, since the remnants of the Blight is only 30 light-years away. Now, ten years have passed. Unknown to Ravna, Vendacious and Tycoon have made a deal and have learned how to manipulate the more communal-minded Tines of the tropics. Ravna has her hands full dealing with Nevil, a devious politician who leads the Deniers, a group that considers Ravna delusional and thinks the Blight is coming to rescue them. Nevil's secret alliance with Tycoon will, he hopes, cement his power over the human faction; when it comes to Machiavellian intrigue, however, the humans are amateurs compared to the Tines. These latter are beautifully thought-out, brilliantly managed creations. What disappoints about the narrative is that Vinge describes rather than dramatizes, so narrative tension never builds; significant developments often take place offstage and what plot there is—big on detail, limited in scope—just sits there. Sequels loom.

Information overload.

From the Publisher
“Vinge has brilliantly shifted gears, offering a post singularity novel in which the singularity has been destroyed and the formerly advanced humans struggle to cope…the resulting low-tech tale is a sharply crafted masterpiece.”  —Publishers Weekly

 “One of the genre's most accomplished writers and storytellers, Vinge has crafted a tale that should captivate his fans and win him a larger and well-deserved audience.”

Library Journal, starred review

"Imagine bootstrapping a fallen civilization into transcendence using nothing but a collection of hive-mind Machiavellis, a crippled hyper-advanced spaceship, and a pack of surly, scheming orphaned adolescents. Oh, and then there's the vengeful god ramscooping itself to relativistic speeds a mere 30 light years away. Vinge's explosive imagination and deft storytelling make epics sail past like hummingbirds—you'll steal daytime moments to read more, and lie awake at night contemplating what you've read."  —Boing Boing

“Vernor Vinge’s stories and novels have always surprised and entertained me, and The Children of the Sky carries on that grand tradition!”  —Greg Bear, bestselling author of Hull Zero Three

A Fire Upon the Deep is one of my all-time favorite works of fiction, so I’ve been looking forward to Children of the Sky for months. I am a particular fan of Vinge’s work because, unlike the work of many science fiction writers, his writing is fiction first, with the science and technology a muted part of the background to the story. Vinge always delivers complex, realistic characters the reader can care about, along with a gripping, well-crafted plot that invariably leaves my fingers paper-cut from turning pages so eagerly. And as for the science in Vinge’s science fiction, that is also exceptional in its vision and technical integrity. Vinge is undeniably one of the greatest hard science fiction writers to put pen to paper, and he can easily be compared to such greats as Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, or Stanislaw Lem.”  —Wired

“What a year for Science Fiction it's been and now along comes Vernor Vinge to show us all again how this is really done with The Children of the Sky. The Children of the Sky, in short, was brilliant. No one out there does space opera like Vinge. There are books who have great plots with well thought out ideas, but normally characterization suffers because of it. The book is a showcase for a thought experiment…Vinge does it all. The characters are real and you feel for them. The book is a page turner. And the ideas are wonderful (the Tines are still up there as my favorite aliens I've ever met in a book). I loved it. I loved it. I loved it. This is a great book, but the story is not done yet. The problem is, I WANT TO KNOW THE REST, DARN IT! Now we have to wait for Vinge to finish the story. If The Children of the Sky is any indication, the wait will be well worth it in the end.”

Elitist Book Reviews

“Vinge makes it feel more like this is a living, breathing world that keeps on going, even if you’re not there. And for hard science fiction, that’s an accomplishment…. It’s hard to say everything I want to say about novels that cover this much ground, but rest assured that this is a worthy follow-up to A Fire Upon the Deep.”  —Literary Omnivore

The Barnes & Noble Review

Vernor Vinge is an ethically responsible citizen of the science fiction community. And so, having almost destroyed the genre, he's subsequently done his best to rescue it.

