About 5% of the time, SF fans can’t make up their minds. That’s where I come in. As Supreme Arbiter, I’ll settle for all time, which book was really deserving of the Hugo Award.
I will be the first to admit that in 1993, there were at least 3 stellar, deserving titles to choose from. For myself, I’d have had a hard time not picking the Nebula winning Red Mars, but I absolutely understand the desire to pick either of these two. They were both fantastic. In refereeing my second deathmatch, I’ve decided to allow the candidates do battle prior to writing their individual reviews…because I fancy doing so and I can. As with the last time, I’ve randomly picked five topics that seemed worth comparing and I’ll do one or two rounds every couple of days, I hope you’ll all weigh in and invent some great new cheers to lob at me when it seems my strike zone is a little off. With the preamble concluded…
A Fire Upon the Deep
Round 1: Travel
A Fire Upon the Deep
Okay… wow… why did I pick this first?!
Vinge is renowned for his Zones of Thought. I admit that when I first cracked the cover and saw the diagram of The Unthinking Depths, The Slow Zone and The Beyond, I was a little confused.
I’m not sure it’s necessary to explain in greater detail than to say that each zone represents very different characteristics of chronology, psychology, physics, and . Especially in the case of computers, but in other kinds of tech also, the further one gets from The Unthinking Depths, the greater the complexity that can be achieved.
This is what allows for faster-than-light travel in some zones, and not in others. Even reaching speeds approaching Light in other zones requires different technology completely and if you take the wrong ship into the wrong zone, well, you’re probably up a creek.
While the idea of FTL travel is always fun, I don’t think it would ordinarily qualify as anything extra special. In this case, Vinge has drawn up such a complicated and original process, it gets extra-high marks.
Doomsday Book is easy. Time Travel in the most conventional sense, which I’m all for. Willis hints at some pretty serious scholarship governing “The Net”, but doesn’t get into it in too much detail. Once the net is opened, one is suddenly transported into whatever year has been targeted…but there are some quirks. Primarily, there’s the problem of the slippage.
Oh the slippage.
You see, despite the amount of time and attention given to ensuring The Drop is correctly adjusted to the target date and location. I like this addition. When my favorite Will Smith character, “J”, tunes his time machine into a date, he doesn’t have to worry about not being transported to exactly where he intended, but in Doomsday Book, it’s not that simple. In fact, the further one travels back in time, the greater the likelihood of slippage, both spatial and/or temporal.
In this case, Kivrin (another good cat name? J) is attempting a drop into Oxford, in 1320. Let’s just say travelling this far into the past makes the chance for missing the intended date…significant.
But then, as long as you don’t turn off the net, you won’t lose the drop location and it won’t be a problem right? Well, if you remember anything about the fourteenth century, you’ll remember there was a concerning little world-wide health incident called the black plague.
There are some more fun elements that I could go on about, but I think this sums up what makes Doomsday Book fun.
I loved Willis’ time travel. Srsly. But my first inclination is to give this one to Vinge because of its complexity. I guess I could imagine someone being turned off by how conceptual Vinge’s zones of thought can be, but I was sufficiently impressed. On the other hand, “the net” was so fun and so laboriously revealed that I had a hard time putting Doomsday Book down.
Both authors took something that has been done before and made it their own. That is pretty awesome and makes this hard to judge. In the end, I think this round has to go to Vinge because it is not only such an intricate imagining of something that has been done so many times, but it is also a part of the very fabric of the rest of the book’s tension. While the same could be said about Doomsday Book, I think the best parts of the story are to be found in subsequent rounds…