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  1. #1
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    February 07 BOTM: A Fire Upon the Deep

    Soooo. Anyone read it?

    This one was a mixed bag for me. Initially, I didn't know what the hell was going on. Although the happenings on the planet were confusing (I wasnt sure which of the kids had been kidnapped by whom), I was able to follow, but when we switched gears to the Queng Ho - I was lost. At first, I assumed it was because I wasn't reading carefully enough but, in checking out the forums, I soon realized that many of my fellow readers had suffered the same setback.

    Overall, I really enjoyed Jefri and Johanna's parallel and eventually dovetailing stories on the planet, the Tine and their collective consciousnesses, and the politics of the Tine homeworld. I also loved the threat of the Blight, the various alien players, and the notions of the various regions of space (ie. the slow zone, the beyond). What I did not enjoy, and it's a major aspect of the novel that figures into the ending as a giant Deus Ex Machina, is the godshatter. I really, really, reeaaaaallly hate this esoteric mumbo jumbo that can, ultimately, be anything and everything, allowing the author to wrap things up nice and tidy by novel's end. The hitherto grounded narrative builds to a climax at which point this unfathomable gobbledeegook conveniently solves the problem, wiping out the enemy and creating a magical happy ending.

    Lots to like in this book. One thing to really dislike. And, unfortunately, it impacts my overall enjoyment of the novel.
    Last edited by LordBalthazar; February 1st, 2007 at 07:36 PM.

  2. #2
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    I read this over five years ago, I think. The thing that stuck out most to me was how well-developed Vinge's Tines were. It was a fascinating depction of alien, utterly alien society. It was such a believable society, both in terms of the way they acted with each other and the humans.

  3. #3
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LordBalthazar View Post
    Soooo. Anyone read it?
    What I did not enjoy, and it's a major aspect of the novel that figures into the ending as a giant Deus Ex Machina, is the godshatter. I really, really, reeaaaaallly hate this esoteric mumbo jumbo that can, ultimately, be anything and everything, allowing the author to wrap things up nice and tidy by novel's end. The hitherto grounded narrative builds to a climax at which point this unfathomable gobbledeegook conveniently solves the problem, wiping out the enemy and creating a magical happy ending.
    I don't agree. Countermeasures appear at the beginning of the book, and it's clear that they are the same or higher level of technology as Blight. Throughout the book there is the building of knowledge that Blight was defeated in the past, and there is some kind of agency or provision to prevent such kind of events in future. Even the betrayal of skrode riders could have been deducted if someone had payed attention to Twirlip of Mists and the fact that skrode have six wheel (the six wheel fact didn't mentioned in the book itself, only hinted, Vinge did it intentionally and explained in his notes) . Ravna also would cought it if she had finished reading Twirlip message.
    I had no Deus Ex Machina feeling. While I was reading I had a feeling that *something* going on which should culminate at the arrival at Tine homeworld.

  4. #4
    Registered User odo's Avatar
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    It seems that I am the only one who didn't like the book. I expected a lot, since I have heard many great things about it. But I just didn't like it. I don't find the Tine society believable at all. I find totally incredible that they have castles, real castles! Oh, come on! And all the thing about the zones of thought... That's fantasy, not SF.

    But maybe the worst thing was that I couldn't care less for the characters. They were all very unsympathetic and I maybe even would have liked if they didn't succeed.

  5. #5
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    I still haven't finished this book. Basically I'd had enough for the time being by about a third of the way through. It's a good example of why I don't read more space operas outside of Banks' Culture universe.

    The story was initially exciting; something about an archaeological dig, some kids lost on a strange and interesting planet. The Tine were very interesting but I have to admit I groaned a bit when I realised they were intergalactic dogs.

    I had the same problem as LordB, the jump to the Queng Ho was pretty confusing. It really interrupted the flow of the book for me. I wasn't interested in all the cosmic bandwidth nonsense, and the intelligent 'plants' in wheel barrows? - meh.

    The whole style of this book started to get on my nerves. I can get on with complex books but when it means dragging through a churning pot of script that's purposefully confusing, I get a bit bored. A book with this much breadth is only worth the immediate effort if the prose is up to a good standard, even with solid scene-setting ideas like the 'Zones of Thought'.

    That said, I haven't completely given up on it yet as it has some saving graces. I just need to wait for the incentive to pick it up again to return..

    Quote Originally Posted by Odo
    But maybe the worst thing was that I couldn't care less for the characters. They were all very unsympathetic and I maybe even would have liked if they didn't succeed.
    Yes, the characters were all a bit flat. But I wouldn't have expected anything else really.
    Last edited by Ropie; February 2nd, 2007 at 03:56 AM.

