What I most admire about Vernor Vinge is his ability to create interesting worlds—planets and galaxies—and alien species. In A Deepness in the Sky he describes the Spiders. In the 1993 Hugo Award winner, A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor describes a number of interesting species, including the Tines. For me they are what make the book worth reading. The Tines look like odd shaped dogs, but each pack shares one consciousness. They can’t function as singletons, and at times may need to add new members in order to be fully functional. The consciousness of one individual, the Woodcarver, has survived for over 500 years, despite losing individual members. When a human and Tine interacts, Vinge not only has to describe what the Tine is saying, but also what various members are doing. Despite the Tines being doglike, Vinge stays away from anything that is cutesy or cartoonish.
Briefly, a human colony experimenting with ancient technology accidentally releases an entity, the Blight. Before the Blight destroys the colony, one spaceship escapes. It carries a family, over a hundred children in deep-sleep, and a countermeasure that may possibly destroy the Blight. The spaceship crash-lands on Tines, a medieval planet inhabited by the Tines, a dog-like species. The two parents are murdered. Their two children are rescued/captured by opposite factions in a war. In the meantime the Blight begins to wipe out thousands of worlds. A group of two humans and two plant-like aliens tries to find the ship with the countermeasure and rescue the children.
I admit that I again got bogged down in reading A Fire Upon the Deep as I did with A Deepness in the Sky. I am not sure whether I wasn’t emotionally invested enough in the characters or if the plot's peaks and valleys don’t match the rhythm I like in a book. Intellectually I found it very interesting. The book is highly rated on a number of websites.
This book marks my completion of reading the Hugo Award winners from 1958 through 2010. Yeah!!! I still plan to read two more Hugo Award winners, books published before the Hugo awards were given out annually. I also plan to read this year’s nominees, which requires that I catch up on Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. After that, I want to choose my reading-list a little bit more organically. I enjoy quirky books with warm characters and interesting science or, sometimes, history.