What can I possibly mean by ascribing to Vinge — a well- known, well-liked, self-effacing, and award-winning author of many fine SF novels — this brutal assault upon the very field in which he so intelligently labors? Only this: Vinge has been a prime proponent of the notion of the Singularity, the postulated great leap in computing power and machine autonomy after which society would be radically transformed in a way unfathomable to our limited view. Some futurists argue that it's just around the corner; others treat it as a purely hypothetical event. Vinge first crystallized and named the theory in an essay in Omni magazine all the way back in 1983, after which it was further popularized by such eminent authorities as Raymond Kurzweil. But Vinge remains pretty much Mr. Singularity, often being interviewed on the theme.

Embraced, repudiated and even satirized as "The Rapture of the Nerds," the Singularity is a meme poised on the brink of general public awareness. In April 2011, for instance, The New York Times featured coverage of a Kurzweil speech on the topic. A few months later, blogger Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post felt confident of audience empathy when she posed the question: "What if my iPhone is sentient? What if I'm abusing it right now and when the Singularity happens in 2045 all the machines rise up and castigate me for being a harsh master?"

But how could such a concept — the ubiquitous triumph of cyber-gadgets, the very lifeblood of the SF imagination — paradoxically harm the field? In this large way: the Singularity erected an impenetrable Silicon Curtain across the future — perhaps even the very near-term future — beyond which science fiction's tools were useless. SF's main playground seemed suddenly closed to writers. How could a simple human author, however brainy, possibly hope to convey anything about what was, by definition, incomprehensible to mere mortals? Staging a dramatic story in such a magical venue (Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") looked impossible. If you believed in the likelihood of the Singularity, your hands were tied when it came to extrapolating beyond a certain limit.

True, various enclaves of SF remained open. The Singularity had little relevance to steampunk or backward time travel, to alien invasions or alternate dimensions, to bioengineering or dystopias. But the grand old Star Wars– and Star Trek–style scenarios — even think-tank portraits of the world a few decades hence — now sported all the realism of fairy tales.

After this initial blow, stunned authors began slowly to recover. Writers like Charles Stross, Rudy Rucker, and Karl Schroeder commenced to attempt to limn the Singularity and beyond, refusing to believe that SF was inadequate to the task. Nowadays, while the Singularity is still a controversial bogeyman, it no longer frightens or limits writers as it initially did.

Part of this domestication of the savage Singularity is attributable to Vinge himself. In 1992 he published A Fire Upon the Deep, which was simultaneously a post- Singularity novel and a space opera in the old-school style. How did Vinge support this unlikely hybrid? He merely rejiggered the physics of the entire galaxy.

In Vinge's book, our Milky Way galaxy is and always has been stratified into Zones. Some Zones support both faster-than- light travel and true machine intelligence. Some Zones disallow both. One Zone hosts godlike post-Singular minds, generally aloof and remote. The inhospitable core of the galaxy fails to support even human-grade thinking. With this setup, Vinge could have his SF cake and eat it, too. The ineffable Singularity was distinct from the human sphere yet interactive in ways that opened the door to grand new stories.

One thread of his tale concerned a malign godlike entity known as the Blight and its plan to swamp human space. Our two heroes, Pham Nuwen and Ravna Bergsndot, eventually stymied the Blight by engineering a kind of cosmic tsunami from a lesser Zone to enshroud and kill it. But by doing so, Pham died and Ravna was marooned on Tines World, home to a race of sentient doglike beings whose individuals cohered into group minds. For interspersed portions of Fire, readers had grown familiar with the intriguing Tines as they observed the activities of two human adolescents — Johanna and Jefri Olsndot — also castaways among the packs.

Revolutionary and satisfying as Vinge's book was, it plainly called for a continuation. His next entry in the series, 1999's A Deepness in the Sky, proved, however, to be a prequel, showing us Pham Nuwen's adventures thousands of years prior to Fire. It sported a parallel structure to its predecessor, with human visitors to the mysterious OnOff Star marooned among aliens known as Spiders.

And now, almost twenty years after Fire, Vinge picks up Ravna's plight with The Children of the Sky.

I will caution readers right from the outset: despite displaying immense cleverness and craft and heart, this is not the book we were all hoping for. Consequently, no matter how well done, it's bound to be something of a disappointment. Why? Vinge has — temporarily, one hopes — abandoned his fascinating interstellar milieu to focus exclusively on Tines World.

