A Fire Upon The Deep

A Fire Upon The Deep

by Vernor Vinge

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A Hugo award-winning Novel!

“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.

Fleeing this galactic threat, Ravna crash lands on a strange world with a ship-hold full of cryogenically frozen children, the only survivors from a destroyed space-lab. They are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle.

Tor books by Vernor Vinge

Zones of Thought Series
A Fire Upon The Deep
A Deepness In The Sky
The Children of The Sky

Realtime/Bobble Series
The Peace War
Marooned in Realtime

Other Novels
The Witling
Tatja Grimm's World
Rainbows End

Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge
True Names

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812515282
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/15/1993
Series: Zones of Thought Series , #1
Edition description: REV
Pages: 624
Sales rank: 126,100
Product dimensions: 4.38(w) x 6.85(h) x 1.38(d)

About the Author

Vernor Vinge has won five Hugo Awards, two of them in the Zones of Thought series: A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. 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, Rainbows End and The Peace War.

Read an Excerpt


The coldsleep itself was dreamless. Three days ago they had been getting ready to leave, and now they were here. Little Jefri complained about missing all the action, but Johanna Olsndot was glad she'd been asleep; she had known some of the grownups on the other ship.

Now Johanna drifted between the racks of sleepers. Waste heat from the coolers made the darkness infernally hot. Scabby gray mold grew on the walls. The coldsleep boxes were tightly packed, with narrow float spaces every tenth row. There were places where only Jefri could reach. Three hundred and nine children lay there, all the kids except herself and her brother Jefri.

The sleep boxes were light-duty hospital models. Given proper ventilation and maintenance, they would have been good for a hundred years, but.... Johanna wiped her face and looked at a box's readout. Like most of the ones on the inside rows, this was in bad shape. For twenty days it had kept the boy inside safely suspended, and would probably kill him if he stayed one day more. The box's cooling vents were clean, but she vac'd them again—more a prayer for good luck than effective maintenance.

Mother and Dad were not to blame, though Johanna suspected that they blamed themselves. The escape had been put together with the materials at hand, at the last minute, when the experiment turned wicked. The High Lab staff had done what they could to save their children and protect against still greater disaster. And even so, things might have worked out if—

"Johanna! Daddy says there's no more time. He says to finish what you're doing an' come up here." Jefri had stuck his head down through the hatch to shout to her.

"Okay!" She shouldn't be down here anyway; there was nothing more she could do to help her friends.

Tami and Giske and Magda...oh, please be safe. Johanna pulled herself through the floatway, almost bumped into Jefri coming from the other direction. He grabbed her hand and hung close as they drifted toward the hatch. These last two days he hadn't cried, but he'd lost much of the independence of the last year. Now his eyes were wide. "We're coming down near the North Pole, by all those islands and ice."

In the cabin beyond the hatch, their parents were strapping themselves in. Trader Arne Olsndot looked up at her and grinned. "Hi, kiddo. Have a seat. We'll be on the ground in less than an hour." Johanna smiled back, almost caught by his enthusiasm. Ignore the jumble of equipment, the odors of twenty days' confinement. Daddy looked as dashing as any adventure poster. The light from the display windows glittered off the seams of his pressure suit. He was just in from outside.

Jefri pushed across the cabin, pulling Johanna behind him. He strapped into the webbing between her and their mother. Sjana Olsndot checked his restraints, then Johanna's. "This will be interesting, Jefri. You will learn something."

"Yes, all about ice." He was holding Mom's hand now.

Mom smiled. "Not today. I'm talking about the landing. This won't be like an agrav or a ballistic." The agrav was dead. Dad had just detached their shell from the cargo carrier. They could never have landed the whole thing on one torch.

Dad did something with the hodgepodge of controls he had softwired to his dataset. Their bodies settled into the webbing. Around them the cargo shell creaked, and the girder support for the sleep boxes groaned and popped. Something rattled and banged as it "fell" the length of the shell. Johanna guessed they were pulling about one gravity.

Jefri's gaze went from the outside display to his mother's face and then back. "What is it like then?" He sounded curious, but there was a little tremor in his voice. Johanna almost smiled; Jefri knew he was being diverted, and was trying to play along.

