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A Fire Upon the Deep

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Overview

A Fire Upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale.

Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space ...

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Overview

A Fire Upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale.

Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

 

A Fire Upon The Deep is the winner of the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

This special eBook edition adds hundreds of annontations from Vinge which were written during the time of his original composition of this groundbreaking Hugo Award winning novel.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Fleeing a menace of galactic proportions, a spaceship crashes on an unfamiliar world, leaving the survivors—a pair of children—to the not-so-tender mercies of a medieval, lupine race. Responding to the crippled ship's distress signal, a rescue mission races against time to retrieve the children and recover the weapon they need to prevent the universe from being changed forever. Against a background depicting a space-time continuum stratified into 'zones of thought,' the author has created a rarity—a unique blend of hard science, high drama, and superb storytelling."

Library Journal

"A tale that burns with the brazen energy of the best space operas of the golden age. Vinge has created a galaxy for the readers of the '90s to believe in...immense, ancient, athrum with data webs, dotted with wonders."

—John Clute, Interzone

"Vernor Vinge's best novel yet."

—Greg Bear, author of Moving Mars

"Vast, riveting, far-future saga...The overall concept astonishes; the aliens are developed with memorable skill and insight, the plot twists and turns with unputdownable tension. A masterpiece of universe building."

Kirkus Reviews

"The first grand SF I've read in ages...Vinge is one of the best visionary writers of SF today." —David Brin, author of Earth

"Fiercely original...Compelling ideas in the book include problems and advantages of group mind, galactic communications turbidity, and the prospect of civilizations aspiring to godhood." -

-Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog

Analog Magazine
The reader grows breathless, carried away in a way that only the very best science fiction can manage.
From the Publisher
“Heart-pounding, mind-expanding science fiction at its best.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge is a genuine galactic epic. Weaving a large cast of humans and aliens, Vinge tells an exciting story in space and on several planets packed with ideas and wonder. This is big-scale science fiction at its best.” —Fred Cleaver, the Denver Post

“Vast, riveting far-future saga involving evil gods, interstellar war, and manipulative aliens, from the author of The Peace War and the splendid Marooned in Realtime. No summary can do justice to the depth and conviction of Vinge's ideas. The overall concept astonishes; the aliens are developed with memorable skill and insight; the plot twists and turns with unputdownable tension.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Thoughtful space opera at its best, this book delivers everything it promises in terms of galactic scope, audacious concepts, and believable characters both human and nonhuman.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Vinge, whose characters are as interesting as the science this time, has produced a cosmic epic the equal of any in recent years.” —The Houston Post

“Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep is a wide-screen science fiction epic of the type few writers attempt any more, probably because nobody until Vinge has ever done it well. It has Hugo Winner written all over it.” —The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812515282
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 2/15/1993
  • Series: Zones of Thought Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 613
  • Sales rank: 574,763
  • Product dimensions: 4.22 (w) x 6.69 (h) x 1.31 (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

A FIRE UPON THE DEEP (Chapter One)

The coldsleep itself was dreamless. Three days ago they had been getting ready to leave, and now they were here. Little Jefri complained about missing all the action, but Johanna Olsndot was glad she'd been asleep; she had known some of the grownups on the other ship.

Now Johanna drifted between the racks of sleepers. Waste heat from the coolers made the darkness infernally hot. Scabby gray mold grew on the walls. The coldsleep boxes were tightly packed, with narrow float spaces every tenth row. There were places where only Jefri could reach. Three hundred and nine children lay there, all the kids except herself and her brother Jefri.

The sleep boxes were light-duty hospital models. Given proper ventilation and maintenance, they would have been good for a hundred years, but.... Johanna wiped her face and looked at a box's readout. Like most of the ones on the inside rows, this was in bad shape. For twenty days it had kept the boy inside safely suspended, and would probably kill him if he stayed one day more. The box's cooling vents were clean, but she vac'd them again—more a prayer for good luck than effective maintenance.

Mother and Dad were not to blame, though Johanna suspected that they blamed themselves. The escape had been put together with the materials at hand, at the last minute, when the experiment turned wicked. The High Lab staff had done what they could to save their children and protect against still greater disaster. And even so, things might have worked out if—

"Johanna! Daddy says there's no more time. He says to finish what you're doing an' come up here." Jefri had stuck his head down through the hatch to shout to her.

"Okay!" She shouldn't be down here anyway; there was nothing more she could do to help her friends.