Now, readers of A Fire Upon the Deep will recall that Vinge's interstellar polity, forced to deal with many Zones and species and economic systems across vast distances, was modeled on?the internet of 1992! A kind of WikiGalaxy often called "the Net of a Million Lies." This radical departure from fusty Empires and Federations was a groundbreaking vision. It recalled such sociological experiments as Samuel Delany's Stars in My Pockets like Grains of Sand and, I believe, even lit the path for such postmodern space operas as those of Alastair Reynolds and M. John Harrison.

Thus, a large portion of the anticipation surrounding Vinge's new book was how he would sophisticate his depiction of the Net of a Million Lies based upon a subsequent two decades of real-world online experience. Galactic analogues to Facebook and Groupon? A race of sentient Tweets? Bring it on!

But such was not his chosen course. In a recent essay, "The Easier Part," Vinge explains that he felt he left the most intriguing aspects of the Tines unexplored and wished to delve more deeply into their society and evolution and physiology and culture. And so we get the kind of planetary romance involving the uneasy alliance between aliens and humans most often associated with Poul Anderson.

Vinge prefaces A Deepness in the Sky, that prequel volume, with an acknowledgement of his debt to Poul Anderson and his works. Anderson patented a kind of Hard SF tale centered on planets of surprising astronomical composition and/or alien habitation, where human ingenuity and adaptability were tested to the max. Having gorged myself recently on Anderson's seven-volume Technic Civilization Saga, I will affirm that Vinge does his mentor proud.

The story opens almost immediately upon the events of Fire. Ravna is stuck on Tines World as the only adult among a hundred or so child refugees. She has Tine friends but also Tine enemies. Her spaceship, the Oobii, has been dumbed down by the shifted spacetime substratum, which has also fortuitously stymied a ravenous fleet of the Blight some thirty light-years distant. But Ravna realizes that the currents of space might change unpredictably, putting the Blight only hours away. And so she goes to work with utmost urgency to build up Tine technology and to educate the human kids. Johanna and Jefri and some of the older kids are useful helpers.

Ten years pass. Many of the children are adults, and that's where trouble begins. They're sick of Ravna's fairy tales about the Blight, and want different things. She loses control of the Oobii, is kidnapped by bad Tines, and has to undergo a dangerous quest to regain her stature and save her little colony, with anxious thoughts of the Blight in the background of her consciousness all the while.

Throughout this human saga, of course, the Tines are inextricably, gloriously woven. Vinge depicts them with all the love and insight that any author has ever lavished on an alien race. He never makes the mistake lesser writers commit: thinking that any nonhuman culture must be homogenous. There are shy and outgoing Tines, cowards and heroes, venal and noble ones. We learn of the surprising Tropical Choir, an agglomeration of thousands of dogs into a kind of being that the more "civilized" Tines deemed impossible. It's a lesson in not underestimating the Other — a lesson that is all the more powerful for being embodied in a race that is Other to us! After a while, the reader starts to imagine the multi-unit Tine personages as true individuals — though Vinge is meticulous in subtly depicting how a single mind can be distributed across multiple entities. A stickler for scientific realism, Vinge rationalizes the Tines' "telepathy" by modulated harmonics, not any kind of psychic mumbo-jumbo. This reliance of consciousness upon sound opens up the plot to many neat twists, too.

But as thrilling as all this action and speculation is, the reader is still going to feel an underlying itch for a broader canvas. This itch will manifest itself most vividly in chapter 24, almost exactly halfway through the book. The monitors on the Oobii show that the currents of spacetime have pulsed, and that Tines World is part of the faster-than-light realm again. The reader's heart jumps! Out into the Galaxy we fly! But no, it's not to be. The tide immediately ebbs, and we are again castaways with a sigh.

