A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep is a space-opera written by Vernor Vinge. Let me start by saying that I read this book several years ago, and it happens to be one of the few sci-fi novels that I recommend to friends. Vernor Vinge is a very intelligent Computer Scientist, and some of his ideas that he has written about impacted this novel greatly. For instance, Prof. Vinge wrote a great paper on his idea of the technological singularity–a point at which artificial intelligence will be able to surpass human intellect. His prediction of this event impacts by the book to such an extent that Vinge needed to augment physics with a concept where galaxies are composed of zones of thought; the unthinking depths, where virtually nothing works, a slow zone (which contains Earth) where faster than light travel is unable to function, and artificial intelligence is primitive, the beyond where FTL works and artificial intelligence works decently, and finally the transcend where artificial intelligence can attain God-like cognation. A person may sit back and think that this all sounds like bullhonky (which it is, this is fiction after all), but in the books world mass seems to have a property that interferes with processes. The less mass, the less interference upon something. So as you get away from the galactic core things work better and better.

Now, with that said, this story opens with a crew from a Human planet called Straumli Realm attempting what is by this time an old field called software archeology at the fringes of the beyond; right next to the transcend. They’re attempting to harvest all of the data from a very old space station, when something in the computer systems wakes up, and purges these far-future archaeologists. A small ship manages to escape and darts way down to the slow zone to try and flee this Minsky’ian menace. The story then cuts to Ravna who works for a corporation at a relay station. There is at this point in time a galaxy wide network based upon Usenet. At this point a rather benign AI called “Old One” starts using most of Relay’s bandwidth, and asks Ravna to accompany it back up to the Transcend. Ravna refuses, citing a fear of being locked in a Deathcube (read Vinge’s short story: The Cookie Monster for more on this), so Old One reconstructs a human from a stockpile of cargo that Ravna’s company happens to have on hand: enter Pham Nuwen. My synopsis is now over, I don’t wish to spoil the book.

If you thought any of that was neat, you’re in for a treat–I left out all of the alien species, everything about Pham, and I didn’t even touch on what happened to that escape ship! I suggest you go to your local bookstore and purchase this book right away. 5/5

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