"This will be pure rocket descent, powered almost all the way. See on the middle window? That camera is looking straight down. You can actually see that we're slowing down." You could, too. Johanna guessed they weren't more than a couple of hundred kilometers up. Arne Olsndot was using the rocket glued to the back end of the cargo shell to kill all their orbital velocity. There weren't any other options. They had abandoned the cargo carrier, with its agrav and ultradrive. It had brought them far, but its control automation was failing. Some hundreds of kilometers behind them, it coasted dead along their orbit.

All they had left was the cargo shell. No wings, no agrav, no aero shielding. The shell was a hundred-tonne carton of eggs balanced on one hot torch.

Mom wasn't describing it quite that way to Jefri, though what she said was the truth. Somehow she had Jefri seeming to forget the danger. Sjana Olsndot had been a pop writer-archaeologist at Straumli Realm, before they moved to the High Lab.

Dad cut the jet, and they were in free fall again. Johanna felt a wave of nausea; ordinarily she never got space sick, but this was different. The image of land and sea in the downward window slowly grew. There were only a few scattered clouds. The coastline was an indefinite recursion of islands and straits and inlets. Dark green spread along the coast and up the valleys, shading to black and gray in the mountains. There was snow—and probably Jefri's ice—scattered in arcs and patches. It was all so beautiful...and they were falling straight into it!

She heard metallic banging on the cargo shell as the trim jets tipped their craft around, aligning the main jet downwards. The right-hand window showed the ground now. The torch lit again, at something like one gravity. The edge of the display darkened in a burnout halo. "Wow," said Jefri. "It's like an elevator, down and down and down and..." One hundred kilometers down, slow enough that aero forces wouldn't tear them apart.

Sjana Olsndot was right; it was a novel way to descend from orbit, not a preferred method under any normal circumstances.

It was certainly not intended in the original escape plans. They were to meet with the High Lab's frigate—and all the adults who could escape from the High Lab. And of course, that rendezvous was to be in space, an easy transfer. But the frigate was gone now, and they were on their own. Her eyes turned unwillingly to the stretch of hull beyond her parents. There was the familiar discoloration. It looked like gray fungus...growing out of the clean hull ceramic. Her parents didn't talk about it much even now, except to shoo Jefri away from it. But Johanna had overheard them once, when they thought she and her brother were at the far end of the shell. Dad's voice almost crying with anger. "All this for nothing!" he said softly. "We made a monster, and ran, and now we're lost at the Bottom." And Mom's voice even softer: "For the thousandth time, Arne, not for nothing. We have the kids." She waved at the roughness that spread across the wall. "And given the dreams...the directions we had...I think this was the best we could hope for. Somehow we are carrying the answer to all the evil we started." Then Jefri had bounced loudly across the hold, proclaiming his imminent entrance, and his parents had shut up. Johanna hadn't quite had the courage to ask them about it. There had been strange things at the High Lab, and toward the end, some quietly scary things; even people who were not quite the same.

Minutes passed. They were deep in the atmosphere now. The hull buzzed with the force of the air stream—or turbulence from the jet? But things were steady enough that Jefri was beginning to get restless. Much of the down-looking view was burned out by airglow around the torch. The rest was clearer and more detailed than anything they had seen from orbit. Johanna wondered how often a new-visited world had been landed upon with less reconnaissance than this. They had no telescopic cameras, and no ferrets.

Physically, the planet was near the human ideal—wonderful good luck after all the bad.

It was heaven compared to the airless rocks of the system that had been the prime rendezvous.

On the other hand, there was intelligent life here: From orbit, they could see roads and towns. But there was no evidence of technic civilization; there was no sign of aircraft or radio or intense power sources.

They were coming down in a thinly populated corner of the continent. With luck there would be no one to see their landing among the green valleys and the black and white peaks—and Arne Olsndot could fly the torch right to ground without fear of hurting much more than forest and grass.

The coastal islands slid past the side camera's view. Jefri shouted, pointing. It was gone now, but she had seen it too: on one of the islands an irregular polygon of walls and shadow. It reminded her of castles from the Age of Princesses on Nyjora.

She could see individual trees now, their shadows long in slanting sunlight. The roar of the torch was as loud as anything she had ever heard; they were deep in atmosphere, and they weren't moving away from the sound.

"...things get tricky," Dad shouted. "And no programs to make things right.... Where to, Love?"

