I read this book about 22-May-2015. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2011. This note was last modified Saturday, 30-May-2015 19:19:14 PDT.
This is book 3 of the "Zones of Thought" series.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
Direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep (#2), which I recently added (for the first time in decades) to my long-standing list of 5 best SF novels ever. And this review also includes spoilers for that! You have been warned.
Vinge writes slowly, or thinks slowly, or parties a lot, or actually works at his day job (Prof. of computer science and mathematics), or something. His books come out rather slowly by the standards of the field. But he's written at least four widely regarded as standouts in the field, so he's doing something important right.
I was not the biggest fan of the parts of A Fire Upon the Deep that took place on the Tine's world. Certainly they are a brilliant bit of creature design, and the characters and social backgrounds aren't hard to accept. It's just that the focus is so much on such deeply awful, horrible, wretched, evil people. The kind that rise to power in that sort of situation.
Well, this one takes the story up from there. The Children, some still in cold sleep, are stuck there in the Slow Zone, and the blight's fleet is coming sometime in the next few thousand years. Except that there are occasional indications, logged by Out of Band II, which still has some functional instrumentation and computers left, of short-term zone shifts that would be letting the fleet advance towards the Children at trans-light speeds. (And the last of those hasn't been revealed to the responsible characters yet by the end of this book). So...sometime in the next year to a few millenia, all hell will be out for noon.
Either that, or the rescue fleet will be arriving; some of the Children don't accept the reality of the Blight, consider Countermeasure to be an atrocity, and think Pham was either evil or a minion of Countermeasure. They don't like the version of the story that has their parents be greedy incompetents who caused all this trouble, for one thing. And they never saw all the convincing evidence as it went by. And Ravna, the only adult left around, isn't from their cultural background.
We get to visit the Choir in the south, and the pack Tycoon manages to set up trade with them and even manufacturing facilities there. Tycoon is the other half of Scriber from the previous book. Establishing trade is brilliantly done using the talking octopuses he's found. Speaking of spoilers, by the end of the book those turn out to be a larval stage of Skroderiders, and Bluestalk is actually living on Tycoon's reservation in the South.
The politicking is hot and heavy still. The Children think they're smart, but in fact they can't play evenly with top medieval schemers like Vendacious, Steel, or Woodcarver. Ravna does make an effort to avoid violence-based solutions, and to not write off her political opponents among the Children as "enemies", which is useful (though hard).
There's a bit too much casual acceptance of torture for my taste. The humans should be heir to our conclusion that it's inneffective (for getting accurate information) and highly damaging to the subjects (and practitioners), and there's some of that, but less than I see in most people around me today, so that bugs me. There should be lots of incredulous outrage at the concept. (Or else the book should be explicitly challenging our current knowledge; I wouldn't like that, but it certainly can be done.)
The tines, given their cultural development, possibly could have beliefs about torture similar to our own medieval ones; that's certainly culturally appropriate. Or they could be different, equally legitimately. The distinction between "member" and "pack" (with packs being the actual "individuals" of tinish culture) is important. A pack can greatly outlive all its original members; in fact it's not that uncommon. So any issue of relationship to individual destruction is wide open for authorial decision. Still, it didn't end up reading as if that area had been thorougly considered; it felt like bad primitive leaders of course use torture.
By the end of the book things have settled down, the "deniers" have been somewhat curbed, Ravna has both control of and access to the ship, and things are set to proceed forward. But she doesn't know about the latest band shift and the accelerated schedule of arrival of the Blight's fleet. The setup is very much aimed at a sequel.