A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge.  Science fiction, which is not my most commonly read type of book, although I do enjoy them.  I’ve mentioned in several posts before how quickly I read the book that I’m reviewing.  It might be the most objective measure of how much I’m enjoying the book, because if I’m really enjoying it, I won’t put it down.  I read this book fairly quickly, but there were parts I didn’t care for.

Book Stats

613 pages

Science Fiction

Stand Alone book


There were several different characters in the book, that were split into three different parts.  There were two human children, Johanna and Jefri, who are on the world of the tines.  They are split up among opposing factions of the tines, led by Woodcarver and Steel respectively.  The tines are interesting as they are dog-like animals that are only sentient when they are in groups of 4-6 members.  When they are in groups smaller than 4 members, they are not intelligent.  The group-mind of the tines is interesting and is an interesting part of the plot towards the end of the book, but for the first 2/3 of the book it really isn’t that big of a deal.  The other group of characters is led by Ravna, a human female who is accompanied by another human and two skroderiders, which are essentially sentient trees.  This group wasn’t as interesting to me, but the sections of the story with the tines and the children was very interesting.


The setting is also split into two parts, the tines’ world is a semi-standard medieval world, but it is different because of the way the tines have to communicate in groups.  I enjoyed this part of the novel more than Ravna’s part of the novel.  Ravna’s part of the story involves more of the universe as a whole.  The universe was odd to me, it was split into several different sections: the unthinking depths, the slow zone, the beyond (which was further split into the low, middle, and high beyond), and the transcend.  Essentially, each different section of the universe had levels of technology that worked in that section, but not in the other sections.  For example, in the beyond the technology of the intelligent species is capable of faster than light travel, but in the slow zone, faster than light travel is impossible.  As species reach certain levels of evolution in their technology they occasionally migrate from one zone to the next.


Big surprise, the plot is also split into two different parts, the tine world deals with two factions coming to a war supplemented by an influx of new technology due to the introduction of Johanna and Jefri into the world.  They were abandoned on this planet because the human settlement they were living on found some ancient technology when they were experimenting with something in the transcend.  Unknowingly, this released a terror upon the high beyond that starts to affect all of the intelligent species.  After it was released, their ship managed to escape to the lower beyond (almost to the slow zone) where it was out of reach of the power they released into the transcend.  Ravna starts to travel towards the tine planet because she believes that their ship might have something that can defeat the terror released upon the transcend and high beyond.


I really liked the part of the book dealing with Johanna, Jefri, and the tine planet.  The other part of the story, dealing with the superpower wreaking havoc on the transcend and high beyond was irritating to me.  Maybe it’s because the tine storyline was introduced first, maybe it’s because I liked the characters in that storyline better, but I didn’t care about Ravna’s part in the storyline.

Overall Grade

The book tells two stories, I thought one was interesting, with fun characters and good worldbuilding.  The other one had characters I didn’t care about with confusing worldbuilding that irritated me.  The book was split between two storylines, one a very small scale story about siblings caught up in a bigger battle, the other a very large scale story about the potential destruction of the universe.  I didn’t think they worked well together.


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