The Children of the Sky continues the epic scifi adventure of Hugo award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep!
“Vinge is one of the best visionary writers of SF today.” —David Brin
Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures, and technology, can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought," but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Ten years have passed on Tines World, and Ravna and the children have survived a war. While there is peace among the Tines, there are those among them—and among the humans—who seek power…and no matter the cost, these malcontents are determined to overturn the fledgling civilization that has taken root since the humans landed.
Tor books by Vernor Vinge
The Peace War
Marooned in Realtime
Tatja Grimm's World
Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge
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About the Author
Vernor Vinge is the multi Hugo Award-winning author of A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, and Rainbow’s End. Known for his rigorous hard-science approach to his science fiction, he became an iconic figure among cybernetic scientists with the publication in 1981 of his novella "True Names," which is considered a seminal, visionary work of Internet fiction. His many books also include Marooned in Realtime and The Peace War.
Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and raised in Central Michigan, Vinge is the son of geographers. Fascinated by science and particularly computers from an early age, he has a Ph.D. in computer science, and taught mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University for thirty years. He has gained a great deal of attention both here and abroad for his theory of the coming machine intelligence Singularity. Sought widely as a speaker to both business and scientific groups, he lives in San Diego, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Children of the Sky
By Vernor Vinge, Edited by James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2011 Vernor Vinge
All rights reserved.
How do you get the attention of the richest businessperson in the world?
Vendacious had spent all his well-remembered life sucking up to royalty. He had never dreamed he would fall so low as to need a common merchant, but here he was with his only remaining servant, trying to find a street address in East Home's factory district.
This latest street was even narrower than the one they had left. Surely the world's richest would never come here!
The alley had heavy doors set on either side. At the moment, all were closed, but the place must be a crowded madness at shift change. There were posters every few feet, but these were not the advertisements they had seen elsewhere. These were demands and announcements: WASH ALL PAWS BEFORE WORK, NO ADVANCE WAGES, EMPLOYMENT APPLICATIONS AHEAD. This last sign pointed toward a wide pair of doors at the end of the alley. It was all marvelously pompous and silly. And yet ... as he walked along, Vendacious took a long look at the crenellations above him. Surely that was plaster over wood. But if it was real stone, then this was a fortified castle hidden right in the middle of East Home commercialism.
Vendacious held back, waved at his servant to proceed. Chitiratifor advanced along the alley, singing praise for his dear master. He had not quite reached the wide doors when they swung open and a hugely numerous pack emerged. It was nine or ten and it spread across their way like a sentry line. Vendacious suppressed the urge to look up at the battlements for signs of archers.
The huge pack looked at them stupidly for a moment, then spoke in loud and officious chords. "Employment work you want? Can you read?"
Chitiratifor stopped singing introductory flourishes, and replied, "Of course we can read, but we're not here for—"
The gatekeeper pack spoke right over Chitiratifor's words: "No matter. I have application forms here." Two of it trotted down the steps with scraps of paper held in their jaws. "I will explain it all to you and then you sign. Tycoon pay good. Give good housing. And one day off every tenday."
Chitiratifor bristled. "See here, my good pack. We are not seeking employment. My lord"—he gestured respectfully at Vendacious—"has come to tell the Great Tycoon of new products and opportunities."
"Paw prints to suffice if you cannot write—" The other interrupted its own speech as Chitiratifor's words finally penetrated. "Not wanting to apply for work?" It looked at them for moment, took in Chitiratifor's flashy outfit. "Yes, you are not dressed for this doorway. I should have noticed." It thought for a second. "You are in wrong place. Business visitors must visit to the Business Center. You go back five blocks and then onto the Concourse of the Great Tycoon. Wait. I get you a map." The creature didn't move, but Vendacious realized the pack was even more numerous than he had thought, extending back out of sight into the building; these Easterners tolerated the most grotesque perversions.
Chitiratifor shuffled back in Vendacious' direction, and the nearest of him hissed, "That's a two-mile walk just to get to the other side of this frigging building!"
