Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Deepness in the Sky

I want to be someone who likes reading science fiction. I love the ideas in it; I love literary fiction that's infused with the strangeness of sf worlds. I dive into sf novels with enthusiasm, refreshed by the (seemingly) straightforward language and the attention to concepts and action rather than psychology. But usually I come up again halfway through, fatigued from keeping track of terminology and hundreds of faceless characters. I don't like this inkling that I'd rather have someone else tell me about the novels than read them myself. And so I'm going to finish Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky. I left it some months ago, bogged down in what seems to be backstory about a dull but important human character, a member of the Qeng Ho, a commerce-oriented society--as opposed to the Emergents, the fascists (of whom more in a moment). Deepness was wonderful in the first half. Some reasons:
  • The Spiders, a non-human race that lives on a planet orbiting the On-Off star. When the star is "off" the Spiders hibernate for over a century (I think) and when the star comes back on (rather beautifully), they must rebuild their civilization. The Spiders who have multiple eyes and legs and full body hair are the most engaging characters by far in the book. They're idiosyncratic, inventors, with senses of humor. When the human characters are on stage I keep asking, like David Bowie did, Where are the Spiders?

  • The Focused. These are people whom the Emergents deliberately infect with a neural toxin that makes them essentially autistic. They think only about their current task, talk about nothing else, neglect their hygiene and personal lives utterly. They're the perfect high-tech employees. The fact that they usually receive the infection in grad school requires no further discussion.

  • Systems. Specifically, what does one do with the systems of a society it has conquered? How does the conquerer adapt and use the techologies of its enemy? What's the difference between adoption and cooption? How can they trust the tools?
Also a young woman keeps discovering the truth, over and over, about her mother's murder, only to have her memory erased by the emergents at the moment of discovery. It's a lovely problem.

I will finish, I will, right after Pale Fire, which seems like it's going to be the best book ever written.

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