Mom looked back and forth between the display windows. As far as Johanna knew, they couldn't move the cameras or assign new ones. "...that hill, above the timberline, but...think I saw a pack of animals running away from the blast on...west side."

"Yeah," shouted Jefri, "wolves." Johanna had only had a quick glimpse of moving specks.

They were in full hover now, maybe a thousand meters above the hilltops. The noise was painful, unending; further talk was impossible. They drifted slowly across the landscape, partly to reconnoiter, partly to stay out of the plume of superheated air that rose about them.

The land was more rolling than craggy, and the "grass" looked mossy. Still Arne Olsndot hesitated. The main torch was designed for velocity matching after interstellar jumps; they could hang like this for a good while. But when they did touch down, they'd better have it right. She'd heard her parents talking that one over—when Jefri was working with the coldsleep boxes and out of earshot. If there was too much water in the soil, the backsplash would be a steam cannon, punching right through the shell. Landing in trees would have some dubious pluses, maybe giving them a little cushioning and a standoff from the splash. But now they were going for direct contact. At least they could see where they were landing.

Three hundred meters. Dad dragged the torch tip through the ground cover. The soft landscape exploded. A second later their boat rocked in the column of steam. The down-looking camera died. They didn't back off, and after a moment the battering eased; the torch had burned through whatever water table or permafrost lay below them. The cabin air grew steadily hotter.

Olsndot brought them slowly down through it, using the side cameras and the sound of the backsplash as his guides. He cut the torch. There was a scary half-second fall, then the sound of the rendezvous pylons hitting ground. They steadied, then one side groaned, giving way a little.

Silence, except for heat pinging around the hull. Dad looked at their ad hoc pressure gauge. He grinned at Mom. "No breach. I bet I could even take this baby up again!"