The Children of the Sky is, I think, clearly the middle volume of a trilogy, and it suffers from some of those fabled longueurs associated with such bridging installments. What I suspect Vinge is building toward is a breakout of the Tines from their isolated planet and into the interstellar setting where they will play an important part in the scheme of things. That's going to be a hell of a grand tale, and we can only hope we won't need to wait another twenty years for its unveiling. I'd hate for the Singularity to get here first.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312875626
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/11/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 962,439
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Vernor Vinge has won five Hugo Awards, including one for each of his last three novels, A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), and Rainbow’s End (2006). Known for his rigorous hard-science approach to his science fiction, he became an iconic figure among cybernetic scientists with the publication in 1981 of his novella "True Names," which is considered a seminal, visionary work of Internet fiction. His many books also include Marooned in Realtime and The Peace War.

Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and raised in Central Michigan, Vinge is the son of geographers. Fascinated by science and particularly computers from an early age, he has a Ph.D. in computer science, and taught mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University for thirty years. He has gained a great deal of attention both here and abroad for his theory of the coming machine intelligence Singularity. Sought widely as a speaker to both business and scientific groups, he lives in San Diego, California.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 00

 

 

How do you get the attention of the richest businessperson in the world?

Vendacious had spent all his well-remembered life sucking up to royalty. He had never dreamed he would fall so low as to need a common merchant, but here he was with his only remaining servant, trying to find a street address in East Home’s factory district.

This latest street was even narrower than the one they had left. Surely the world’s richest would never come here!

The alley had heavy doors set on either side. At the moment, all were closed, but the place must be a crowded madness at shift change. There were posters every few feet, but these were not the advertisements they had seen elsewhere. These were demands and announcements: WASH ALL PAWS BEFORE WORK, NO ADVANCE WAGES, EMPLOYMENT APPLICATIONS AHEAD. This last sign pointed toward a wide pair of doors at the end of the alley. It was all marvelously pompous and silly. And yet … as he walked along, Vendacious took a long look at the crenellations above him. Surely that was plaster over wood. But if it was real stone, then this was a fortified castle hidden right in the middle of East Home commercialism.

Vendacious held back, waved at his servant to proceed. Chitiratifor advanced along the alley, singing praise for his dear master. He had not quite reached the wide doors when they swung open and a hugely numerous pack emerged. It was nine or ten and it spread across their way like a sentry line. Vendacious suppressed the urge to look up at the battlements for signs of archers.

The huge pack looked at them stupidly for a moment, then spoke in loud and officious chords. “Employment work you want? Can you read?”

Chitiratifor stopped singing introductory flourishes, and replied, “Of course we can read, but we’re not here for—”

The gatekeeper pack spoke right over Chitiratifor’s words: “No matter. I have application forms here.” Two of it trotted down the steps with scraps of paper held in their jaws. “I will explain it all to you and then you sign. Tycoon pay good. Give good housing. And one day off every tenday.”

Chitiratifor bristled. “See here, my good pack. We are not seeking employment. My lord”—he gestured respectfully at Vendacious—“has come to tell the Great Tycoon of new products and opportunities.”

“Paw prints to suffice if you cannot write—” The other interrupted its own speech as Chitiratifor’s words finally penetrated. “Not wanting to apply for work?” It looked at them for moment, took in Chitiratifor’s flashy outfit. “Yes, you are not dressed for this doorway. I should have noticed.” It thought for a second. “You are in wrong place. Business visitors must visit to the Business Center. You go back five blocks and then onto the Concourse of the Great Tycoon. Wait. I get you a map.” The creature didn’t move, but Vendacious realized the pack was even more numerous than he had thought, extending back out of sight into the building; these Easterners tolerated the most grotesque perversions.

Chitiratifor shuffled back in Vendacious’ direction, and the nearest of him hissed, “That’s a two-mile walk just to get to the other side of this frigging building!”

Vendacious nodded and walked around his servant, confronting the gatekeeper directly. “We’ve come all the way from the West Coast to help Tycoon. We demand a courteous response, not petty delays!”

The nearest members of the gatekeeper stepped back timidly. Up close, Vendacious could hear that this was no military pack. Except at dinner parties, it probably never had killed a single living thing. In fact, the creature was so naive that it didn’t really recognize the deadly anger confronting it. After a moment, it reformed its line, and said “Nevertheless, sir, I must follow my orders. Business visitors use the business entrance.”

