An excellent science fiction novel written by Vernor Vinge, a prequel to the Hugo-award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep. It's hard to summarize the plot of a nigh-on-800 page book, but I'll try anyway. It's a story about a group of traders (members of a larger group known as the Qeng Ho) who take on a joint mission with a culture known as the Emergents. They are subtly betrayed and enslaved, many of their people being placed under a form of mind control, and must find a way to free themselves and save an entire newly discovered race from the same fate.

It's not nearly as cheesy as it sounds, either. Go read it, it's worth your time.
Vernor Vinge is a slow writer, juggling being an author with a full time professional career as a computer scientist. However, his books are always worth the wait. Quality seems to be on an exponential progression. His previous book "A Fire Upon the Deep" was dazzling in its ideas, though perhaps a bit lacking on the characters front. "A Deepness in the Sky" keeps the wonderful inventiveness, while upping the depth of the characters. It deservedly won him a Hugo award in 2000. At this rate I expect Vinge will be collecting the Nobel Prize in 2007.

Vinge's work is hard science fiction of a quality more or less unique at the moment. His major currency is in gadgets and "Big Ideas". Postulate some unusual technology or situation, and then follow its logical consequences upon a society. Well done, it makes for excellent reading, and Vinge does it very well indeed.

"A Deepness in the Sky" is officially a prequel to " A Fire upon the Deep", although the connection is tangential and reading the first book isn't strictly necessary, though some events are more significant when read in light of the earlier book. The main plot concerns a reverse first-contact between a group of interstellar human traders and an arachnid race of about 1940's level development. As the traders are preparing to make first contact, a third group, the Emergents, show up, and an interesting power struggle begins. Full of surprises and striking ideas, I think I'll leave you to discover the rest of the story yourself...

For all the enjoyment I got from the story itself though, for me the most fascinating thing about "A Deepness in the Sky" is its backdrop. It takes as its premise "What if all the big dreams fail?" - What if our present understanding of physics is essentially complete? What if we can never have those SF staples - No faster-than-light travel, no anti-gravity, and most importantly no AI. What kind of civilization can we build for ourselves among the stars given those constrains? Although this only forms a backdrop to the story, it deals with these ideas with the insight and skill more or less unequalled in science fiction. I honestly felt I was reading something comparable to Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" in terms of its understanding of the workings of a society.

Most SF writers don't capture that feeling of the sheer vastness and complexity of time and space as well as Vinge does here. The ending is particularly... romantic, hopeful and sad, especially to those who have read A Fire Upon the Deep and know its bitter-sweet tang in light of future events.

Needless to say, I highly recommend it.

"So high, so low, so many things to know."

Interesting Factoid 1: The Trader's dating system starts counting on 1-Jan-1970 GMT. They believe this to be the date on which a human first set foot on another planet, but it is in fact the zero date on the clock of a certain operating system.

Interesting Factoid 2: Vinge used emacs to write the story!

Thanks to szap of Slashdot for these factoids.

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