Tami and Giske and Magda...oh, please be safe. Johanna pulled herself through the floatway, almost bumped into Jefri coming from the other direction. He grabbed her hand and hung close as they drifted toward the hatch. These last two days he hadn't cried, but he'd lost much of the independence of the last year. Now his eyes were wide. "We're coming down near the North Pole, by all those islands and ice."

In the cabin beyond the hatch, their parents were strapping themselves in. Trader Arne Olsndot looked up at her and grinned. "Hi, kiddo. Have a seat. We'll be on the ground in less than an hour." Johanna smiled back, almost caught by his enthusiasm. Ignore the jumble of equipment, the odors of twenty days' confinement. Daddy looked as dashing as any adventure poster. The light from the display windows glittered off the seams of his pressure suit. He was just in from outside.

Jefri pushed across the cabin, pulling Johanna behind him. He strapped into the webbing between her and their mother. Sjana Olsndot checked his restraints, then Johanna's. "This will be interesting, Jefri. You will learn something."

"Yes, all about ice." He was holding Mom's hand now.

Mom smiled. "Not today. I'm talking about the landing. This won't be like an agrav or a ballistic." The agrav was dead. Dad had just detached their shell from the cargo carrier. They could never have landed the whole thing on one torch.

Dad did something with the hodgepodge of controls he had softwired to his dataset. Their bodies settled into the webbing. Around them the cargo shell creaked, and the girder support for the sleep boxes groaned and popped. Something rattled and banged as it "fell" the length of the shell. Johanna guessed they were pulling about one gravity.

Jefri's gaze went from the outside display to his mother's face and then back. "What is it like then?" He sounded curious, but there was a little tremor in his voice. Johanna almost smiled; Jefri knew he was being diverted, and was trying to play along.

"This will be pure rocket descent, powered almost all the way. See on the middle window? That camera is looking straight down. You can actually see that we're slowing down." You could, too. Johanna guessed they weren't more than a couple of hundred kilometers up. Arne Olsndot was using the rocket glued to the back end of the cargo shell to kill all their orbital velocity. There weren't any other options. They had abandoned the cargo carrier, with its agrav and ultradrive. It had brought them far, but its control automation was failing. Some hundreds of kilometers behind them, it coasted dead along their orbit.

All they had left was the cargo shell. No wings, no agrav, no aero shielding. The shell was a hundred-tonne carton of eggs balanced on one hot torch.

Mom wasn't describing it quite that way to Jefri, though what she said was the truth. Somehow she had Jefri seeming to forget the danger. Sjana Olsndot had been a pop writer-archaeologist at Straumli Realm, before they moved to the High Lab.

Dad cut the jet, and they were in free fall again. Johanna felt a wave of nausea; ordinarily she never got space sick, but this was different. The image of land and sea in the downward window slowly grew. There were only a few scattered clouds. The coastline was an indefinite recursion of islands and straits and inlets. Dark green spread along the coast and up the valleys, shading to black and gray in the mountains. There was snow—and probably Jefri's ice—scattered in arcs and patches. It was all so beautiful...and they were falling straight into it!

She heard metallic banging on the cargo shell as the trim jets tipped their craft around, aligning the main jet downwards. The right-hand window showed the ground now. The torch lit again, at something like one gravity. The edge of the display darkened in a burnout halo. "Wow," said Jefri. "It's like an elevator, down and down and down and..." One hundred kilometers down, slow enough that aero forces wouldn't tear them apart.

Sjana Olsndot was right; it was a novel way to descend from orbit, not a preferred method under any normal circumstances.

It was certainly not intended in the original escape plans. They were to meet with the High Lab's frigate—and all the adults who could escape from the High Lab. And of course, that rendezvous was to be in space, an easy transfer. But the frigate was gone now, and they were on their own. Her eyes turned unwillingly to the stretch of hull beyond her parents. There was the familiar discoloration. It looked like gray fungus...growing out of the clean hull ceramic. Her parents didn't talk about it much even now, except to shoo Jefri away from it. But Johanna had overheard them once, when they thought she and her brother were at the far end of the shell. Dad's voice almost crying with anger. "All this for nothing!" he said softly. "We made a monster, and ran, and now we're lost at the Bottom." And Mom's voice even softer: "For the thousandth time, Arne, not for nothing. We have the kids." She waved at the roughness that spread across the wall. "And given the dreams...the directions we had...I think this was the best we could hope for. Somehow we are carrying the answer to all the evil we started." Then Jefri had bounced loudly across the hold, proclaiming his imminent entrance, and his parents had shut up. Johanna hadn't quite had the courage to ask them about it. There had been strange things at the High Lab, and toward the end, some quietly scary things; even people who were not quite the same.

