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Brilliance drowned by outdated vocab & unsolved mysteries
on 11 October 2011
Typically, I can read a 700+ page book in a week (Asher and Reynolds to name a few). I've been known to devour 1,000+ page tomes in five days (Hamilton for one). So when I met the challenge of a 700+ page American novel (note above how all the authors are British) I took it up with much gusto. I also typically read British sci-fi, including the likes of Arthur C.Clarke, Iain Banks and George Orwell, etc. I don't know why I prefer these authors, but I know that I don't usually like American authors all that much. I used to enjoy Greg Bear, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournlle in my earlier sci-fi reading days and I've dabble in the American sci-fi scene when I hear of a decent book according to its sub-genre fans. This was my first Vinge novel and it won't be the last... but I found that it didn't meet the nebulous criteria for which makes a voluminous sci-fi novel into a sci-fi saga.
It took me three weeks to finish Deepness in the Sky. No other book in my library burned up so much of my time for so little satisfaction (perhaps it was because I was training for a marathon and watching cricket every night). Anyway, if you want a rehash of the plot then don't read this review. This review is of my gut reaction when struggling through the pages of my first Vinge novel. All in all, a brilliant idea as a star-faring technology-trading human clique fly off to the great beyond to confront a mystery only to be met by another star-faring human clique, whose ideas are so focused on trade. Yes, the plot is all laid out so nicely that the edges of the interlocking pieces fit oh-so-nicely together but the effort seemed over-supple in the sense that the book would have been tidier and more focused if it were to be a mere 500 pages.
My main annoyance with the novel is Vinge's seemingly outdated vocabulary and/or word usage... not sure how to put without just giving examples. I understand what a `rocket bomb' is, but are those words dated when a word like `missile' would suffice? Or perhaps `electric jet' which, when reading, I never found a clear idea of what the heck that would exactly entail. Then there's the `protective coloration' which sounds like a little word I know as `camouflage.' Another would be the term used by the author is `megamurder,' which is a corny was of saying mass homicide, genocide or xenocide, depending on its context. Lastly, I harrumphed when I read the words `magic rock dust' and its properties of anti-gravity. If you're not initially annoyed by the above words, then you should consider reading this novel.
As said above, the interlocking pieces of the general plot are exceptional- the relationships between the Qeng Ho cast, the Emergence cast, the Spider cast and the social intercourse between the groups are as firm as concrete, yet as transparent as glass. I prefer these transparent relationships in a novel so long. But the last sticking point which drove this novel from a 4-star rating to a 3-star rating was its handling of the deeper mysteries which started the entire journey in the first place! There is no satisfactory answers as to why the OnOff star behaves the way it does, nor is there any firm evidence to show how the Spiders becomes situated on their planet. Most annoyingly, the Spider find of their `magic rock dust' is given only a glance over as to its origin, inherent properties or behavior, other than the fact that it repels gravity. This particular kink in my review for Deepness in the Sky may rest in the habit of reading older novels by Brunner, Anderson, Aldiss and van Vogt who approach the solution to mysteries as the overall theme for their novels. Since Vinge didn't bother to expound upon the facts and observances of an entire solar system, an alien race and a new-found-discovery it left me feeling that he didn't much care for these mysteries to be solved at all and that he only included them so that the rest of the plot would fall into place.
Regardless of the negative comments, I will reach for A Fire Upon the Deep to see if an older Vinge novel and grab my curiosity to be better extent than a Deepness in the Sky, which failed to do in the above regards.