Vendacious nodded and walked around his servant, confronting the gatekeeper directly. "We've come all the way from the West Coast to help Tycoon. We demand a courteous response, not petty delays!"
The nearest members of the gatekeeper stepped back timidly. Up close, Vendacious could hear that this was no military pack. Except at dinner parties, it probably never had killed a single living thing. In fact, the creature was so naive that it didn't really recognize the deadly anger confronting it. After a moment, it reformed its line, and said "Nevertheless, sir, I must follow my orders. Business visitors use the business entrance."
Chitiratifor was hissing murder; Vendacious waved him quiet. But Vendacious really didn't want to walk around to the official entrance—and that wasn't just a matter of convenience. He now realized that finding this entrance was a lucky accident. Woodcarver's spies were unlikely this far from home, but the fewer people who could draw a connection between Tycoon and Vendacious, the better.
He backed off courteously, out of the gatekeeper's space. This entrance would be fine if he could just talk to someone with a mind. "Perhaps your orders do not apply to me."
The gatekeeper pondered the possibility for almost five seconds. "But I think they do apply," it finally said.
"Well then, while we wait for the map, perhaps you could pass on an enquiry to someone who deals with difficult problems." There were several lures Vendacious could dangle: "Tell your supervisor that his visitors bear news about the invasion from outer space."
"The what from where?"
"We have eyewitness information about the humans —" that provoked more blank looks. "Damn it, fellow, this is about the mantis monsters!"
* * *
Mention of the mantis monsters did not produce the gatekeeper's supervisor; the fivesome who came out to see them was far higher in the chain of command than that! "Remasritlfeer" asked a few sharp questions and then waved for them to follow him. In a matter of minutes, they were past the gatekeeper and walking down carpeted corridors. Looking around, Vendacious had to hide his smiles. The interior design was a perfection of bad taste and mismatched wealth, proof of the foolishness of the newly rich. Their guide was a very different matter. Remasritlfeer was mostly slender, but there were scars on his snouts and flanks, and you could see the lines of hard muscle beneath his fur. His eyes were mostly pale yellow and not especially friendly.
It was a long walk, but their guide had very little to say. Finally, the corridor ended at a member-wide door, more like the entrance to an animal den than the office of the world's richest commoner.
Remasritlfeer opened the door and stuck a head in. "I have the outlanders, your eminence," he said
A voice came from within: "That should be 'my lord'. Today, I think 'my lord' sounds better."
"Yes, my lord." But the four of Remasritlfeer who were still in the corridor rolled their heads in exasperation.
"Well then, let's not waste my time. Have them all come in. There's plenty of room."
As Vendacious filed through the narrow doorway, he was looking in all directions without appearing to be especially interested. Gas mantle lamps were ranked near the ceiling. Vendacious thought he saw parts of a bodyguard on perches above that. Yes, the room was large, but it was crowded with—what? not the bejeweled knickknacks of the hallway. Here there were gears and gadgets and large tilted easels covered with half-finished drawings. The walls were bookcases rising so high that perches on ropes and pulleys were needed to reach the top shelves. One of Vendacious stood less than a yard from the nearest books. No great literature here. Most of the books were accounting ledgers. The ones further up looked like bound volumes of legal statutes.
The unseen speaker continued, "Come forward where I can see you all! Why in hell couldn't you use the business visitor entrance? I didn't build that throne room for nothing." This last was querulous muttering.
Vendacious percolated through the jumble. Two of him came out from under a large drawing easel. The rest reached the central area a second later. He suffered a moment of confusion as Chitiratifor shuffled himself out of the way, and then he got his first glimpse of the Great Tycoon:
The pack was an ill-assorted eightsome. Vendacious had to count him twice, since the smaller members were moving around so much. At the core were four middle-aged adults. They had no noble or martial aspect whatsoever. Two of them wore the kind of green-tinted visors affected by accountants everywhere. The other two had been turning the pages of a ledger. Pretty clearly he had been counting his money or cutting expenses, or whatever it was that business-critters did.
