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on 19 April 2017
Long on character, plot, vision and insight. Also long on... length. A visionary novel given the history since it's writing.
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on 27 November 2001
This is another example of Vernor Vinge's imaginative exploration of alternative alien psyche, while at the same time investigating the darkness of "human" interactions and exploitation on a grand scale. I found both plots gripping to the end.
Perhaps it was a mistake to market this as related to A Fire Upon the Deep in any way; there are only tenuous cross-references and a reader hoping to "learn more" from this prequel will be disappointed. Rather, the story should be treated as an excellent - and involving - yarn in its own right.
The spider-analog aliens do have particularly human emotions. I thought that was the point. In the course of reading this you will develop genuine empathy for creatures most would find otherwise physically repugnant.
The plot follows a complex path alternating between human and spider-analog themes and the competition of rival factions within each. The crescendo is the final coming-together. Personally I found the development and conclusion highly imaginative and very rewarding.
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on 22 July 2001
I haven't yet read 'Fire upon the Deep', so I can't compare this to it, but it is certainly up there with the best full-on space operas I have ever read, e.g. Dune, The Mote In God's Eye, the Gap series. All the criticisms you can read below are true, but in fact 'Deepness' is such a strong story that it isn't brought down by any of them. Vinge drops bombshell revelations and insights to the reader far more regularly than you would think possible for such a long book. Ultimately all the tension he builds over hundreds of pages is released in one of the most wickedly scripted finales ever, with the details of every one of the huge cast of characters coming to bear on the outcome. 'Deepness' is unashamedly romantic in places but Vinge does horror just as well as fairy tale fantasy so it ends up well balanced enough. A few plot holes are just as easily forgiven. Don't miss this.
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on 2 March 1999
I've spent the last 2 months haunting Amazon and the local bookshops waiting for this book to come out, so perhaps I had unrealistically high expectations. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good novel, but not quite what I was hoping for - I was hoping for something more techno-geek oriented, more cyberspace, AIs, Vinge's theory on the Singularity (his theory of human evolution once computers can be factored into our intellect). What it actually is, is the story of Pham Nuwen's origins and therefore is set in the Slow Zone, where technological coolness is necessarily limited (as explained in "A Fire Upon The Deep"). I didn't find it as gripping as "Across RealTime", which I couldn't put down, but there are some very cool aliens and horribly nasty villains. The plot revolves around politics, not so much around technology. So, if you're hoping for a brilliant cyber-epic then you may be disappointed; but I still consider Vernor Vinge to be one of the most talented and brilliant SF writers of our time, and his latest book (like all his others) is well worth reading.
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on 8 May 2013
(Spoiler free review, at least as far as possible)

This is a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, set in the days of the Qeng Ho from which Pham Nuwen rose. It's works perfectly fine as a standalone novel and in my opinion even outshines it's great predecessor.

The zones so important to the first book are merely hinted upon here, but this novel features the most fascinating and detailed description of an alien society I've read (even beating that in The Mote Series. You can't help but like the creepy looking aliens, while the humans in the story often behave at their most despicable. Other engrossing facets are the rise of a technological society, the cold war setting and the fallacy of trusting manipulated information, computer networks and "unbreakable" encryption. Not to mention the rather unique world (or solar system) in which most of the story takes place.

A book packed full of interesting concepts and characters, this is a must read for any fellow nerd.
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on 31 January 2002
Unlike some of the other reviewers, I found this book almost impossible to put down - I certainly enjoyed it more than Across Realtime, and possibly more than A Fire Upon the Deep.
The storylines about the humans are all the more enthralling because these are characters you come to care about, and they're in a very sticky situation indeed. The way that the bad guys mess with their victims' minds and literally integrate them into their computer systems is chilling and memorable...
The spider-beings are another example of Vinge's greatness at inventing aliens. It's true that their society and actions are couched in human terms, but that made them all the more understandable without glossing over their alienness.
It did take a fair few pages to get me hooked, though. If you're looking for something that will grip you from page one, this might not be for you...
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Set twenty thousand years earlier than A Fire Upon The Deep, Vernor Vinge's second book in the Zones of Thought universe shares little and requires nothing of its companion volume. It's action alternates between the inhabitants of an alien world and human observers concealed in orbit above. The Spiders have developed pre-space flight technology and struggle with the 250-year freeze-and-thaw cycle of their planet's On/Off variable star. The orbiting humans consist of two factions. The Qeng Ho have goals of trade and communication. The Emergents have the more direct agenda of conquest and domination. As the book proceeds, we watch the Spiders develop technically and socially. Simultaneously, the more advanced Emergents and Qeng Ho intrigue, fight, integrate, intrigue and fight. It all works out much better than it should.

Like Vinge's other fiction, this book is host to a number of "big ideas" that take the stage along with the actions and inactions of the characters. They include:

An alien species--the Spiders--that seems far less alien than they really should. What seems like bad writing through much of the book is given a reasonable explanation in the end. These creatures are interesting and even--heaven help me--cute.

A variable star turns on and off at regular intervals. The possible explanations are intriguing as are its effects on the evolution of life on its planets.

A tailored "mindrot" virus produces various neurological effects, including an exaggerated ability to concentrate called "Focus." The virus is both a disease and an altered state that makes workers diligent, productive and savant-like. It has uses and abuses, not always easy to distinguish.

A flexible, self-organizing network technology constructed of large numbers of simple processors massively interconnected. The security and flexibility of the resulting "mesh networks" are explored by their Qeng Ho and Emergent users.

If you plan to also read A Fire Upon The Deep, then read it first for the most enjoyable experience. That said, this book can stand on its own and is good, enjoyable space opera. The story has its darker elements, but is well-worth a persistent reading. With good justification, it is considered one of science fiction's classics.
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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.
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on 14 March 2001
I approached this formidable tome with some trepidation.....would it be worth the commitment.... It was. Just when you may have thought that everything has been tried in some form or other in Science Fiction, along comes a truely mind boggling combination of graceful imagination and beautiful characterisation. More please!!
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on 8 July 1999
When two sets of humans, traders and the exploitative emergents, arrive at the unusual on-off star, there is bound to be trouble. This star emits light for 35 years, turns off for 200, and has led to an alien civilisation built around the necessity to hibernate for the off periods. After the inevitable human/human conflict the emergents are in charge of a crippled space-fleet, and everyone must wait until the spider race has sufficient technology to effect repairs. Coldsleep for the humans means that years can pass on-planet while no one gets too much older, and the different protagonists, human and alien, can plot away. The emergents have perfected a particularly sinister form of human slavery, and the chief plotter on the trader side has a much longer history than anyone suspects. This book has characters you care about, plot twists you don't expect and confirms my opinion of Vernor Vinge as someone whose books are all worth buying. A really excellent read.
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