All reviews copyright 1984-2014 Evelyn C. Leeper.
"The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/25/2004]
"The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge is my first choice. However, the appreciation of it is probably somewhat dependent on understanding something about computers (it's not surprising this was an "Analog" story). Still, Vinge's idea of a possible direction for technological employment and how he develops it make this the clear winner for me.
A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/02/2004]
Our science fiction discussion group got tired of reading classics chosen primarily because the library system had many copies, and wanted to read a relatively recent book, preferably a Hugo winner. Because all the libraries in the system seem to "weed" their collections with a rather heavy hand, there weren't any "in stock," but the person organizing the reading groups is also the person in charge of science fiction acquisitions and he said that he could certainly justify buying half a dozen copies of a mass-market edition of a Hugo-winning book. (It's about the price of one hardcover, and certainly cheaper than the audiotape version of a recent Robert Jordan that the library seems to have acquired.) And a half a dozen copies would be sufficient--the group is small and some of us would have the book already anyway. So we picked Vernor Vinge's A FIRE UPON THE DEEP as being the hard science fiction that people wanted (as opposed to soft science fiction like FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON) or fantasy.
The book met with mixed reactions. One person gave up after a hundred pages because she found Vinge's technique of throwing out ideas (and words) without explaining them very confusing. Another person agreed that Vinge did this, and felt it indicated a disregard for his readers, but he enjoyed as much of the book as he could read before the meeting and hoped to finish it at some point in the future. I thought the technique, rather than showing a disregard for the readers, showed that Vinge expected his readers would be able (and willing) to work to figure out the details.
One interesting observation made was that Vinge threw a lot of different ideas into A FIRE UPON THE DEEP: the nature of the Flensers, the concept of the Slow Zone, the structure of interstellar trade, and so on. This was like Robert J. Sawyer did in a previous discussion book, CALCULATING GOD. But one person said that while in CALCULATING GOD it just seems like a jumble of ideas thrown together, in A FIRE UPON THE DEEP it appears as a well-structured tapestry.
The "original" reading group has a policy of choosing books that are three hundred pages or less. The other groups (mystery and science fiction) have not adopted this policy, but given that I was the only one to finish this six-hundred-page book, we will probably try to stick to something a bit shorter in the future. Unfortunately, this probably rules out most of the recent Hugo nominees.
To order A Fire Upon the Deep from amazon.com, click here.
TRUE NAMES by Vernor Vinge:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/19/2010]
TRUE NAMES by Vernor Vinge (ISBN-13 978-0-312-86207-7) seemed like a great novella when it came out in 1981 (although it did not win the Hugo, losing to Poul Anderson's "The Saturn Game"), but it has not aged well. That is to say, it is clearly a seminal work, but it is not a work that today's readers can read and go, "Wow! What a great story! What great ideas!" Today, almost thirty years later, the ideas either are commonplace or have been proved misguided. Of course, this is probably true of most ground-breaking works.
To order True Names from amazon.com, click here.