A FIRE UPON THE DEEP Copyright © 1992 by Vernor Vinge

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A Fire Upon the Deep 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes, I agree with some of the reviews that Vinge is creative with his races. However, the writing style is utterly boring, at times cliche, and devoid of proper details that make the workings of the galaxy and beyond coherent. Also, the characters never have anything interesting, humourous or profound to say and the same goes for the narrative and plot. Overall, this book was a plebian disappointment that does not live up to its intriguing title (the best written words in the whole book) to say the least, as I had expected better based on the reviews and the Hugo award. Although not juvenile in writing style, better science fiction with more depth of both character and philosophy exists on the hard drives of college students' computers writing for their creative writing classes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this epic novel again and found it to be just as mind-expanding and exciting as it was 10 years ago. Vinge not only tells a gripping story (more than one, actually), but builds a galactic civilization that is compelling and creates aliens that are impressive to imagine. I've read SF avidly for almost 30 years and this book is at the top.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've had, all my life, an unquenched interest in science fiction. As a kid, I thought often of building spaceships and traveling to far-off planets. I discovered A FIRE UPON THE DEEP once in my school library. My life-long interests were precisely met by the contents of the book. A grand space opera, perhaps to define all others. The story presents a good number of original ideas--from collective minds to galactic 'zones of thought'--as well as a darn good replete with believable characters of great variety. I've yet to come across a better novel in the years of steady reading since.
Reyan More than 1 year ago
As a fan of hard scifi, I found the creativity and believability of the societies in this novel to be by far its strongest point. The alien races were original and distinctly non-human, and their cultures and psychologies were well developed and thoughtful. The concept of intelligence being a function of location was interesting and unique, while still believable, and the structure of the universal society in the Beyond was quite interestingly, well, unstructured. All in all, a very imaginative and interesting setting. On the other hand, the writing style was little more than childish. It was obvious to me that the author was (as can be confirmed), a scientist and not a writer by profession. The book was dotted with unexpected changes in point of view and tacky informalities (for example, "and/or"), descriptions lacked any sense of elegance, and I should hope never to read an interjected "Hmm..." again. Even after all this, I would still recommend this book to someone who likes hard scifi, interesting aliens, or "idea" books, because the ideas are that good. If you can overlook some mediocre word assembly, this is still very much worth reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing, the way in which he invisioned the universe so unique and unexpected. After reading this I have read all of his other titles and they, too, were fantastic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely one of the best SF books out there. I couldn't put it down. The alien races were outstanding in there complexity and the story keeps you on the edge of your seat. I look forward to reading Mr. Vinge's other works.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book and had to come on-line to say it was one of the all time best SF novels I've ever read. Loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the book I would take to a deserted island. A very detailed and original world-view, good charactorizations, a plot that rocks, and some of the coolest non-human sentients that you'll never see on TV.
pmsyyz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well deserved Hugo winner for best novel. Mr. Vinge has some wonderfully imaginative ideas here mixed with a galactic usenet. Totally original and very engrossing.
phaga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think i would have liked this book even better had I read it first instead of A Deepness in the Sky. It was still a great book, but I think the universe he creates is a little more fleshed out in A Deepness in the Sky. It would have seemed more natural starting with this book, but that's my fault not the author's.
krau0098 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will say right off of the bat that I don't read a ton of hard science fiction. The premise of this book sounded fascinating and it is a Hugo award winner. Then a co-worker of mine starting talking about this wonderful book he just finished and I was like hey that sounds like this Vernor Vinge book I wanted to read. So he lent it to me and I read it. It is an interesting and complex book, but it is also very long and a bit wordy.The plot is complex. Humans in the Beyond (a portion of space where higher intelligence is possible) have created something horrible, something they have lost control of. A single family is the only thing to escape the horror and they crash land on a primitive planet. The planet is home to dog-like creatures who exist as multiple dog people (4-6) to one pack mind; they are called Tines. The only people to survive the initial encounter with the Tines are two kids; Johanna and Jefri and they are taken in by competing factions of Tines. Meanwhile in space, Ravena and a human who is host to a Power, Pham, are trying to escape the Blight that is taking over the universe. In the end the answer to pushing back the Blight may lie with the child survivors of the Human colony that survived it.The plot is complicated, but mainly goes between the planet of the Tines and Ravena. There were a lot of good things about this book. The story is complex, the idea behind space having different Zones of thought that enable higher intelligence and different types of technology is fascinating. The Tines as a race are very interesting in how they are small packs that think with one mind. There are a lot of traditional sci-fi topics broached such as humans dabbling in tech they shouldn't and people from a high tech race being stranded on a medieval like world.Vinge also delves into questions around war, mortality, morality, and humanity as a whole. So all in all this book has a bit of everything; action, philosophy, etc. Characterization isn't the strong point of this novel; you never really care all that much about the characters. Plot and world-building are definitely Vinge's strengths.Vinge has a very readable writing style and overall I enjoyed it. His writing really shines when describing the scenes on the Tine's home planet. I didn't enjoy the space scenes as much; they tended to be wordy and throw around a lot of unexplained terminology.There were some things I did not like about this novel. It is long, and I think the length was unnecessary. A lot of the space travel scenes get really wordy, and I think they could have been much more concise and still conveyed what the reader needed to know. Also there is a problem that I have with a lot of sci-fi which is the throwing around of terms and names without really ever explaining them. The reader is left to suss out what they can as they continue reading and is constantly struggling to figure exactly what things are. It took me a while to figure out exactly what the Tines were and how they worked together. Maybe that is the thrill of the book for some readers, but I just found it irritating.Overall not a book I really enjoyed reading but it was interesting and creative. I would definitely recommend this for hardcore sci-fi fans. I think people who dabble in sci-fi might find it a bit lengthy and wordy. The concepts are really fascinating though so I recommend it based on that. It is a complex book and it is obvious the Vinge put a lot of thought into it; I wouldn't necessarily call it a fun read though.