Chitiratifor was hissing murder; Vendacious waved him quiet. But Vendacious really didn’t want to walk around to the official entrance—and that wasn’t just a matter of convenience. He now realized that finding this entrance was a lucky accident. Woodcarver’s spies were unlikely this far from home, but the fewer people who could draw a connection between Tycoon and Vendacious, the better.

He backed off courteously, out of the gatekeeper’s space. This entrance would be fine if he could just talk to someone with a mind. “Perhaps your orders do not apply to me.”

The gatekeeper pondered the possibility for almost five seconds. “But I think they do apply,” it finally said.

“Well then, while we wait for the map, perhaps you could pass on an enquiry to someone who deals with difficult problems.” There were several lures Vendacious could dangle: “Tell your supervisor that his visitors bear news about the invasion from outer space.”

“The what from where?”

“We have eyewitness information about the humans—” that provoked more blank looks. “Damn it, fellow, this is about the mantis monsters!”

*   *   *

Mention of the mantis monsters did not produce the gatekeeper’s supervisor; the fivesome who came out to see them was far higher in the chain of command than that! “Remasritlfeer” asked a few sharp questions and then waved for them to follow him. In a matter of minutes, they were past the gatekeeper and walking down carpeted corridors. Looking around, Vendacious had to hide his smiles. The interior design was a perfection of bad taste and mismatched wealth, proof of the foolishness of the newly rich. Their guide was a very different matter. Remasritlfeer was mostly slender, but there were scars on his snouts and flanks, and you could see the lines of hard muscle beneath his fur. His eyes were mostly pale yellow and not especially friendly.

It was a long walk, but their guide had very little to say. Finally, the corridor ended at a member-wide door, more like the entrance to an animal den than the office of the world’s richest commoner.

Remasritlfeer opened the door and stuck a head in. “I have the outlanders, your eminence,” he said

A voice came from within: “That should be ‘my lord’. Today, I think ‘my lord’ sounds better.”

“Yes, my lord.” But the four of Remasritlfeer who were still in the corridor rolled their heads in exasperation.

“Well then, let’s not waste my time. Have them all come in. There’s plenty of room.”

As Vendacious filed through the narrow doorway, he was looking in all directions without appearing to be especially interested. Gas mantle lamps were ranked near the ceiling. Vendacious thought he saw parts of a bodyguard on perches above that. Yes, the room was large, but it was crowded with—what? not the bejeweled knickknacks of the hallway. Here there were gears and gadgets and large tilted easels covered with half-finished drawings. The walls were bookcases rising so high that perches on ropes and pulleys were needed to reach the top shelves. One of Vendacious stood less than a yard from the nearest books. No great literature here. Most of the books were accounting ledgers. The ones further up looked like bound volumes of legal statutes.

The unseen speaker continued, “Come forward where I can see you all! Why in hell couldn’t you use the business visitor entrance? I didn’t build that throne room for nothing.” This last was querulous muttering.

Vendacious percolated through the jumble. Two of him came out from under a large drawing easel. The rest reached the central area a second later. He suffered a moment of confusion as Chitiratifor shuffled himself out of the way, and then he got his first glimpse of the Great Tycoon:

The pack was an ill-assorted eightsome. Vendacious had to count him twice, since the smaller members were moving around so much. At the core were four middle-aged adults. They had no noble or martial aspect whatsoever. Two of them wore the kind of green-tinted visors affected by accountants everywhere. The other two had been turning the pages of a ledger. Pretty clearly he had been counting his money or cutting expenses, or whatever it was that businesscritters did.

Tycoon cast irritated looks at Vendacious and Chitiratifor. “You claim to know about the mantis monsters. This better be good. I know lots about the mantises, so I advise against lies.” He pointed a snout at Vendacious, waving him closer.

Treat him like royalty. Vendacious belly-crawled two of himself closer to Tycoon. Now he had the attention of all Tycoon’s members. The four small ones, puppies under two years old, had stopped their pell-mell orbiting of the accountancy four. Two hung back with the four, while two came within a couple feet of Vendacious. These pups were integrated parts of Tycoon’s personality—just barely, and when they felt like it. Their mindsounds were unseemly loud. Vendacious had to force himself not to shrink back.

