Exactly the right kind of book to take away on a short holiday. Vinge is an interesting character in himself, who has written about the theme of technological singularity I mentioned in another review. A Fire Upon the Deep takes a slightly different line than Stross though, who emphasises a kind of technological distopia caused by civilisations “transcending” once they reach a particular level of technological development.

Vinge takes the approach that singularity will happen to a range of civilisations over time, with ‘lesser’ civilisations taking up the spaces as the more advanced disappear into the ether to create room. It’s a compelling idea, and well-presented in this space opera.

The premise of the Hugo Award-winning A Fire Upon the Deep is that humans are tinkering with an ancient database and accidentally trigger a ‘Perversion’, a transcendant being hostile to other life in the galaxy. The humans who make the mistake flee, carrying with them the only means to limit the Perversion, but crash on a world far from populated space. You can probably see where we’re going from here.

Essentially, a rescue effort is mounted from a distant star system, with two humans and two kelp-creatures (yup, you read that right) setting off in a modified space-ship to locate the crashed ship. Naturally the Perversion is busy doing all it can to stop proceedings.

This is a space opera in the finest tradition, with a wealth of speculation about how the galaxy will shape up millions of years in the future, with a special emphasis on the non-centrality of human beings. In a way, humans are peripheral to everything happening on a galatic scale, and are probably only the centre of the story itself because the reader needs something to identify with!

Vinge toys with a great range of ideas, from group mind beings , to the relative density of the galaxy and its effect on space travel, to means to accelerate civilisational development. Most of these ideas are realtively cliched these days, but are patched together nicely.

A recommended read, though not a particularly challenging one.