A Fire upon the Deep Critical Essays

Vernor Vinge


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

From prologue to epilogue, A Fire upon the Deep fills its reader with a sense of wonder. A unique structure for cognitive processes fills the galaxy, from the Unthinking Depths to the supercharged Transcend. Civilizations can evolve from limited organizations in the Slow Zone, through increasingly sophisticated societies in the Beyond, into Powers in the Transcend, and perhaps into something beyond the Powers. A vast communications network unites the few human and many alien civilizations of the Beyond. The conflict of the novel occurs when an advanced human civilization dabbling in the wonders of the Transcend inadvertently releases a Perversion that threatens to subvert the entire Beyond and a good portion of the Transcend.

The tradition of grand scope into which this novel falls extends at least from H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), which describes the near and far futures of the Earth, through the science-fiction magazines of the 1930’s and 1940’s. John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novel The Black Star Passes (1953) deals with threats to Earth and the entire solar system, and his The Mightiest Machine (1947; serial form, 1934) envisions conflict between galaxies. E. E. Smith’s Lensman series, from Triplanetary (1948; serial form, 1934) to Children of the Lens (1954; serial form, 1947-1948), extends through six books, envisioning a conflict between high forces of good and evil involving the...

(The entire section is 458 words.)