After a moment or two of impolite poking, Tycoon said, “So, how would you know about the mantis monsters?”

“I witnessed their starship Oobii descend from the sky.” Vendacious used the human name of their ship. The sounds were flat and simple, alien. “I saw its lightning weapon bring down a great empire in a single afternoon.”

Tycoon was nodding. Most East Coast packs took this version of Woodcarver’s victory to be a fantasy. Evidently, Tycoon was not one of those. “You’re saying nothing new here, fellow—though few packs know the name of the flying ship.”

“I know far more than that, my lord. I speak the mantis language. I know their secrets and their plans.” And he had one of their datasets in his right third pannier, though he had no intention of revealing that advantage.

“Oh really?” Tycoon’s smile was sharp and incredulous, even unto his puppies. “Who then are you?”

An honest answer to that question had to come sooner or later, fatal though it might be. “My lord, my name is Vendacious. I was—”

Tycoon’s heads jerked up. “Remasritlfeer!”

“My lord!” The deadly little fivesome was clustered around the only exit.

“Cancel my appointments. No more visitors today, of any sort. Have Saliminophon take care of the shift change.”

“Yes, my lord!”

Tycoon’s older four set their ledger aside and all of him looked at Vendacious. “Be assured that this claim will be verified, sir. Discreetly but definitively verified.” But you could see Tycoon’s enthusiasm, the will to believe; for now, the puppies were in control. “You were Woodcarver’s spymaster, convicted of treason.”

Vendacious raised his heads. “All true, my lord. And I am proud of my ‘treason.’ Woodcarver has allied with the mantis queen and her maggots.”

“Maggots?” Tycoon’s eyes were wide.

“Yes, my lord. ‘Mantis’ and ‘maggot’ refer to different aspects of the same creatures, humans as they call themselves. ‘Mantis’ is the appropriate term for the adult. After all, it is a two-legged creature, sneaky and vicious, but also solitary.”

Real mantises are insects, only about so tall.” One of the puppies yawned wide, indicating less than two inches.

“The mantises from the sky can be five feet at the shoulder.”

“I knew that,” said Tycoon. “But the maggots? They are the younglings of the grown monsters?”

“Indeed so.” Vendacious moved his two forward members confidingly close to the other pack. “And here is something you may not know. It makes the analogy nigh perfect. The actual invasion from the sky began almost a year before the Battle on Starship Hill.”

“Before Woodcarver marched north?”

“Yes. A much smaller craft landed secretly, thirty-five tendays earlier. And do you know what was aboard? My lord, that first lander was filled with maggot eggsacks!”

“So that will be the real invasion,” said Tycoon. “Just as insect maggots burst from their eggsacks and overrun the neighborhood, these humans will overrun the entire world—”

Chitiratifor popped in with, “They will devour us all!”

Vendacious gave his servant a stern look. “Chitiratifor takes the analogy too far. At present, the maggots are young. There is only one adult, the mantis queen, Ravna. But consider, in just the two years since Ravna and Oobii arrived, she has taken control of Woodcarver’s Domain and expanded it across all the realms of the Northwest.”

Two of Tycoon’s older members tapped idly at an addition device, flicking small beads back and forth. A bean counter indeed. “And how do the mantises—this one Ravna mantis—manage such control? Are they loud? Can they swamp another’s mindsounds with their own?”

This sounded like a testing question. “Not at all, my lord. Just like insects, the humans make no sounds when they think. None whatsoever. They might as well be walking corpses.” Vendacious paused. “My lord, I don’t mean to understate the threat, but if we work together we can prevail against these creatures. Humans are stupid! It shouldn’t be surprising since they are singletons. I estimate that the smartest of them aren’t much more clever than a mismatched foursome.”

“Really! Even the Ravna?”

“Yes! They can’t do the simplest arithmetic, what any street haggler can do. Their memory for sounds—even the speech sounds they can hear—is almost nonexistent. Like insect mantises, their way of life is parasitic and thieving.”

