Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge

A group of human explorers have found an ancient and valuable data archive. While they study it, they accidentally wake up a powerful artificial intelligence with apparently very malicious goals. One of the human ships manages to escape and eventually lands on an unknown planet. The natives are dog-like creatures with a group intelligence of sorts. A single unit is slightly smarted than a common dog, a group of five or six is at least on the human level. All the adults of the ship are killed in a surprise attack and two young children survive in care of two different and opposing groups of aliens. Meanwhile, the newly woken intelligence seems to be spreading. At first it is assumed to be a “normal" transcended “evil” AI, which appear about once every century and usually run their course in about a decade and generally destroy only a few dozen civilizations at most - nothing really significant from the galactic viewpoint. But it seems that something more might be going on.
The universe where the book happens is an interesting one: there are zones which enable different levels of technology and thought. Near the core of the Milky Way there are areas where all intelligence is impossible, a little farther (where the Earth is situated) the birth of intelligent species is possible, but true artificial intelligence, faster than light travel and antigravity are impossible. Farther out those are possible and common and there are god-like supers intelligences which usually have little interest on the affairs of lesser races.
The book was slightly overlong and especially those parts, where the rescue ship was slowly approaching the planet felt pretty slow. And the parts which happened on the planet involving the dog creatures and children felt far too short and too far apart, those were the interesting bits. This was probably my least favorite book by Vernor Vinge, but it was by no means a bad one, but I was expecting more from it – I had read so many positive reviews of it. Hugo winners: three to go – the completion of that reading challenge might happen during the next year.

624 pp.

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