Minutes passed. They were deep in the atmosphere now. The hull buzzed with the force of the air stream—or turbulence from the jet? But things were steady enough that Jefri was beginning to get restless. Much of the down-looking view was burned out by airglow around the torch. The rest was clearer and more detailed than anything they had seen from orbit. Johanna wondered how often a new-visited world had been landed upon with less reconnaissance than this. They had no telescopic cameras, and no ferrets.

Physically, the planet was near the human ideal—wonderful good luck after all the bad.

It was heaven compared to the airless rocks of the system that had been the prime rendezvous.

On the other hand, there was intelligent life here: From orbit, they could see roads and towns. But there was no evidence of technic civilization; there was no sign of aircraft or radio or intense power sources.

They were coming down in a thinly populated corner of the continent. With luck there would be no one to see their landing among the green valleys and the black and white peaks—and Arne Olsndot could fly the torch right to ground without fear of hurting much more than forest and grass.

The coastal islands slid past the side camera's view. Jefri shouted, pointing. It was gone now, but she had seen it too: on one of the islands an irregular polygon of walls and shadow. It reminded her of castles from the Age of Princesses on Nyjora.

She could see individual trees now, their shadows long in slanting sunlight. The roar of the torch was as loud as anything she had ever heard; they were deep in atmosphere, and they weren't moving away from the sound.

"...things get tricky," Dad shouted. "And no programs to make things right.... Where to, Love?"

Mom looked back and forth between the display windows. As far as Johanna knew, they couldn't move the cameras or assign new ones. "...that hill, above the timberline, but...think I saw a pack of animals running away from the blast on...west side."

"Yeah," shouted Jefri, "wolves." Johanna had only had a quick glimpse of moving specks.

They were in full hover now, maybe a thousand meters above the hilltops. The noise was painful, unending; further talk was impossible. They drifted slowly across the landscape, partly to reconnoiter, partly to stay out of the plume of superheated air that rose about them.

The land was more rolling than craggy, and the "grass" looked mossy. Still Arne Olsndot hesitated. The main torch was designed for velocity matching after interstellar jumps; they could hang like this for a good while. But when they did touch down, they'd better have it right. She'd heard her parents talking that one over—when Jefri was working with the coldsleep boxes and out of earshot. If there was too much water in the soil, the backsplash would be a steam cannon, punching right through the shell. Landing in trees would have some dubious pluses, maybe giving them a little cushioning and a standoff from the splash. But now they were going for direct contact. At least they could see where they were landing.

Three hundred meters. Dad dragged the torch tip through the ground cover. The soft landscape exploded. A second later their boat rocked in the column of steam. The down-looking camera died. They didn't back off, and after a moment the battering eased; the torch had burned through whatever water table or permafrost lay below them. The cabin air grew steadily hotter.

Olsndot brought them slowly down through it, using the side cameras and the sound of the backsplash as his guides. He cut the torch. There was a scary half-second fall, then the sound of the rendezvous pylons hitting ground. They steadied, then one side groaned, giving way a little.

Silence, except for heat pinging around the hull. Dad looked at their ad hoc pressure gauge. He grinned at Mom. "No breach. I bet I could even take this baby up again!"

A FIRE UPON THE DEEP Copyright © 1992 by Vernor Vinge

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 49 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2012

    Bland like Day Old Bread

    Yes, I agree with some of the reviews that Vinge is creative with his races. However, the writing style is utterly boring, at times cliche, and devoid of proper details that make the workings of the galaxy and beyond coherent. Also, the characters never have anything interesting, humourous or profound to say and the same goes for the narrative and plot.
    Overall, this book was a plebian disappointment that does not live up to its intriguing title (the best written words in the whole book) to say the least, as I had expected better based on the reviews and the Hugo award. Although not juvenile in writing style, better science fiction with more depth of both character and philosophy exists on the hard drives of college students' computers writing for their creative writing classes.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2012

    A great "idea" book

    As a fan of hard scifi, I found the creativity and believability of the societies in this novel to be by far its strongest point. The alien races were original and distinctly non-human, and their cultures and psychologies were well developed and thoughtful. The concept of intelligence being a function of location was interesting and unique, while still believable, and the structure of the universal society in the Beyond was quite interestingly, well, unstructured. All in all, a very imaginative and interesting setting.

