Review: A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge

Highly political and hard on ideology, Vernor Vinge‘s A Deepness in the Sky is not an easy read – not to me at least. It might be that it would had been different if I had read A Fire in the Deep first but I don’t know – all I know now is that it was interesting on an intellectual level but never really interesting interesting.

A mission to a faraway star ends in disaster when two parties with conflicting ideas about how to manage society clashes, with the more violent and dictatorial initially gaining the upper hand. The leader of that party manipulates his way through the decades, waiting for the natives of the planet they encircle to gain enough technological and scientific knowledge to be worth scavenging, all the while telling the humans of the two factions that what they really want to do is trade with the aliens; to trade themselves out of their precarious situation. His real plan is to engineer mayhem downplanet, mayhem that will look like it is the result of a war between multiple nation states, war that will lay the spoils of a naive but skilled society open to him.

(This made me think of Naomi Klein‘s Shock Doctrine, as it is the same theory at work – create chaos and you can then reshape the society to fit your specific needs. Not viable long-term, but in the short – definitely.)

It doesn’t stop there. Rather the book seems to argue that central government never can be successful; that it inevitably ends up being repressive; and that the only viable model is… what?

Throughout the book the other human party seems to be the most likely contender for power, and as it is a community based on trading rather than creating, it seems like Vinge pitches repressive dictatorship against a loose organism whose main interest is profit. But then, surprise surprise, the aliens turn out not to be the victims everyone thought them to be, and it is the nation with the best ability to turn scientific progress into a development that benefits the whole of the society that ends up the winner.

Hrm. Interesting indeed. But to truly enjoy the book and its 774 pages I think “interesting” isn’t enough. Fact is that with 100 pages left I had to force myself to just sit down and finish the damn thing, so I could be allowed to read something else, for a change. Because interesting as it might be character development is at an absolute minimum, despite the fact that the core story spans 40 years and a lot of change and hardships.

Of course, some characters do change. But their change is true to what the ideas need to get properly displpayed, not necessarily true to how a human might respond to challenge or time.

And bottom line, the people – be they machine or humans or aliens, I don’t particularly care, so let’s agree on calling them sentient beings – is what ideas need to be viable, to come to life. We are the material ideas need to become real. And I’m sorry to say but 774 pages of mannequins acting out the ideas of the author is a wee bit too much.

Or perhaps it’s just that Vinge’s voice doesn’t appeal to me. Because I think this book looks like a piece of unfinished wood when stood beside someone like Ian McDonald or Iain M Banks.

So, I’m glad that I finished it but I’m not that eager to read anything more from him.

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