Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: A Deepness in the Sky

In an earlier blog post, I put out the call to my readers to suggest some good science fiction to check out. I got a lot of great suggestions, and I've started going through the list. The first book I read was A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.

This was a really fun book to read, and more importantly, it opened my mind to quite a few new ideas and possibilities. This story is, for the most part, a very realistic view of humanity thousands of years in the future. I like that Vinge didn't shy away from the problems of time dilation when traveling at high velocities. Rather, it was a central element to the setting and plot. In Vinge's book, humans travel aboard ramjet fusion (I believe) starships that can top out at 0.3 c. Of course, this means that time flows much more slowly for the people on the ship than for those who are at rest. Instead of ignoring this, Vinge uses it in very creative ways. The crew are kept in cold storage during the long journeys (decades, centuries, or even millenia), with a few being up and active at all times in a system of rotating shifts. 

Vinge also doesn't ignore the limitations of communications that are bound by the speed of light. You'll see no "galactic empires" in this book, but you will see one man's dream of one and why it can't work.

Vinge's aliens were fairly believable. Unfortunately, he followed the trope of basing the aliens on an earth life-form (in this case spiders). Must we all do this? However, beyond that, the aliens were well-developed. They have a very interesting visual system. Although I feel the aliens were humanized a bit too much, which is a real problem in science fiction, there is at least a tenuous explanation for this in the story--the human translators. 

The plot is interesting and engaging, with some surprising twists here and there. It takes a while for the story to get going, but the writing is clean enough you don't get bored. My one complaint is the character I found the most annoying in the book became one of the "heroes". This bothered me because during the whole book she was the quintessential tool, but yet somehow still "saves the day" and earns the respect of her peers.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, this book is sadly lacking in any kind of descriptions whatsoever. You seldom if ever get any descriptions of the characters, ships, technology, etc. As a writer, I understand that too much description bogs down the pacing, but no description at all is laziness in my mind. It makes me wonder if the author even knows what things look like himself. I've begun reading A Fire in the Deep, which is set in the same universe. Only there did I learn that one of the main characters in the other book has red hair. Ultimately, I was able to get past the lack of description, but it does keep me from recommending this author as highly as I would otherwise. Personally, I think he could have taken out some of the irrelevant math he has in the book and replace it with good descriptions without changing his word count or pacing at all. For instance, he'll give the dimensions in centimeters of some piece of furniture or hardware, and yet not tell you what the ships look like. That said, though, you'll love this book as long as you have a really good imagination and don't mind having to fill in a LOT of gaps in the information you're given.

The book has decent pacing, although it does get kind of slow from time to time. I think it would have been better without the alien PoV's, which contributed to making them seem far too human.

Thanks again to all of you who recommended good sci fi for me. I really appreciate it. If you have anything else you'd like to recommend, feel free to do so in the comments.

Fly smart.