A Fire Upon the Deep blew me away, and its prequel, A Deepness in the Sky, impressed me even further. Through these two books Vernor Vinge set and raised the bar for what I considered an amazing science fiction book to be. So it’s with shame and hesitation that I give The Children of the Sky the amount of criticism I’m about to.
First, the minor complaints I have (such as repeatedly using ridiculous terms like “frigging”, “natch” and “craphead”). They’re at least so minor I only wish to refer to them in parentheses. Done.
Now on to the real problem. I agreed with so much of Paul Di Filippo’s piece in The Barnes & Noble Review (disagreeing only with his disappointment that A Fire Upin the Deep’s “Net of a Million Lies” wasn’t expanded based upon a subsequent two decades of real-world online experience) that I’d like to proceed by stealing some of it [minor spoilers]:
…despite displaying immense cleverness and craft and heart, this is not the book we were all hoping for. Consequently, no matter how well done, it’s bound to be something of a disappointment. Why? Vinge has — temporarily, one hopes — abandoned his fascinating interstellar milieu to focus exclusively on Tines World…
…as thrilling as all this action and speculation is, the reader is still going to feel an underlying itch for a broader canvas. This itch will manifest itself most vividly in chapter 24, almost exactly halfway through the book. The monitors on the Oobii show that the currents of spacetime have pulsed, and that Tines World is part of the faster-than-light realm again. The reader’s heart jumps! Out into the Galaxy we fly! But no, it’s not to be. The tide immediately ebbs, and we are again castaways with a sigh.
The Children of the Sky is, I think, clearly the middle volume of a trilogy, and it suffers from some of those fabled longueurs associated with such bridging installments. What I suspect Vinge is building toward is a breakout of the Tines from their isolated planet and into the interstellar setting where they will play an important part in the scheme of things. That’s going to be a hell of a grand tale, and we can only hope we won’t need to wait another twenty years for its unveiling…
In a podcast interview earlier this month, Vernor Vinge explained that his first attempt at a sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep began with the full text of The Blabber (a short story he wrote before A Fire Upon the Deep), which takes place further into the future where our main characters have managed to rejoin the mighty space-fearing civilizations of “the beyond”. So we know Vinge has at least thought about where the story could go next and might be able to easily jump into it in the near future.
The Children of the Sky is a good book, and shouldn’t be the least bit disappointing if you go into it knowing what to expect (a low-tech, middle book in an unfinished trilogy). I’ll definitely be reading whatever Vinge publishes next, but I hope (against hope) it’s a sequel to this sequel.