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Thread: Book Discussion: A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge

  1. #1
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Book Discussion: A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge

    Book Discussion for June 1, 2017: A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge

    First up for our new quarterly book discussions is Tor.com's May 2017 selection, the Hugo Award Winning A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge. A free download of the book is available at Tor. com** until May 15, 2017, at 11:59 p.m. (U.S. Eastern Time). It is also available for Kindle on Amazon, though I do recommend grabbing from Tor while it's free.


    Why a Science Fiction novel in the Contemporary Lit subforum?

    Lisa mentioned the book as Tor's current download, so it is easily accessible to most as a free download right now. “Alternative facts” and determining the reliability of information bombarding us currently via the internet (in particular) is already on all our minds. And artificial intelligence and what would happen were some “evil intelligence” to direct our quest for information/knowledge in service to its own purposes has been on my mind. (Pure serendipity, I guess you'd call it.) A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is one take on such a post-human era brought about by this technological singularity of humanity completely freed (by robotics and artificial intelligence) from mundane tasks—unprecedented in human history and with no foreseeable outcome based on our prior experience.

    Why this novel in particular?

    It meets the criteria: published post-WWII, strong characterization (specifically Ravna Bergsndot, a human librarian); contains contemporary cultural elements and implications; a well-written and conceptually dense book that makes us think.

    The Plot:

    In the far future, humans have found they are not alone in the universe. The universe is populated by many species—and they are the most “alien” aliens you’ll encounter; they aren’t the lizards in cheap suits variety—and information/knowledge is the source of great wealth. When humans of the Straumli realm discover and try to tap into a lost “archive”, they unleash a Power that is bent on the destruction of worlds.

    Attempting to flee the now-discovered threat, two ships take off: one containing a husband and wife team and their two children, as well as the other children from the colony now in a cryogenic state; the second ship contains adults from the colony and is destroyed by the Power. Upon landing on another world, the survivors are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture. A rescue mission, of both humans and non-humans, is launched to rescue survivors and obtain a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

    Interviews with Dr. Vernor Vinge:

    http://sfmag.hu/2012/12/05/interview-with-vernor-vinge/

    https://henryherz.wordpress.com/2014...-vernor-vinge/

    https://www.wired.com/2012/03/vernor...-guide-galaxy/

    http://strangehorizons.com/non-ficti...-vernor-vinge/

    Additional thoughts on AI and the Singularity: Dr. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom, James Barrat, Dr. Vernor Vinge.


    **It's available there in both Mobi (Kindle and others read this) and Epub (used for iBooks for OS X/macOS and iOS, and other apps/OSs too)

    The download is free.

    It has no DRM.

    Free ebook readers:

    Kindle apps for computers and smart phones and tablets
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/custo...deId=200783640

    iBooks for OS X and iOS (see app store)

    Icecream for Windows (reads Mobi and ePub)
    https://icecreamapps.com/Ebook-Reader/

    Calibre for Windows, OSC, Linux
    https://calibre-ebook.com/download


    .

    ***This thread will open on June 1, 2017.***
    Last edited by Ari Meermans; 05-14-2017 at 07:21 AM. Reason: Add link *le sigh*
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  2. #2
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Countdown: 3 days to thread opening.

    I'm really looking forward to the discussion and I hope you all are, too. What. a. book.
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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    "Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance." Lyndon B. Johnson

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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    "How to explain? How to describe? Even the omniscient viewpoint quails.

    A singleton star, reddish and dim. A ragtag of asteroids, and a single planet, more like a moon. In this era the star hung near the galactic plane, just beyond the Beyond. The structures on the surface were gone from normal view, pulverized into regolith across a span of aeons. The treasure was far underground, beneath a network of passages, in a single room filled with black. Information at the quantum density, undamaged. Maybe five billion years had passed since the archive was lost to the nets."

    And, so the Prologue begins this first book of Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought series.

    Chills. Foreboding. The possibility of a quest? Already, I knew this book was likely to be something different in my reading experience.

    What do you think of the book's title? Did it prepare you for the story ahead?

    What are your thoughts on the Prologue and the first eight (8) chapters?
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  5. #5
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    I'm horribly late to the show, but I'm re-reading A Fire Upon the Deep now.

  6. #6
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Oh, cool.

    We have such a large science fiction community, I thought a refresh/re-read might be necessary for many. And, of course, it's a dense book, so new readers need time to read and absorb. Therefore, breaking the discussion up into chapter groupings might help with that. A read-along would be pretty cool, too.
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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    I really don't want to take over the thread, but I'm just too fascinated by this book (I've just purchased the second in the series).

    I'll admit it did take me a while to reconcile the title with the novel's concept and narration—I can be a bit slow at times. I did get the computer science analogies right away and, of course, I would. The physics and cosmology involved were basic enough for me to "get it" quickly, too. It was the aliens, though; these are the most "alien" aliens I've encountered in a space opera. I was completely fascinated by the diversity of species—though, the anthropomorphism had its pros and cons, at times. (There's no other way for a human writer to convey what would make these aliens tick, is there?) While I had a great deal of difficulty with suspension of disbelief wrt the physical description of the Tines, something akin to dog-like creatures was necessary to fully explain the pack-mindset of the species, with each member of a pack holding a specific aspect of the personality of the whole. This was a truly unique concept in my reading experience. All-in-all, the aliens steal the show and are the most fully realized characters in the book. In several cases, I understood their thinking and motivations better than I did some of the human characters.
    Last edited by Ari Meermans; 06-07-2017 at 11:31 PM. Reason: I'll say it again, "iffen I could spell, it'd be a wonder"
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  8. #8
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    These are about the most alien aliens I've ever read, at least in the top 5.