  6. #6
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
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    I don't know if I have a lot to add to what I said about this book last year in a reading of the month thread:

    I just finished A Fire Upon the Deep. What a ripping yarn! I can easily understand why so many people love this one, it's a truly emotionally satisfying piece of space opera. The aliens both Tine and Skroderider are wonderful and highly memorable. Vinge's prose can be a little problematic -irritatingly colloquial, and his descriptive capabilites seem to go a little south sometimes, especially during some intense action scenes, but utimately I feel rewarded for my reading efforts. It's a well told tale, IMO, with a number of moving, memorable scenes.
    It's such an emotionally warm book for a man to write. Sure there are sinister and murderous forces at work in the book , but one of the continuing subthemes of the book is the importance of touch! Written by a man! With no sarcasm, I'm impressed. It was touchy feely,but in a good way. And I feel good. I'm smiling.
    No dirty remarks, now.

    ****Four stars for this one.
    This turned out to be one of my favorite reads from last year. I don't think I ever had any problems following this story at all.
    I think the Tine are wonderful. The exploration of the group mind, and how individuals flow in and out of it was for me, truly unique. That they are canines and can trigger in both the reader and the human characters in the novel, natural responses of affection, anger,and a measure of superiority, is something Vinge uses to great advantage.

    I also liked the Skroderiders. I like the idea of aliens that in no way are like us. It's very much in keeping with the notion behind Niven's Puppeteers in Ringworld etc.
    Last edited by ArthurFrayn; November 26th, 2007 at 11:12 PM. Reason: typo I finally caught

  7. #7
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArthurFrayn
    I also liked the Skroderiders. I like the idea of aliens that in no way are like us.
    Weren't these described as being like intelligent plants? This idea was already explored in depth in the 1970s by the BBC in a children's quiz game called The Adventure Game! From what I've read they seem to be like many SF aliens, and humans - ie: scheming and business like, but with good intentions.

  8. #8
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
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    This idea was already explored in depth in the 1970s by the BBC in a children's quiz game called The Adventure Game!

    There have been any number of plant aliens. I think the Skroderiders are a little more interesting than that. First of all there's the fact that they have no short term memory save for what's supplied in the carts. Considering their background, you could see where they wouldn't need it.
    They are entirely an artificially "uplifted" species, and we see, with very specific intentions in their uplifting.

    I think the husband/wife interplay between Blueshell and Greenstalk is very amusing.With regard to them, I think what happens in the novel and why it happens, is quite sad.

    I don't agree that the characters in this book are flat. Granted there's an almost Dickensian caricaturishness to them, but for who and what they are, they are very well fleshed out. We find out what we need to know about them. Actually we're given quite a lot of development with the Tine.
    Adventure novels in which something needs to be done before it's too late, are not necessarily vehicles for in depth character study,anyway.
    Last edited by ArthurFrayn; February 3rd, 2007 at 07:42 PM.

  9. #9
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArthurFrayn
    I don't agree that the characters in this book are flat. Granted there's an almost Dickensian caricaturishness to them, but for who and what they are, they are very well fleshed out
    Mmm, maybe 'flat' wasn't the right word. I retract that and submit 'dull'. It's been not quite two weeks since I put the book down and I can't really remember a single unique thing about any of them.

    I probably shouldn't say anymore until I've actually read the whole book Trouble is I lack patience with longer volumes these days; I think I just have too much work on at the moment!

  10. #10
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
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    Trouble is I lack patience with longer volumes these days
    I hear you brother!! I've completely lost mine. Don't know when it will return...


    I'll grant-this is another one of those books that defy marathon reading. Anywhere from 10-50 pages at any given time, and you've had enough. At least, that was my experience.
    Last edited by ArthurFrayn; February 3rd, 2007 at 01:47 AM.

  11. #11
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArthurFrayn View Post
    I hear you brother!! I've completely lost mine. Don't know when it will return...
    It's a body's way of telling you to read more short fiction.

    I'll grant-this is another one of those books that defy marathon reading. Anywhere from 10-50 pages at any given time, and you've had enough. At least, that was my experience.
    Make that something between 10 & 20!

  12. #12
    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 I'd give it 7 out of 10. 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.

  13. #13
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    It's been a while since I've read it. Much of what I remember is the story crossing the line between 'aliens are alien' into 'aliens are so confusing you've lost the plot again'.

  14. #14
    Well I've stalled pretty well on this book. I liked the intro section, but was just slogging thru the next part where he's describing layer-upon-layer of alien cultures and the storyline seems to fall back to almost stalled out. Did a brief skim of this thread last week (didn't want any spoilers), and this seems to be a fairly common viewpoint.

  15. #15
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    I've read about 400 pages so far and I figured I'd check in and see what others were saying so far. So far I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. I'm having a hard time understanding what the Blight is all about. At first I thought the whole concept of the Tines was stupid, but then I came to find it quite interesting. I've always preferred my aliens to be more like humans, which leads me to my initial problem with the Skroderiders. They're plants? However, as the story progressed they started to make a little sense to me. As far as the Zones of Thought idea, I thought it was quite imaginative and it put a interesting new twist on the galaxy.

    To sum up so far, this is not one of my favorite books but I am enjoying it. I am anxious to finish this and see how it is all tied up. I will also echo some of the sentiment towards longer books. I don't have a lot of time to read, so I think I would like to read some shorter books after this. I will probably nominate something shorter for April.

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