    On the other hand, the writing style was little more than childish. It was obvious to me that the author was (as can be confirmed), a scientist and not a writer by profession. The book was dotted with unexpected changes in point of view and tacky informalities (for example, "and/or"), descriptions lacked any sense of elegance, and I should hope never to read an interjected "Hmm..." again.

    Even after all this, I would still recommend this book to someone who likes hard scifi, interesting aliens, or "idea" books, because the ideas are that good. If you can overlook some mediocre word assembly, this is still very much worth reading.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2003

    One of my favorites

    I just finished reading this epic novel again and found it to be just as mind-expanding and exciting as it was 10 years ago. Vinge not only tells a gripping story (more than one, actually), but builds a galactic civilization that is compelling and creates aliens that are impressive to imagine. I've read SF avidly for almost 30 years and this book is at the top.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2002

    Exemplary Fiction

    I've had, all my life, an unquenched interest in science fiction. As a kid, I thought often of building spaceships and traveling to far-off planets. I discovered A FIRE UPON THE DEEP once in my school library. My life-long interests were precisely met by the contents of the book. A grand space opera, perhaps to define all others. The story presents a good number of original ideas--from collective minds to galactic 'zones of thought'--as well as a darn good replete with believable characters of great variety. I've yet to come across a better novel in the years of steady reading since.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2004

    Awesome!

    This book was amazing, the way in which he invisioned the universe so unique and unexpected. After reading this I have read all of his other titles and they, too, were fantastic.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2001

    Can't I give it 6 Stars?

    Absolutely one of the best SF books out there. I couldn't put it down. The alien races were outstanding in there complexity and the story keeps you on the edge of your seat. I look forward to reading Mr. Vinge's other works.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2001

    The Best

    I just finished this book and had to come on-line to say it was one of the all time best SF novels I've ever read. Loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2000

    Awesome!

    This is the book I would take to a deserted island. A very detailed and original world-view, good charactorizations, a plot that rocks, and some of the coolest non-human sentients that you'll never see on TV.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 30, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Fantastic Book!

    I bought this book after reading a brief synopsis on the web site i09. I am a fan of science fiction but it is just one genre of books that I like to read. This book will take its place among my all time favorites. The story was compelling and made the book hard to put down. The ideas and concepts Vernor Vinge presents in this book are unique and will have you thinking long after finishing the book. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

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  • Posted May 11, 2013

    An excellent Sci-Fi novel

    An excellent Sci-Fi novel. Set in a universe where technology differs depending on where you are. The Universe is separated into the Transcend, The Beyond, and Slow Space. An old enemy called the blight is accidentally let loose, and a ragtag team is trying to stop it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Instant hard scifi classic

    Best science fiction i have read in a long time. Equal to gregory benford at his best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    More than a Space Opera

    Loved this story...the alen characters had enough novelty to be interesting, and speculatively thought-provoking about the natures of possible concious beings, but I also became attatched to them on a 'human' level. These were embedded in a well-paced plot of suspense and adventure.



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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2011

    Riveting! WARNING: Extremely Nerdy

    Excellent writing, believable characters, and aliens that are more than one-dimensional humans with prosthetic pieces on their heads. Suspense, humor, action, politics, and philosophy all seamlessly interwoven into a narrative that is both personal and epic. Vernor Vinge really stretches the popular imagination with some of his ideas, while simultaneously poking fun at a culture that seeks ever more expansive realms of knowledge.

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    Exceptionally original - worth the read!

    As a long time sci-fi reader, it is the exception to come across a truly original story idea, especially one that spans our galaxy as this one does. Well-developed characters, from human to alien, a story that captured my imagination from the first few pages, and well written to boot. A true pleasure to read.

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  • Posted July 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Out-there Entertainment

    This was an enjoyable read, my first by Vernor Vinge. It took a while to grasp what was happening, and in many ways, I'm still not certain about some of the main concepts surrounding the antagonist. Nonetheless, I found myself drawn to read on and hard to put down. If you're looking for a wildly fantastic futuristic vision of the universe with some outrageously creative alien species delivered in a suspensful and highly original story, then this book is for you.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2000

    A well written sci-fi novel

    Keeps you on the edge of your seat as the rescue continues for kids caught in a crazy world governed by dog like people that can clone and combine themselves into collectives for survival and enhancement. Venge touches on civilizational achievements that may have been taken for granted before. It's a real cliff hanger that makes it hard not to look ahead to see what happens!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews

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