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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A richly textured hard-SF novel that combines adept characterization with action and insight into alien civilizations, Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky is a provocative portrayal of an outlandish world on the edge of great advancement that must stave off civil war and exploitation from other planets. A story set in the same universe as Vinge's Hugo Award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep, the highly charged A Deepness in the Sky is an even more complex and involving examination of human expansion into distant galaxies. Here the balance between trade, corruption, and deliberate destruction is blurred as three separate societies come into fiery contact.
The Qeng Ho, a fleet of interstellar traders, are in a race with the Emergents, another band of traders, to the planet Arachna. Located in the On/Off star system, a place where the sun inexplicably goes out for two centuries before reigniting for another two, Arachna is the home of spiderlike inhabitants known as the Arachnids; they are only the third nonhuman sentient creatures found in the universe. Although the Arachnids are in hibernation for another year, their civilization remains on the verge of taking great technological leaps, making them the perfect race for the trading worlds to control. The Emergents are outwardly friendly to the Qeng Ho and are willing to share the ripe planet, but not all the Qeng Ho commanding officers are willing to trust them.
Eventually, after a brutal Emergent ambush destroys half the Qeng Ho starships and troops, Ezr Vinh, a young Qeng Ho crew member, is ordered by theEmergentsto take command of the remainder of the fleet. While his love, Trixia Bonsol, remains hospitalized under the cryptic term of "focused," Ezr must do whatever he can to save his people, even if in doing so he looks like a traitorous Emergent lackey. Pham Nuwen, a mysterious old man who is at once a historical figure of the Qeng Ho but not truly one of them, remains an enigma as he works to free the enslaved forces.
Vinge's narrative splits into several threads as we follow various characters through a diverse series of events. In a flashback scene we witness the last few years of Arachnid life before the coming of the Deep Dark, when the entire population of the warring world settles deep into the frozen earth to hibernate for the two centuries before the coming of the New Sun. Sherkaner Underhill is a brilliant scientist who attempts to do something none of the spider folk has ever dreamed of doing before: Through the use of chemicals and machinery, he plans to awaken before his natural time in an effort to catch the other side unaware. Instead, upon awakening from the Darkness, he and his team discover that aliens are in the process of ravaging their world as their fellow Arachnids sleep.
With great ingenuity and proficient command, Vinge winds these elements together into a powerful and cohesive plot, tightening the meshed accounts of conflicts and slavery into a gripping, finely honed tale of suspense. From its most basic components to the full tapestry of the wars at hand, the multilayered and epic structure presents ingenious speculations of alien life, with skillfully interwoven parallel story lines full of high drama and action-packed escapism. Vinge is a master at using scientific theory to create a real sense of apprehension, never letting up on the intrigue throughout the entire lengthy novel. The Qeng Ho fight against not only their servitude but also their own despair, sorrow, and loss as they watch the remnants of their identities being absorbed into the Emergent community. The Arachnids are fearful of the alien invaders as well as their own changing destiny in the galaxy, realizing that a new path must be taken in order to preserve the past. Character and culture are never lost in the dramatic and moving quality of the book.
High-octane concepts abound throughout, covering a wide range of ground, from minor details of the Arachnid's poetry and belief systems to the escalating psychological persuasions of the Emergents upon the remaining Qeng Ho. These particulars do more than merely flesh out the plot twists, as Vinge capably threads these ideas into the narrative and breathes memorable existence into this universe. His insight and ability to build tension will carry the reader through devastation and captivity into the heart of redemption. This is space opera taken to an entirely different level, full of engaging, immense, and bizarre wonders.