Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

A Deepness in the Sky paperback cover A Deepness in the Sky (1999)
1999 Nebula Award Nominee
2000 Hugo Award Winner

Tor paperback - 774 pages
inside cover art by Boris Vallejo (left)
note-cover is shiny silver, not deep gray

Tor Books hardcover - 606 pages
cover art by Bob Eggleton (right)
A Deepness in the Sky hardback cover

Amy's Summary
Characters list
Our book ratings
Aaron's Commentary
Vernor Vinge bibliography

This is a loosely connected prequel to Vernor Vinge's Hugo Award winning book A Fire Upon the Deep
From the back cover:
       After thousands of years of searching, humans stand on the verge of first contact with an alien race.  Two human groups: The Qeng Ho, a culture of free, innovative traders, and the Emergents, a ruthless society based on the technological enslavement of minds.
       The group that opens trade with the aliens will reap unimaginable riches.  But first, both groups must wait at the aliens' very doorstep for their strange star to relight and for the alien planet to reawaken, as it does every two hundred and fifty years...
       Amidst terrible treachery, the Qeng Ho must fight for their freedom and for the lives of the unsuspecting innocents on the planet below, while the aliens themselves play a role unsuspected by the Qeng Ho and Emergents alike.

Read for group discussion on April 12, 2000

Amy's Summary :  Vernor Vinge - A Deepness in the Sky

The OnOff star is an astrophysical enigma, repeatedly burning brightly for 35 years, then shutting off and glowing dimly for 215 years.  There's a lone planet circling this unusual sun, and radio signals are detected from coming from it.

Two separate expedition fleets to the OnOff star meet in space, the Qeng Ho who are interstellar traders, and the Emergents who are conquerors of planets. Different goals and values.  The Qeng Ho seek knowledge and potential customers, the Emergents hope to find treasure.  The Qeng Ho have superior technology, but the Emergents have Focus, a method for humans to operate at peak efficiency.  Their uneasy alliance soon breaks down, and the survivors are stranded in the solar system.  They need the help of the aliens to rebuild their starships.

Down on the planet, Arachna, are the aliens, the Spiders.  They hibernate in a Deepness when the Dark comes, and emerge centuries later after their sun relights.  They are using inventions to stay awake later into the Dark to gain advantage over war time enemies when the humans arrive.  Spider technology is speedily advancing from farm machinery and automobiles to atomic energy and computers.

summary written by

Characters - A Deepness in the Sky (as we first meet them)

Qeng Ho
Ezr Vinh - apprentice Trader from ship-owning Vinh.23 family
Qiwi Lin Lisolet - girl from Lisolet.17 family of Strentmann
Pham Trinli - old Programmer-at-Arms
Trixia Bonsol - translator and linguist from Triland
Sammy Park - Fleet Captain of expedition to On/Off star
Pham Nuwen - almost legendary Qeng Ho commander from Canberra
Jimmy Diem - Crewleader

Tomas Nau - leader of Emergent fleet, Podmaster
Ritser Brughel - Vice Podmaster, assigned the role of Heavy
Anne Reynolt - Director of the Focused

Sherkaner Underhill - scientist, innovator, engineer, a Darkstrider
Victory Smith - Female Lieutenant at Lands Command
Hrunkner Unnerby - Sergeant at Lands Command
Jirlib, Brent, Gokna, Viki, Rhapsa, Hrunk - young spiders
Honored Pedure - Conservative Spider

Other things
zipheads - Resource for the Emergents
Balacrea, Frenk, Gaspr - Emergent worlds

How we each rated this book
Dan - Amy 8 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 9 Barb 8
Aaron 9 Cynthia 9
Lindsey - Jackie -
Kerry -    

Aaron's Commentary  Vernor Vinge - A Deepness in the Sky

This didn't wow me as much as A Fire Upon the Deep - it's mostly set on and around a single planet, instead of the galactic scale of Fire - but I think Vinge's prose is quite a bit better in this book.  He was able to evoke emotional responses from me, including making me feel physically nauseated by Qiwi's relationship with Tomas Nau.  The characters develop in interesting ways, especially Pham Nuwen, who starts out as an almost mythical figure, then begins to seem uncomfortably similar to Nau in his ambitions.  The final outcome of his internal conflict is effective and believable.

