06 January 2014

A Deepness in the Sky

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
2000 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Public Library
774 pgs

Before FTL tech had made it to Vinge’s Zones of Thought universe, a human ship ventures deep into the slow zone to exploit explore the secrets of the mysterious On/Off Star.  While the “spider” species inhabiting an orbiting planet provide one of humanity’s greatest discoveries, the crew quickly realizes the ship is harboring secrets of its own.

I may have inadvertently reviewed A Fire Upon the Deep…
I had high expectations for Vinge after his first Hugo win, and A Deepness in the Sky did not disappoint.  I read close to 90% of this book during our incredible vacation to Minnesota this summer and the fact that I was able to read so much of it on what was an insanely busy, fun, and beautiful trip should also speak to the quality of A Fire Upon the Deep’s equally masterful follow-up.

Despite being different books, they share more than a few similarities.  Humans trapped in a remote piece of space.  Cool tech that fundamentally changes the way people live.  There is another previously undiscovered alien culture which is surprising for its familiarity and weirdness all at once.  The On/Off Star provides another astrological oddity.  And of course, there’s an unexpected, and in the end beautiful, entanglement of human and alien cultures and problems.

That the two books are similar isn’t a problem for me though.  I still like A Deepness in the Sky for a lot of the same reasons that I liked A Fire Upon the Deep, and they are each separately great works of science fiction so I’m not all that bummed that some themes are mirrored in this one.  A Deepness in the Sky reinforces how robust we all thought Vinge’s “Zones of Thought” universe was in his previous Hugo winner and satisfied a serious itch to go back there.  That these two books may be thematically similar is a problem that we should be celebrating.

And beyond that, we can celebrate the spiders.  If nothing else, A Deepness in the Sky solidifies Vinge as one of the greatest creators of alien species in all of science fiction (I certainly haven’t read enough SF to actually make this claim but I’m convinced anyway).  He does this thing where you get to spend extended time with the creatures but it’s a slow reveal anyway.  In A Fire, early on when I already loved the dogs but then realized that they weren’t really just dogs or wolves, they were so much…cooler, it literally made me drop the book.  And throughout the entire book Vinge gradually gives up more and more about the species, each new reveal forcing readers to make serious structural changes to the beings taking shape in our heads.  The same thing happens with the “spiders” in A Deepness in the Sky, only times infinity and right on up until the final pages.  It is really something to behold.  For some reason the spiders didn’t quite have the same awe factor that the Tines did as a species, but I had a more intense connection to individual spiders like Sherkaner Underhill, than I did to with any individual Tine, even if I wasn’t as captivated by the species as a whole.

And that’s what makes A Deepness in the Sky so unceasingly readable.  Vinge’s treatment of aliens alone makes each of the Zones of Thought books magnificent.  And that’s just one of the hundreds of truly brilliant ideas included in this story.

Read A Fire in the Sky first and then come here.  It wasn't my favorite of the two but this is still Required Reading.


Universe 3/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 4/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
Characters 5/5

Overall 22/25


  1. I agree, Vinge's portrayal of spiders is amazing. They are probably my favorite alien species in sci-fi literature.

  2. This is my last Hugo to read, excluding the five I need to reread because I initially read them between 7 and 30 years ago.


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