Tycoon cast irritated looks at Vendacious and Chitiratifor. "You claim to know about the mantis monsters. This better be good. I know lots about the mantises, so I advise against lies." He pointed a snout at Vendacious, waving him closer.
Treat him like royalty. Vendacious belly-crawled two of himself closer to Tycoon. Now he had the attention of all Tycoon's members. The four small ones, puppies under two years old, had stopped their pell-mell orbiting of the accountancy four. Two hung back with the four, while two came within a couple feet of Vendacious. These pups were integrated parts of Tycoon's personality—just barely, and when they felt like it. Their mindsounds were unseemly loud. Vendacious had to force himself not to shrink back.
After a moment or two of impolite poking, Tycoon said, "So, how would you know about the mantis monsters?"
"I witnessed their starship Oobii descend from the sky." Vendacious used the human name of their ship. The sounds were flat and simple, alien. "I saw its lightning weapon bring down a great empire in a single afternoon."
Tycoon was nodding. Most East Coast packs took this version of Woodcarver's victory to be a fantasy. Evidently, Tycoon was not one of those. "You're saying nothing new here, fellow—though few packs know the name of the flying ship."
"I know far more than that, my lord. I speak the mantis language. I know their secrets and their plans." And he had one of their datasets in his right third pannier, though he had no intention of revealing that advantage.
"Oh really?" Tycoon's smile was sharp and incredulous, even unto his puppies. "Who then are you?"
An honest answer to that question had to come sooner or later, fatal though it might be. "My lord, my name is Vendacious. I was—"
Tycoon's heads jerked up. "Remasritlfeer!"
"My lord!" The deadly little fivesome was clustered around the only exit.
"Cancel my appointments. No more visitors today, of any sort. Have Saliminophon take care of the shift change."
"Yes, my lord!"
Tycoon's older four set their ledger aside and all of him looked at Vendacious. "Be assured that this claim will be verified, sir. Discreetly but definitively verified." But you could see Tycoon's enthusiasm, the will to believe; for now, the puppies were in control. "You were Woodcarver's spymaster, convicted of treason."
Vendacious raised his heads. "All true, my lord. And I am proud of my 'treason.' Woodcarver has allied with the mantis queen and her maggots."
"Maggots?" Tycoon's eyes were wide.
"Yes, my lord. 'Mantis' and 'maggot' refer to different aspects of the same creatures, humans as they call themselves. 'Mantis' is the appropriate term for the adult. After all, it is a two-legged creature, sneaky and vicious, but also solitary."
"Real mantises are insects, only about so tall." One of the puppies yawned wide, indicating less than two inches.
"The mantises from the sky can be five feet at the shoulder."
"I knew that," said Tycoon. "But the maggots? They are the younglings of the grown monsters?"
"Indeed so." Vendacious moved his two forward members confidingly close to the other pack. "And here is something you may not know. It makes the analogy nigh perfect. The actual invasion from the sky began almost a year before the Battle on Starship Hill."
"Before Woodcarver marched north?"
"Yes. A much smaller craft landed secretly, thirty-five tendays earlier. And do you know what was aboard? My lord, that first lander was filled with maggot eggsacks!"
"So that will be the real invasion," said Tycoon. "Just as insect maggots burst from their eggsacks and overrun the neighborhood, these humans will overrun the entire world—"
Chitiratifor popped in with, "They will devour us all!"
Vendacious gave his servant a stern look. "Chitiratifor takes the analogy too far. At present, the maggots are young. There is only one adult, the mantis queen, Ravna. But consider, in just the two years since Ravna and Oobii arrived, she has taken control of Woodcarver's Domain and expanded it across all the realms of the Northwest."
Two of Tycoon's older members tapped idly at an addition device, flicking small beads back and forth. A bean counter indeed. "And how do the mantises—this one Ravna mantis—manage such control? Are they loud? Can they swamp another's mindsounds with their own?"