All eight of Tycoon sat very still. Vendacious could hear the edges of his mind, a mix of calculation, wonder, and uncertainty.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Tycoon finally said. “From my own investigations, I already know some of what you say. But the mantises are superlative inventors. I’ve tested their exploding black powder. I’ve heard of the catapults powered by that powder. And they have other inventions I can’t yet reproduce. They can fly! Their Oobii may now be crashed to earth, but they have a smaller flyer, barely the size of a boat. Last year it was seen by reliable packs just north of town.”

Vendacious and Chitiratifor traded a glance. That was bad news. Aloud, Vendacious said, “Your point is well taken, my lord, but there is no paradox. The mantis folk simply stole the things that give them their advantage. I have … sources … that prove they’ve been doing that for a very long time. Finally, their victims tired of them and chased them out of their original place in the sky. Much of what they have, they do not understand and cannot re-create. Those devices will eventually wear out. The antigravity flier you mention is an example. Furthermore, the creatures have stolen—and are continuing to steal—our own inventions. For instance, that exploding black powder you mentioned? It might well have been invented by some creative pack, perhaps the same one who truly invented the cannon catapults.”

Tycoon didn’t reply immediately; he looked stunned. Ever since Vendacious had heard of Tycoon, he’d suspected that this pack had a special secret, something that could make him a faithful supporter of Vendacious’ cause. That was still just a theory, but—

Finally, Tycoon found his voice: “I wondered.… The blasting powder and the catapults … I remember…” He drifted off for a moment, splitting into the old and the young. The puppies scrabbled around, whining like some forlorn fragment. Then Tycoon gathered himself together. “I, I was once an inventor.”

Vendacious waved at the mechanisms that filled the room. “I can see that you still are, my lord.”

Tycoon didn’t seem to hear. “But then I split up. My fission sibling eventually left for the West Coast. He had so many ideas. Do you suppose—?”

Yes! But aloud, Vendacious was much more cautious: “I still have my sources, sir. Perhaps I can help with that question, too.”

 

Copyright © 2011 by Vernor Vinge

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Interviews & Essays

The Easier Part
by Vernor Vinge

There are two main subplots in my novel, A Fire Upon the Deep: the galactic starfaring of Ravna and Pham and the Skroderiders, and the adventure with the creatures of the Tines World. Of the two, the tale of Ravna and Company was by far the harder for me to write, and probably accounted for two -- thirds of my revision time. Much of the difficulty was that galactic adventure is a crowded genre; writing cool new space opera is possible, but not easy. So I slaved and thought and slaved some more, and in the end I think the galactic subplot of A Fire upon the Deep is as intriguing as the groundside subplot with the Tines. In fact, the diligent/analytical part of me gets a thrill when I run into a fan that prefers the galactic subplot; such opinions are a testament to hard work well done.

The Tines World subplot was a very different situation: the most interesting thing about the Tines hadn't had much prior exploitation. Individual Tines look a lot like dogs -- and are not much smarter than dogs -- but Tinish packs of four to eight members are about as smart as an individual human being. Packs bigger than seven are often dopey, and packs bigger than ten are considered to be mindless mobs. Group minds have been in science fiction at least since Olaf Stapledon's novels in the 1930s (for example, The Starmaker) -- usually with thousands or millions of members. There haven't been many stories about group minds with fewer than ten members. (I'll bet there have been 2-member examples, human twins of one mind. And Poul Anderson had 3-member group minds in his novel The Rebel Worlds, back in 1969.
I rely on the Internet's group mind to supply me with other examples!)

So with the Tines, novelty was easy. Furthermore, the nature of the pack mind made all sorts of alien behavior credible. And most readers have a natural sympathy for dogs: where I needed cute and likable alien characters, they could be easily supplied. Technical issues determined many of the details. For instance, I had originally intended that the Tines would use some naturally evolved radio sense to unite member minds into a pack. One of the early readers suggested I use ultrasound instead. That implied all sorts of cool things about the packs. The speed of sound is about a million times slower than lightspeed, and ultra-high-frequency sound is dramatically absorbed by just a few meters of air. Packs of Tines often have reason to get their heads together.

