A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

(discussed March 18, 1999)

On a ten-point scale (1=bad, 10=good), the people who read the book gave the following ratings: 6, 8, 8, 9, 9, 9, 10, 10, 10, 10
Average: 8.9
Note: This includes a vote from Michael Sullivan, who was ill during the meeting, and votes from Abe Dashiell and Ignacio Viglizzo, who read it years later at the urging of the rest of us ;-).

This book was sponsored by Peter Kuchera.

Raja started things off by playing a short video clip of Vernor Vinge (!), taken from the Clarinet Hugo & Nebula Anthology 1993 CD-ROM. Vinge introduced himself, and wondered who would be viewing this clip in the far future, say forty years from now ;-).

Gregory Rawlins started the discussion by saying that Vernor Vinge is one of his two idols in hard SF; Greg Egan is the other. Gregory admires Vinge because he thinks very deeply about what he writes. He doesn't just spin an story out; he starts with an idea, and works out the implications.

Gregory sees Vinge as the first Singularity person; the first to promulgate the idea that humanity was headed for a singularity.

Gregory feels that Vinge shaped SF at least as much as William Gibson did. And while Gibson has many imitators, it's very hard to imitate Vinge.

Gregory cited Vinge's well-loved novella, "True Names" as being "tremendously influential on the Geek set."

Among SF authors, Gregory sees David Brin and Gregory Benford as being influenced, as well as Frederik Pohl and Poul Anderson.

When Gregory first read A Fire Upon the Deep, he and the rest of the geek set greatly disliked the fact that interstellar communications seemed so much like the Usenet of the 1980's. But now he sees it as a funny joke.

The "Usenet" was also John Gallman's main complaint about the novel, but otherwise he loved it. He said that A Fire Upon the Deep does everything that SF ought to. Not because of the science; the science is nifty, but the ideas are amazing. The novel uses almost every fictional trick in the book: interrupted action; well-rounded characters; lots of small things; lots of big things; the Powers, and religious implications thereof; and politics and trade as what holds it all together.

John said, "Gregory, you can have your science: This is a good book, without the gimmicks! It's a damn good story."

The book had an amazing expansiveness of imagination. And the tines were fascinating.

Dedaimia Whitney also liked the tines a lot, and said that the scene where Amdi meets Jefri is wonderful!

Dedaimia liked the book a lot, but she wanted perfection. There was one little thing that bothered her: The melodramatic ending. Crucifying Pham seemed crude.

Also, it seemed like there was an imbalance between the software Perversion and the concrete nanotech weapon used against it.

More notes later when I have time -- Raja