This sounded like a testing question. "Not at all, my lord. Just like insects, the humans make no sounds when they think. None whatsoever. They might as well be walking corpses." Vendacious paused. "My lord, I don't mean to understate the threat, but if we work together we can prevail against these creatures. Humans are stupid! It shouldn't be surprising since they are singletons. I estimate that the smartest of them aren't much more clever than a mismatched foursome."
"Really! Even the Ravna?"
"Yes! They can't do the simplest arithmetic, what any street haggler can do. Their memory for sounds—even the speech sounds they can hear—is almost nonexistent. Like insect mantises, their way of life is parasitic and thieving."
All eight of Tycoon sat very still. Vendacious could hear the edges of his mind, a mix of calculation, wonder, and uncertainty.
"It doesn't make sense," Tycoon finally said. "From my own investigations, I already know some of what you say. But the mantises are superlative inventors. I've tested their exploding black powder. I've heard of the catapults powered by that powder. And they have other inventions I can't yet reproduce. They can fly! Their Oobii may now be crashed to earth, but they have a smaller flyer, barely the size of a boat. Last year it was seen by reliable packs just north of town."
Vendacious and Chitiratifor traded a glance. That was bad news. Aloud, Vendacious said, "Your point is well taken, my lord, but there is no paradox. The mantis folk simply stole the things that give them their advantage. I have ... sources ... that prove they've been doing that for a very long time. Finally, their victims tired of them and chased them out of their original place in the sky. Much of what they have, they do not understand and cannot re-create. Those devices will eventually wear out. The antigravity flier you mention is an example. Furthermore, the creatures have stolen—and are continuing to steal—our own inventions. For instance, that exploding black powder you mentioned? It might well have been invented by some creative pack, perhaps the same one who truly invented the cannon catapults."
Tycoon didn't reply immediately; he looked stunned. Ever since Vendacious had heard of Tycoon, he'd suspected that this pack had a special secret, something that could make him a faithful supporter of Vendacious' cause. That was still just a theory, but—
Finally, Tycoon found his voice: "I wondered. ... The blasting powder and the catapults ... I remember ..." He drifted off for a moment, splitting into the old and the young. The puppies scrabbled around, whining like some forlorn fragment. Then Tycoon gathered himself together. "I, I was once an inventor."
Vendacious waved at the mechanisms that filled the room. "I can see that you still are, my lord."
Tycoon didn't seem to hear. "But then I split up. My fission sibling eventually left for the West Coast. He had so many ideas. Do you suppose—?"
Yes! But aloud, Vendacious was much more cautious: "I still have my sources, sir. Perhaps I can help with that question, too."CHAPTER 2
So many impossible things. Ravna is dreaming. She knows that, but there is no waking. She can only watch and absorb and choke on horror. The Blight's fleet hangs all around her, ships clustered here and there like bugs stuck in slime. Originally, the fleet was a hundred fifty starships, and clouds of drones. The drones have been cannibalized. Many ships are gone, some cannibalized. Where it serves the Blight, crews have been cannibalized, too, or simply cast out. Her dreaming eyes can see hundreds of corpses, humans, dirokimes, even skrodeless riders.
The Blight's prey is almost thirty light years away, an ordinary solar system ... where Ravna and the Children have fled. And that is part of the reason this vision must be a dream. Thirty light years is impossibly far in this part of the universe, where nothing goes faster than light. There is no way she can know what is happening in the enemy fleet.
The fleet floats in death, but is not dead itself. Look closer at the clustered ships. Things move. Construction proceeds. The fleet was once the hand of a living god; now it exists to resurrect that god. Even trapped here, in this encystment of pain, it plans and builds, second on second, year on year, working as hard as its living crews can be driven. If necessary, it can do this for centuries, breeding more crew to replace natural losses. This program will eventually produce ramscoop vessels. They will be the best that can exist Down Here, capable of reaching near-lightspeed.
Now perhaps none of that effort is necessary, for the Blight can see Ravna as she sees it, and the encysted god is saying to her: Rules change. I am coming. I am coming. And much sooner than you think.
* * *
Ravna woke with a start, gasping for breath.
