Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index


A novel by Vernor Vinge (2011, TOR Books)

Divisions break out among the humans on the Tines' world, as they try to advance technologically, and are wary about secrets leaking out to potential enemies among the packs.



Read February 2nd to March 13th, 2014  
    The characters were very well-developed, and there was a lot going on. I didn't feel that the main characters tried to influence events, though, and were mainly there to go along for the ride. I also didn't realize that this was not the conclusion, that we would be stuck on the pre-technological world for the entire book, and have no real outer space story, as in the first book. Unfortunately, the story barely kept me interested enough to continue, and not much more than that.

Full spoiler review:

I had a lot of trouble with this book, similar to what I experienced with A Deepness in the Sky. This book was better than that one, but not as good as A Fire Upon the Deep, to which this book is a sequel. I wonder if it will take another decade to get to the next book, which will hopefully take place in the part of space that I so enjoyed in the previous one.

My favorite part of the first book was all the events that took place in space, in the different zones of thought. The Tines were a pre-technological race, very interesting and unique to my perspective, but still more of an 18th century civilization. Now, because of Ravna's influence and stolen secrets, the Tines have really started to develop. They have airships and factories, houses and through the use of the spaceship's limited resources here in the slow zone, they also have heating and indoor plumbing.

But among humans, there is discontent, as the Children are growing up, having been revived from their frozen sleep, and they all remember what life was like before they had to abandon the lab where the Blight was released. They don't believe Ravna's story as to the evil nature of what their parents released, thinking their parents could never have been so stupid.

Ravna relies on Nevil, oldest of the Children, as well as Johannah, whom she rescued from Vendacious at the end of the last book. But apparently she is too trusting, as Nevil usurps her power, relegating her to a role of pretty much nothing. Johannah, who had been engaged to Nevil, supports Ravna, and is always searching for a way to dethrone Nevil as the leader of the humans, and co-leader of the Woodcarver's realm.

As in the last book, Woodcarver has a rival, but instead of the insane Flenser, it is Tycoon, a business giant and entrepreneur, who is able to take designs he hears about and sees from the humans and turn them into Tine-capable working products. Both he and Johannah take an interest in the tropics, a very different Tine-world than their continent in the north. In the north, there are very few Tines, allowing them to come together into various packs that make up a coherent whole, and form a society almost as we know it -but using group mentalities, instead of single-persons. All roads and staircases need to be extra-wide to handle the multiple beings that make up a Tine, for example. And it's easy for a Tine to perform surveillance, as the various pack members can be a fair distance apart without losing cohesion.

But in the tropics, there are no real individuals, only a massive choir, because the members are so bunched up all together all the time. It is described as a mass orgy, both of body and of the mind, and the "civilized" north call it chaos. But the choir-members think pack members are abominations, and don't know what they are missing.

And so when Ravna is captured, and Jeffry and the Amdi pack come along, Ravna discovers that Nevil has been working with Tycoon and the escaped Vendacious for a long time, stealing technology to give to their rival. Jeffrey doesn't believe Ravna's story about the Blight and thinks that Countermeasure was the evil part, but he's not sure about Tycoon or Ravna. So he helps Ravna even as he tries to figure out what he wants from this life.

Johannah and the pack Pilgrim have been out flying the only human aircraft available out to the tropics, but on one trip, they are ambushed, and they crash. Vendacious doesn't catch her, but she does discover Tycoon's little village amid the choir. Pilgrim is lost, presumed killed among the choir packs, but Johannah is saved, for some reason. She stows away on a flotilla of shipments heading north to cement Nevil's role among Woodcarver's people, and join them with Tycoon.

Meanwhile, Ravna is taken to the tropics, where she finds that although Tycoon is ruthless, he is also very fair, and he wants her to be his advisor. Of course she balks at this, but it seems that Vendacious is the one who is manipulating Tycoon, and all the violent acts have been a result of the malicious pack, not Tycoon himself. Ravna also realizes that Tycoon has done more in the tropics to advance the Tines world than all she did in the ten years with the spaceship. And advancing technology here was her whole purpose here, in order to defeat the Blight fleet that is only thirty or so years away at the speed of light.

Tycoon sets out for Wookcarver's realm, and they arrive at the same time as Johannah, who has obtained the sub-choir's loyalty on the flotilla. Nevil reacts violently, trying to destroy Johannah with the spaceship's laser, and willing to kill Ravna. But he fails on both counts, just killing many Tines in the process. But he considers Tines to be far inferior to humans, so their lives have absolutely no value to him.

All of this was very slow to develop, which I guess is natural, but I found so much of it to be very boring! The Blight was observed only twice in the whole book, once through a semi-dream, the other by one of Nevil's people, who does nothing with the information. It looks like the countermeasure isn't as effective as everybody thought, as the higher plane of existence asserts itself during those moments, and the Blight manages to advance a little closer to the Tines' planet.

I was hoping to have much more of the book take place in space, so I was very disappointed to see everything take place on the ground here, which I think made it more difficult to read, which was already very tough. The climax of the book is no better, and is not satisfying. Nevil is defeated among Woodcarver's realm, but he escapes and manages to lead a group of people who still believe in him to an oasis cave complex not far away. Tycoon is trading with both Woodcarver and Nevil, who now both have viable human colonies among them, though I get the impression that Nevil won't welcome packs as easily as he claims -making it effectively a human-only colony. There is no further information about what is happening in space, and no real resolution of anything. The only really good part is that Vendacious has been thrown out of his airship to die, for real this time.

Of course, if there is a sequel, I will read it, even if it takes me a long time (again) to get through. I hope that we will get to see the Blight in action, or at least something in the space-realms of this future universe, and that the Tines' world will be advance enough to do something about it. At least that's what I think this book was doing- setting up for a monumental conclusion. Or so I hope.

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