Monday 2 July 2007

Review: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

I re-read this last month, for the first time in 15 years. The really strange thing is that I didn't remember anything at all about it from my first reading - not a single bell was rung all the way through. This is highly unusual for me - maybe I'm becoming senile To look on the bright side, it will save me money on new books, I'll just keep re-reading the old ones...

Anyway, I became decidedly irritated with this book during the first half, because I found it very difficult to get into. Several different story lines are set running, and the author throws in lots of beings, concepts and other names with no description or explanation as to what they are. I think it's a good idea to keep some sense of mystery-to-be-revealed-later in a book, but this one takes it to extremes. I had reached page 170 before I found a clear description and explanation for some of the key characters - the skroderiders - and the physical appearance of the heroine wasn't described until close to the end.

In fact, the characterisation was very patchy. The heroine - Johanna - never came alive for me, perhaps because of the belated description. OTOH the second character - Pham - seemed much more clearly drawn and convincing (despite not being entirely human). The pacing also varied. It was very slow at first, with lots of extraneous detail which I could have done without, and only got going about half way through. From then on it got a lot better, although the climax (with a ship being chased by a fleet, which was in turn being chased by another fleet, which was in turn being followed by another...) had an element of Keystone Cops farce about it.

Having said all of that, the concepts were powerful and imaginative and much of the latter part of the book was good, so overall it was worth reading. What I would definitely not do is recommend it to anyone who wasn't familiar with SF, because I fear it would put them off for life.


Loton Cagle said...

I have the book but am reading a much earlier novel, his first I think..."The Peace War" and I am enjoying this one quite a bit. The ideas and concepts are very good and so are the characters so far. I am going to read the sequel to this novel first (Marooned In Real Time) before embarking on "A Fire Upon The Deep". I suppose it is possible that Peace War, only nominated for a Hugo, is better than "A Fire Upon The Deep" which won a Hugo. Interesting review but as with all reviews, I shall read the book with an open mind and we'll see how I feel about and compare notes. Thanks for the pointer to your review!

Loton Cagle

Anthony G Williams said...

I also have the prequel to 'A Fire Upon the Deep' - 'A Deepness in the Sky' (not directly linked but set in the same universe).

This one is even longer, and I had a similar experience to 'AFUTD': I bought the book and read it, decided I didn't want to keep it for a re-read so disposed of it, then a few years later picked up another copy, thought "this looks interesting" and bought it again! I only gradually realised that I'd read it before when I was some way into it.

I don't know what it is about Vinge's writing which has this effect on me, but it seems to bypass my memory.