She was lying on the floor, her right arm painfully bent. I must have fallen. What a terrible dream. She struggled back into her chair. She wasn't in her cabin aboard the Out of Band II. The automation aboard Oobii would have turned the floor soft before she ever hit it. She looked around, trying to orient herself, but all she could remember was the dream.
Excerpted from The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge, Edited by James Frenkel. Copyright © 2011 Vernor Vinge. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Two years after the Battle on Starship Hill,
Three years after the Battle on Starship Hill,
Ten years after the Battle on Starship Hill,
About the Author,
Books by Vernor Vinge,
The Easier Part
by Vernor Vinge
There are two main subplots in my novel, A Fire Upon the Deep: the galactic starfaring of Ravna and Pham and the Skroderiders, and the adventure with the creatures of the Tines World. Of the two, the tale of Ravna and Company was by far the harder for me to write, and probably accounted for two -- thirds of my revision time. Much of the difficulty was that galactic adventure is a crowded genre; writing cool new space opera is possible, but not easy. So I slaved and thought and slaved some more, and in the end I think the galactic subplot of A Fire upon the Deep is as intriguing as the groundside subplot with the Tines. In fact, the diligent/analytical part of me gets a thrill when I run into a fan that prefers the galactic subplot; such opinions are a testament to hard work well done.
The Tines World subplot was a very different situation: the most interesting thing about the Tines hadn't had much prior exploitation. Individual Tines look a lot like dogs -- and are not much smarter than dogs -- but Tinish packs of four to eight members are about as smart as an individual human being. Packs bigger than seven are often dopey, and packs bigger than ten are considered to be mindless mobs. Group minds have been in science fiction at least since Olaf Stapledon's novels in the 1930s (for example, The Starmaker) -- usually with thousands or millions of members. There haven't been many stories about group minds with fewer than ten members. (I'll bet there have been 2-member examples, human twins of one mind. And Poul Anderson had 3-member group minds in his novel The Rebel Worlds, back in 1969.
I rely on the Internet's group mind to supply me with other examples!)
So with the Tines, novelty was easy. Furthermore, the nature of the pack mind made all sorts of alien behavior credible. And most readers have a natural sympathy for dogs: where I needed cute and likable alien characters, they could be easily supplied. Technical issues determined many of the details. For instance, I had originally intended that the Tines would use some naturally evolved radio sense to unite member minds into a pack. One of the early readers suggested I use ultrasound instead. That implied all sorts of cool things about the packs. The speed of sound is about a million times slower than lightspeed, and ultra-high-frequency sound is dramatically absorbed by just a few meters of air. Packs of Tines often have reason to get their heads together.
Even at the sentence level, writing about the Tines was fun. I found that many clichés and much silly language had fresh meaning when applied to Tinish packs:
"I'm of two minds on this issue."
"Tell your conscience to take a walk."
"I may be a little bit pregnant."
(On the other hand, "on the other hand" just sounds wrong coming from a pack!)
The Tinish subplot of A Fire Upon the Deep was big enough to explore many features of the pack civilization.
That was 1992. Since then I've had more time to live with these fictional beasties. In many ways they seem very real to me. There's nothing about the Tines of A Fire Upon the Deep that I think is seriously wrong, but at the same time, there are major consequences left unexplored. The "Tinish condition" is weirdly different from the "human condition". Almost everything Tinish has a dual nature: that of the individual pack members, and that of the members' pack. For example, a pack member is clearly mortal, but the pack as a whole might exist for far longer, with mortality a matter of contingency and definition. How the Tines interact with the human children, refugees from near godhood, drives much of plot of the upcoming sequel, The Children of the Sky.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not Vinge's best work by a longshot. While the prose is of excellent quality, the story is rather disinteresting. The protagonist survives exclusively by luck and charity - consequentially, it's hard to care much about her. Furthermore, the book comes to an end without resolving many of the more interesting conflicts contained within. Expect sequels.
