I’ve gone on record saying that some SF books are less compelling than others. I’ve been especially critical of the first part of Pandora’s Star, for example. But that one eventually got under way and became compelling.
Today’s subject didn’t.
I don’t ever recall having read a science fiction novel that was full of amazing ideas that I had as much difficulty getting into as Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep.
And when I say ‘full of amazing ideas’, I don’t mean that he just looks at gender roles within established genre tropes or something equally banal and yawn-inducing. I mean that Vinge comes up with concepts that are truly underexplored in SF. Things like multiple-organism-minds or variable speed of light and its effects on technology. There is truly groundbreaking thought behind this book and it deserved to be better.
But it was let down by the characters, especially the milti-organism mind creatures which, for some reason, I found to be more annoying than anything I can remember reading in the genre. It wasn’t that the writing was bad–it isn’t–but I just found the alines themselves unbearable… and that made the whole book really tough to digest, as half of the action took place in that setting.
I went through it anyway and came away with a sense that it could have been a true great (many already consider it to be one, you should read other reviews by folks who didn’t have such a strong visceral reaction to a major group of characters), with a good quantity of space action, an implacable and incomprehensible (albeit mostly off-stage) enemy and enormous stakes.
The ending did feel a little facile, and some of his speculation bordered on fantasy, but those were minor quibbles.
Anyhow, I may need more time to sort out how I feel about this one. As a writer, it’s obvious to me that this book is a major achievement… but purely as a reader, it was a hard grind that I really can’t recommend to others.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose own far-reaching space opera, Siege… is much less well known than A Fire Upon the Deep. But people seem to like it, so there’s that. You can check it out here.