Even at the sentence level, writing about the Tines was fun. I found that many clichés and much silly language had fresh meaning when applied to Tinish packs:
"I'm of two minds on this issue."
"Tell your conscience to take a walk."
"I may be a little bit pregnant."
(On the other hand, "on the other hand" just sounds wrong coming from a pack!)

The Tinish subplot of A Fire Upon the Deep was big enough to explore many features of the pack civilization.

That was 1992. Since then I've had more time to live with these fictional beasties. In many ways they seem very real to me. There's nothing about the Tines of A Fire Upon the Deep that I think is seriously wrong, but at the same time, there are major consequences left unexplored. The "Tinish condition" is weirdly different from the "human condition". Almost everything Tinish has a dual nature: that of the individual pack members, and that of the members' pack. For example, a pack member is clearly mortal, but the pack as a whole might exist for far longer, with mortality a matter of contingency and definition. How the Tines interact with the human children, refugees from near godhood, drives much of plot of the upcoming sequel, The Children of the Sky.
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    a strong science fiction thriller

    A decade of survival problems have passed since Ravna Bergndot and the cryo Children of the Sky escaped the near extinction Blight of humanity by landing on Tines World (see A Fire Upon the Deep). They build a civilization of sorts with the help of telepathic Tine canines.

    However, humans remain scornful of the Blight peril as a sham to obtain and maintain power, and some local Tine inhabitants want the off-worlders to leave as they believe the outsiders are a blight to their world. Although natural enemies, these diverse groups hold in common one thing: the failure of Bergndot and her hundred children at any cost.

    The Children of the Sky is a strong science fiction thriller that focuses on how far humanity has fallen in technology since the adventures in A Fire Upon the Deep. The human skeptics will remind readers of climate change deniers while the Tine is divided between friendly and hostile towards the newcomers. Although the climax is disappointing as it ends with another novel to follow, fans will appreciate Vernor Vinge's follow-up to what happened to those who fled the Blight.

    Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2011

    Just okay

    Not Vinge's best work by a longshot. While the prose is of excellent quality, the story is rather disinteresting. The protagonist survives exclusively by luck and charity - consequentially, it's hard to care much about her. Furthermore, the book comes to an end without resolving many of the more interesting conflicts contained within. Expect sequels.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    Technical Difficulties Or Ripoff?

    Technical Difficulties - This Book Won't Download

    4 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011

    The Perils Of Ravna

    This is not a book with lots of ultra tech geekspeek or wars in heaven with godlike ai. This huge fifteen hundred page book follows Ravna as she struggles to prepare for that war. The real interest in this novel is the Tines as composite group minds and the implications of what that entails. Vinge does a great job with that, exploring how a Tine operates when members are killed or when single members try to join other packs and even what happens when thousands get together in a "choir". The weakness of the book is that some of the major characters make just freakin unbelievably naive, if not outright stupid decisions. Those drive much of the hectic chase scenes but I really couldn't buy that people who were trying to become gods in the last novel now became so naive in this one. The Tines are worth a novel yes, but this is a bit too huge for that. Not bad, you'll love the good Tines and hate the bad ones but its too long, unbelievable in spots and simply not a page turner.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Disappointing sequel

    A couple of interesting ideas regarding tines world are explored, but nothing that a short story or two would not have done just as well.

    I kept waiting for the story to break out, for the compelling challenge that would drive the plot and characters, but it never happened. Nevil is never believable as a villian, nor is it explained how Joanne, who is about to marry him, was so fooled. I simply concluded that her judgement could not be trusted, which was certainly not what Vinge had in mind.

    Written like a story an author felt compelled to write to fullfill a contract obligation or to satisfy his agent who thinks he can make money on it. No big ideas here (not even medium sized ones) and Vinge is a man we count on for big ideas.

    Oh, and why isn't the most obviously effective weapon - a loud noise generator - ever developed and used against the Tines? Glaring oversight.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    An interesting view of possible extraterrestrial life

    Read the first book and this is a good one too.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Great Sequel

    A great story. Love the fact the author left room for a third book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Good Read!

    Enjoyed it; it doesn't exceed "A Fire upon the Deep" but everyone who read that one will like this one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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