This is not a book with lots of ultra tech geekspeek or wars in heaven with godlike ai. This huge fifteen hundred page book follows Ravna as she struggles to prepare for that war. The real interest in this novel is the Tines as composite group minds and the implications of what that entails. Vinge does a great job with that, exploring how a Tine operates when members are killed or when single members try to join other packs and even what happens when thousands get together in a "choir". The weakness of the book is that some of the major characters make just freakin unbelievably naive, if not outright stupid decisions. Those drive much of the hectic chase scenes but I really couldn't buy that people who were trying to become gods in the last novel now became so naive in this one. The Tines are worth a novel yes, but this is a bit too huge for that. Not bad, you'll love the good Tines and hate the bad ones but its too long, unbelievable in spots and simply not a page turner.
A couple of interesting ideas regarding tines world are explored, but nothing that a short story or two would not have done just as well. I kept waiting for the story to break out, for the compelling challenge that would drive the plot and characters, but it never happened. Nevil is never believable as a villian, nor is it explained how Joanne, who is about to marry him, was so fooled. I simply concluded that her judgement could not be trusted, which was certainly not what Vinge had in mind. Written like a story an author felt compelled to write to fullfill a contract obligation or to satisfy his agent who thinks he can make money on it. No big ideas here (not even medium sized ones) and Vinge is a man we count on for big ideas. Oh, and why isn't the most obviously effective weapon - a loud noise generator - ever developed and used against the Tines? Glaring oversight.
A decade of survival problems have passed since Ravna Bergndot and the cryo Children of the Sky escaped the near extinction Blight of humanity by landing on Tines World (see A Fire Upon the Deep). They build a civilization of sorts with the help of telepathic Tine canines. However, humans remain scornful of the Blight peril as a sham to obtain and maintain power, and some local Tine inhabitants want the off-worlders to leave as they believe the outsiders are a blight to their world. Although natural enemies, these diverse groups hold in common one thing: the failure of Bergndot and her hundred children at any cost. The Children of the Sky is a strong science fiction thriller that focuses on how far humanity has fallen in technology since the adventures in A Fire Upon the Deep. The human skeptics will remind readers of climate change deniers while the Tine is divided between friendly and hostile towards the newcomers. Although the climax is disappointing as it ends with another novel to follow, fans will appreciate Vernor Vinge's follow-up to what happened to those who fled the Blight. Harriet Klausner
An interesting story about the crew of a crashed spaceship trying to get a planet from zero technology to starships in a single generation (with the help of an intelligent and somewhat friendly alien race). Unfortunately this story (sort of what it would be like to play the game Civilization for real) is buried completely under an interminable and improbable political intrigue story in which all the good people are completely naive and lacking in insight and all the bad people are endlessly clever and mostly sociopathic. For those who look to Vinge for incredibly imaginative ideas about technologies and societies, there is not much here to enjoy.Most disappointingly, neither the race to civilization nor the political intrigue stories are resolved. The characters are moved around like pieces on a game board, and by the end of the book some of them have changed position and importance, and a few pieces have been eliminated, but nothing fundamental has changed; the book's ending is just the set up for another sequel.
I'm not a huge fan of the "fallen god" sort of books, where remnants of a technologically advanced race struggle to rebuild after some catastrophe sends them back to pre-technology life. But the collective minds of the Tine world adds an interesting twist, and I enjoy the concept of the Zones of Thought, so this wasn't a bad read. I'm looking forward to the next book where presumably we see the children return to former tech levels.
For as smart as all the main characters are supposed to be, they sure keep making some pretty dumb choices. I so very much looked forward to this sequal of "A Fire Upon the Deep" but this book was a disappointment What I wanted to read about was Vinge's fascinating world building introduced in this serie's first book: the Skroriders, the various zones, and what was happening with the blight. But no, all we got was a rehash, in a very poor way, of one plot element from the first book. I think the main reason this book qualifies as SciFi is that Ravna thinks about these elements once in awhile, but that's all she does, along with way too much whining. Please, Mr. Vinge, if you continue this series (and I hope you do), bring back the Blight and all the fascinating other races. Bring us back into space and make your characters more believable.