The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a bit of a roller coaster for me, in that I expected huge undertakings and huge payoffs, but what I got never delivered more than an upheaval of Tines society and the progression toward a technological revolution in the Slow Zone, but after I got over this rather large disappointment, I was pleased to run with all the packs in a fascinating, complex, and plot-driven wonder of a really good character novel.
I should have reread A Fire Upon The Deep first, but it wasn't absolutely necessary. I loved that classic novel. It was the one that spurred the Singularity that we all know and love. This is its sequel, but The Children of the Sky has little to do with the Singularity, except as a far-off threat.
Setting my personal expectations and desires aside, I sat down to read this long novel intent to enjoy it on its own merits no matter what the cost. It is a Vernor Vinge novel, after all. I have always GUSHED over his novels in the past, and it really speaks very well for him that 3 out of his 6 novels won the Hugo award.
Quality is Quality is Quality.
And this novel is Quality. The characters took a while to fall into, and the starting plot was somewhat okayish, but the depth and the execution of all the characters grew overwhelmingly poignant with time. It required patience, but never once did Vinge let me down. The whole novel is a painstaking tapestry that is imminently steady and complex with character relationships and development. Ravna grew on me, as did Amdi and Joanna. Even Tycoon grew on me, and he surprised me by not being any sort of classical villain. I was surprised by the developments, to be sure, and that goes double for the Choir. What a strange and fascinating creature.
For those who either haven't read the first novel or have completely forgotten about it, the Tines are an alien race clawing its way from a medieval worldview to an advanced society. They are packs of dogs with telepathy, combining together in groups between 4-8 dogs to have equivalent human intelligence. That's the premise, but what Vinge has really given us is an extremely dense and really fantastic exploration of alien subtlety ranging from romance to warfare. Human technology only makes things chaotic and hopeful and destructive, and how the two races get along is the true heart of the novel.
I think of C J Cherryh with so much fondness when it comes to this kind of alien exploration, but honestly, Vinge holds more than his own when it comes to the same thing. This novel isn't as flashy as the Foreigner series, but it is definitely as deep and magical and thought provoking, if not more so.
It wasn't what I expected, but it certainly was more than I bargained for, and I can't help but feeling flush with satisfaction after reading it. It's true science fiction, exploring ideas, even if they are mostly "soft" ideas. I can't help but sit in awe with what he pulled off, even if the novel isn't completely mind-blowing.
It isn't. It's not going to rank at the top of any list, but I am supremely glad I got to experience it. No reservations. No regrets.
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