I will say right off of the bat that I don’t read a ton of hard science fiction. The premise of this book sounded fascinating and it is a Hugo award winner. Then a co-worker of mine starting talking about this wonderful book he just finished and I was like hey that sounds like this Vernor Vinge book I wanted to read. So he lent it to me and I read it. It is an interesting and complex book, but it is also very long and a bit wordy.
The plot is complex. Humans in the Beyond (a portion of space where higher intelligence is possible) have created something horrible, something they have lost control of. A single family is the only thing to escape the horror and they crash land on a primitive planet. The planet is home to dog-like creatures who exist as multiple dog people (4-6) to one pack mind; they are called Tines. The only people to survive the initial encounter with the Tines are two kids; Johanna and Jefri and they are taken in by competing factions of Tines. Meanwhile in space, Ravena and a human who is host to a Power, Pham, are trying to escape the Blight that is taking over the universe. In the end the answer to pushing back the Blight may lie with the child survivors of the Human colony that survived it.
The plot is complicated, but mainly goes between the planet of the Tines and Ravena. There were a lot of good things about this book. The story is complex, the idea behind space having different Zones of thought that enable higher intelligence and different types of technology is fascinating. The Tines as a race are very interesting in how they are small packs that think with one mind. There are a lot of traditional sci-fi topics broached such as humans dabbling in tech they shouldn’t and people from a high tech race being stranded on a medieval like world.
Vinge also delves into questions around war, mortality, morality, and humanity as a whole. So all in all this book has a bit of everything; action, philosophy, etc. Characterization isn’t the strong point of this novel; you never really care all that much about the characters. Plot and world-building are definitely Vinge’s strengths.
Vinge has a very readable writing style and overall I enjoyed it. His writing really shines when describing the scenes on the Tine’s home planet. I didn’t enjoy the space scenes as much; they tended to be wordy and throw around a lot of unexplained terminology.
There were some things I did not like about this novel. It is long, and I think the length was unnecessary. A lot of the space travel scenes get really wordy, and I think they could have been much more concise and still conveyed what the reader needed to know. Also there is a problem that I have with a lot of sci-fi which is the throwing around of terms and names without really ever explaining them. The reader is left to suss out what they can as they continue reading and is constantly struggling to figure exactly what things are. It took me a while to figure out exactly what the Tines were and how they worked together. Maybe that is the thrill of the book for some readers, but I just found it irritating.
Overall not a book I really enjoyed reading but it was interesting and creative. I would definitely recommend this for hardcore sci-fi fans. I think people who dabble in sci-fi might find it a bit lengthy and wordy. The concepts are really fascinating though so I recommend it based on that. It is a complex book and it is obvious the Vinge put a lot of thought into it; I wouldn’t necessarily call it a fun read though.
This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
– The 100+ Book Reading Challenge