gregory_gwen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great stuff! I admit that I skipped over really understanding some of the science parts. Good plot with interesting aliens. I also appreciate that it has a beginning and and end in this book, no need to go read 3 sequels right away.
lunaverse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Full of many unique concepts. Zones of slowness in the universe that dictate what level of technology will operate. A species of alien with a pack-mind. God-like singularities meddling (or not) in the lives of intelligent beings.Good stuff.
felius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Space Opera on a grand scale, describing a galaxy richly populated with alien species - a galaxy in which humans are bit players. Most sci-fi has at least one "big idea", but this has enough of them to put other books to shame.One of these ideas - the concept of separate "zones" in space, regions in which the laws of physics change substantially - serves as a usual device for allowing FTL travel and communication, while also abstracting away the unexplainable strangeness of truly superhuman intelligence.I loved this, and will now have to go seek out more by this author.
name99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A superior piece of science fiction with a much more interesting universe than the usual. Especially impressive was the depiction of truly alien aliens.
NukeHavoc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent mix of hard science fiction and space opera, taking readers from the heights of the impossible to the all-too-probable. Vinge excels at building alien cultures, as he shows with the creation of the groupmind Tines. These wolf-like aliens share a consciousness built based on the members of their pack; adding or removing wolves changes the very nature of their selves. Reviewed in Nuketown Radio Active #41
drudmann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very well crafted; not particularly compelling.
timspalding on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed both A Fire on the Deep and Vinge's follow-up, A Deepness in the Sky (which I read first). The ideas in both are fascinating, and worked out well and not all at once. They make both books worth reading. The plot too is not unexciting. But the writing is work¿both could easily lose 1/3 of their bulk and be only the better for it. And it's hard to feel much for the characters. A Fire Upon the Deep has the more interesting ideas¿the zones of thought, the Tines¿but I didn't really care about the characters, human, Tine or otherwise. Mostly I wanted to see if there were any more interesting ideas, and even they have to slow to a trickle as the plot grinds along. I found A Deepness in the Sky somewhat more compelling on a character level, but the writing is no better.
KevlarRelic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Awesome. Very awesome. This one gets all the stars. It's got old school medieval intrigue and machinations and it's got new school crazy nano future technology and it's got some touching emotional stuff going on too. Highly recommended.
Caragen87 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What I liked most about this is the notion of a far flung technic civilization existing for Millions of years, yet always churning. And best was the thought that just because a civilization may be dead doesn't mean you should poke at it. Sometimes, old things need to be left where they are.
klh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A truly imaginative vision, where the laws of physics change gradually the farther one is from the galactic core, underpins this saga. The familiar Vinge fascination with networks and communication plays a central role in a tale involving transcendent 'Powers', interstellar traders, ancient civilizations, humans, and puppies. Disparate threads involving space-faring cultures that leap light-years in the blink of an eye and a medieval world that knows only blades and arrows slowly come together as a small group makes a desperate dash across the technology gradient to save the galaxy as they know it. Fast-paced and engrossing.
Karlstar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent hard sci-fi novel in the tradition of Banks and Simmons, with Vinge's unique style. The galaxy is under attack by an ancient enemy, long forgotten, but not yet dead.
Farree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A phenomenally good story, with some of the most interesting aliens I have seen.
LTFL_JMLS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great stuff! I admit that I skipped over really understanding some of the science parts. Good plot with interesting aliens. I also appreciate that it has a beginning and and end in this book, no need to go read 3 sequels right away.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much of my early adolescent reading years were taken up with science fiction and fantasy, from Tolkien to Asimov. I pretty much abandoned fantasy soon thereafter, but have returned time and again to the science fiction genre, sometimes with good result and sometimes not. I would have to say this was a ¿not¿.Several years ago, after a long hiatus, I sampled several of the new generation of science fiction writers who crafted highly original, new science fiction (such works as The Windup Girl, Anathem, River of Gods and The Reality Dysfunction). At the same time, I made it a point to go back and read some of the prior winners of the Hugo Award. I must say, that while I found some good reads in the older work (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Gods Themselves), by and large I was disappointed with many of the winners (Ringworld, Gateway, Startide Rising, Paladin of Souls). In many ways, this Vernor Vinge work fell into this latter category.While it would be a mistake to claim that there was nothing original in this story, much of it was stereotypical and hackeyed as it related to alien life forms. It is the nature of the beast to imagine alien life forms in constructs with which we are familiar, hence the almost never ending ¿insect¿ and animal like aliens that make appearances in almost every such story, this one being no exception. While I understand the difficulty in thinking outside the box in this regard, it either works or it doesn¿t. A reader either ¿buys in¿ or is left wincing and shaking his head. The writer¿s product is either believable or just plain silly. The Tines and Skroderiders in this work were silly.As it relates to many stories in its genre, it was perfectly readable, but when compared to others (even from the same time period) it was mediocre at best. When compared to some of the more recent, highly original work, it suffered greatly by comparison. If this were the first science fiction book you read, you might be satisfied, but after reading dozens of others previously, you¿ll find little to differentiate or recommend it.