    The aliens are what's driving my narrative lust; I remember this the first time I read the book, too.

  9. #9
    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    One of my top 5 favorite SF novels. Also a rare one one that I periodically re-read, and enjoy every time.

    Loved the concept of "zones". Loved how it answers why Old Earth was never visited by star-faring aliens, despite how ubiquitous they are.

    Loved the "Tines". One of the most interesting and inventive species I've read. Loved how their biology realistically affected so much in their culture, language, architecture, etc. Very well thought out.

    Strong characters. Fabulous plot-devices and world-building, revealed in a natural way. Classic plot (it's really a Holy Grail variant). If I could write one SF novel as well-crafted as this, and no more, I would die happy.

    But bonus: The sequels and prequel were good reads too, IMHO.

  10. #10
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Introversion View Post
    One of my top 5 favorite SF novels. Also a rare one one that I periodically re-read, and enjoy every time.

    Loved the concept of "zones". Loved how it answers why Old Earth was never visited by star-faring aliens, despite how ubiquitous they are.

    Loved the "Tines". One of the most interesting and inventive species I've read. Loved how their biology realistically affected so much in their culture, language, architecture, etc. Very well thought out.

    Strong characters. Fabulous plot-devices and world-building, revealed in a natural way. Classic plot (it's really a Holy Grail variant). If I could write one SF novel as well-crafted as this, and no more, I would die happy.

    But bonus: The sequels and prequel were good reads too, IMHO.
    I'm still only a few chapters in on re-reading, if you (and anyone) are interested in re-reading along with a group.

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    Pie aren't squared, pie are round! Introversion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    I'm still only a few chapters in on re-reading, if you (and anyone) are interested in re-reading along with a group.
    Thanks, but I'm waist-deep in re-reading Abercrombie's "First Law" trilogy at the moment.

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    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    I'm more than a little impressed by the fact that the novel holds up so well twenty-five years after publication. Communications are via a system very like Usenet (threaded, with a central hub) in the novel, and yet the novel addresses many of our concerns today regarding internet "ownership" and current concerns over the future of AI and the Singularity. Almost prescient.
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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    I'm more than a little impressed by the fact that the novel holds up so well twenty-five years after publication. Communications are via a system very like Usenet (threaded, with a central hub) in the novel, and yet the novel addresses many of our concerns today regarding internet "ownership" and current concerns over the future of AI and the Singularity. Almost prescient.
    Vinge really was prescient, or possibly, was a direct influence on 'net cultures. Look for his novella True Names.

  14. #14
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Just grabbed it for Kindle. Thank you, ma'am. <G>
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    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
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    It's been so very long since I first read A Fire Upon A Deep that it's almost like reading a fresh book. As Ari mentioned, the aliens are very alien, which itself leads to a phenomena where the human protagonists are aliens, too.

    I'm slowed a bit because I've gone back to re-read short passages a few times. The narrator's voice is so firmly in control that sometimes it's actually a little distracting for me.

  16. #16
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    It's been so very long since I first read A Fire Upon A Deep that it's almost like reading a fresh book. As Ari mentioned, the aliens are very alien, which itself leads to a phenomena where the human protagonists are aliens, too.

    I'm slowed a bit because I've gone back to re-read short passages a few times. The narrator's voice is so firmly in control that sometimes it's actually a little distracting for me.
    [emphasis mine]

    That. That's exactly what I meant when I mentioned understanding some of the aliens' motivations and actions better than those of the human characters in some cases. It's a hard-to-describe view of the human characters in that I'm not sure if I'm viewing them as yet another alien myself or as a human from a different time or place; it's as though I have no shared history with or common understanding of those characters. I'm sure I've never experienced that feeling with any other work.
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  17. #17
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I tried this as a teenager (15ish) and couldn't get into it.

    My partner bought it for me when I turned thirty a couple weeks ago, though, so it seems a timely opportunity to give it another go.
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


  18. #18
    Dark Gritty Reboot
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    Wow, finally got around to reading this in June too, didn't even know you guys were. Agree with all of you about the Tines, great aliens. Vinge has an interesting approach to aliens, for all their biological and perceptual differences, everybody's human! Seems an important element of his work, since the spiders from Deepness are just as easy to relate to. I agree the characters are strong (with the Tines taking the cake, though I think his humans are fine), what's more important to me is that they're funny! Still laugh about poor Jeffrey trying to figure out how to use galactic Usenet.

    Not finished yet, this is the good kick in the pants I needed.

  19. #19
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    There are so many "special moments" like Jeffrey's. That novel pretty much has it all: suspense, tragedy, hilarity, you name it. It truly is a remarkable novel.

    I'm a-thinking since others are just now starting to read AFUTD and may want to join in, I'll hold off on kicking off the next set of chapters for another week. Or, yanno, we can talk about the entire novel as long as we don't touch last chapter(s) spoilers. Overlap probably doesn't matter much, but I'd kind of like to wrap up this discussion before we start September's book discussion. Thoughts?
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  20. #20
    Dark Gritty Reboot
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    I'd love to see the discussion move forward, but just because I'm halfway in when I discovered this thread and don't remember enough about the first few chapters to say anything besides broad points.

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