Long-awaited sequel—19 years later—to Vinge's tremendous, far-future spectacular, A Fire Upon the Deep (1992).
Following a horrific tussle with the Blight, a vampire-like predatory intelligence, what's left of the once-godlike Straumli Realm—librarian Ravna, teenagers Johanna and Jefri and others preserved in cold-sleep capsules—is marooned on a planet in the Slow Zone, where complex intelligence, advanced computation and faster-than-light travel are impossible. Despite its technology, therefore, the Straumlis' spaceship is virtually helpless. The planet is inhabited by Tines, multi-bodied dog-like aliens whose group minds communicate via complex sonic pulses partly inaudible to humans. Ravna made an alliance with the powerful Woodcarver and thereby earned the enmity of psychotic megalomaniac Vendacious and the inventive, acquisitive, ruthless Tycoon. Having awoken the sleepers in the undamaged capsules, Ravna settled down to build an industrial civilization as quickly as possible, since the remnants of the Blight is only 30 light-years away. Now, ten years have passed. Unknown to Ravna, Vendacious and Tycoon have made a deal and have learned how to manipulate the more communal-minded Tines of the tropics. Ravna has her hands full dealing with Nevil, a devious politician who leads the Deniers, a group that considers Ravna delusional and thinks the Blight is coming to rescue them. Nevil's secret alliance with Tycoon will, he hopes, cement his power over the human faction; when it comes to Machiavellian intrigue, however, the humans are amateurs compared to the Tines. These latter are beautifully thought-out, brilliantly managed creations. What disappoints about the narrative is that Vinge describes rather than dramatizes, so narrative tension never builds; significant developments often take place offstage and what plot there is—big on detail, limited in scope—just sits there. Sequels loom.Information overload.