A Deepness in the Sky

Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 6, 2000

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A huge crowd of thirteen people showed up to discuss A Deepness in the Sky. Three of the participants were first-time visitors to our group. The start of the discussion was delayed a few minutes as we tried to find chairs for everyone.

A Deepness in the Sky is a space adventure novel set hundreds of years in our future. The story involves spacefaring humans sent to explore an anomalous star. Orbiting the star is a mysterious planet exhibiting signs of intelligent nonhuman life, with which the humans want to make contact. In addition to the difficult problems of investigating the star and making contact with an alien society, the explorers have another big problem. They come from two vastly different cultures that barely get along, so it’s a constant struggle to work together and survive the decades-long mission. Deepness is a loose “prequel” to Vinge’s Hugo-winning 1992 novel A Fire upon the Deep, but the two books share only one character and have no plot elements in common.

We enjoyed the chance to read and discuss an epic space opera. The scale of the story, the large cast of characters, the clashes of cultures, and the well-written prose added up to a gripping tale. Despite the high page count (774 pages in paperback), the majority had finished the book and the rest planned to finish it. The aliens were well developed and the villains (both human and alien) were evil yet multidimensional. The different value systems and moralities of the human cultures were well thought out. The futuristic human professions seemed plausible, particularly “software archaeology.” Several people felt this was one of the best books our group had discussed in months. Segments of the book written from the points of view of the alien characters were surprisingly accessible, giving a good view of a different culture while allowing us to develop fondness for individual aliens.

There were some problems. A couple of us were disappointed that the anomalous star, supposedly a major impetus for the mission, was largely ignored once the explorers arrived. Another wanted to know why the people on the mission apparently went decades without having sex. One person felt the conclusion of the book wrapped up things too neatly with a “Leave it to Beaver” ending.

Overall we enjoyed A Deepness in the Sky a great deal. We look forward to reading more from Vernor Vinge, and we hope we don’t have to wait seven more years for his next novel.

–A. T. Campbell, III