As always, Vinge loads up his fiction with plenty of interesting ideas, such as the future practice of software archeology, and the possibility of creating what is in effect artificial intelligence using the human brain.

The alien Spiders are physically interesting, but behaviorally almost identical to humans.  This was clearly a deliberate choice by Vinge.  Because the Spiders are at our level of technology, he wanted them to seem more familiar to us than the future humans.  This all struck me as too unlikely.  Surely the Spiders (or any alien race) would have significant cultural differences.  At a minimum, since their sun scours the surface of the world clean once every generation, shouldn't the Spiders do more of their building underground?  Vinge brings in a moral issue concerning the few children who are born "out of phase" with the others, but shouldn't there be other cultural differences resulting from the fact that almost all the members of each generation are born at the same time?  To be fair, Vinge does attempt to justify the Spiders' familiarity by telling us we're reading an anthropomorphized translation of their stories.  Keeping the Spiders from seeming too alien also makes it easier for Vinge to contrast the Spiders' "Dawn Age" optimism, personified by Sherkaner, with future humanity's stagnation.  Everyone but Pham Nuwen has accepted that each human world will always be stuck in a cycle of good years and dark ages.

My only serious complaint is that this novel is too long.  Part Two is quite drawn out, alternating between Pham Nuwen and Ezr Vinh waiting and waiting, we're not sure for what, and adventures of Sherkaner's children, only tangentially related to the main story line.  If Vinge had only tightened this book up a bit, it could have been truly outstanding.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Vernor Vinge:
-- A Fire Upon the Deep  in August 1996
-- Rainbows End  in June 2007

Vernor Vinge (1944-     ) is a US science fiction writer, computer scientist, and retired professor of mathematics.

1987 Prometheus Best Novel Award for Marooned in Realtime
1993 Hugo Award for novel A Fire Upon the Deep
2000 Hugo Award for novel A Deepness in the Sky
2000 Prometheus Best Novel Award for A Deepness in the Sky
2002 Hugo Award for novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High"
2004 Hugo Award for novella "The Cookie Monster"
2007 Hugo Award for novel Rainbows End

Realtime sequence books:
--The Peace War (1984)
--Marooned in Realtime (1986)
--Across Realtime (omnibus, 1986), includes The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime

Zones of Thought books:
--A Fire Upon the Deep (1992)
--A Deepness in the Sky (1999), a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep

Other novels:
--Grimm's World (1969, also titled Tatja Grimm's World (1987))
--The Witling (1976)
--Rainbows End (2006), set in same universe as "Fast Times at Fairmont High"

Short story collections:
--True Names and Other Dangers (1987)
--Threats...and Other Promises (1988)
--The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge (2001)
--True Names and the Opening of the Cyberspace Frontier (2001, edited by James Frenkel) contains Vinge's novella "True Names" and information about developments on the Internet.

Other Stuff:
--Vernor Vinge: What Happens If the Singularity Does Not Happen? (2007) - a seminar on DVD

Our book club's page for Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
Vernor Vinge - Wikipedia
Singular Vernor Vinge Page
Bjorn & Swen's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Review - Vernor Vinge
Salon Technology | Vernor Vinge, online prophet
SF Reviews by Aaron M. Renn: A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
Plokta News Network: Review of Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky
In Other Worlds: A Deepness in the Sky
Tor Books - excerpt A Deepness in the Sky
Science Fiction Book Reviews A Deepness in the Sky
Vernor Vinge A Deepness in the Sky - an infinity plus review

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This page was last updated October 20, 2008