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Monday, January 02, 2012

Review: Children of the Sky

Children of the Sky is the direct sequel to Vernor Vinge's Hugo Award winning A Fire Upon The Deep, which was easily the best novel that year. There was a prequel, A Deepness in the Sky which was also very well written, though not as deeply original as A Fire Upon The Deep.

It is not necessary to read A Fire Upon The Deep before picking up Children of the Sky, but given how good A Fire Upon The Deep was, I would strongly encourage reading that book first no matter what. It provides interesting background about the universe and the world, which might mystify or confuse readers who choose to start with Children of the Sky.

Children of the Sky picks up 10 years after the events of A Fire Upon The Deep, on the world where the protagonists and the survivors of the preceding catastrophe were stranded. What's great about starting here is that the world seems much more fleshed out than before. The big alien species that Vinge introduced in A Fire Upon The Deep was the Tines, dog-like creatures that are only intelligent when clustered close together in a pack, with neural connections being made via sound rather than electrically. What's great is that Vinge extrapolates from this alien biology to the rest of the world, and posits what happens when masses of that species lives too close together, as would happen in the warmer tropical regions of the world. This extrapolation and world building is extremely high quality, and every time you run across something that was newly introduced, you'll say to yourself, "of course! That's how it would work."

The big plot point here is that the cryogenically revived children of the Straumli disaster would not believe that the events of the previous books were real, and then start acting as though the protagonists were lying and making things up. Given the existence of Holocaust deniers in our world, history, and timeline, this is very believable, and drives tension and events throughout the book. We also see a recurring villain from the previous book revive and begin to pose a threat.

The story alternates between action/reaction (along with a great introduction to politics) and world building. Events are told from multiple points of view, but it's clear that Ravna from A Fire Upon The Deep is to main protagonist in this story. The characters are strongly developed, and everything is believable.

The weakest part of the novel comes at the climax and ending. We've seen the characters go through hell, and established that certain other characters were truly villains on a grand scale (kidnapping and murder is just the tip of the ice-berg). Yet our protagonists seem happy with the finishing status quo, not agitating for villains who obviously cannot be trusted to be dealt with, and even in some ways helping them undermine the future of their community. This seems unlikely, especially since one of the protagonists has been clearly labeled as a hothead. The ending is also clearly a setup for another sequel. While I would be glad to read more in this universe, this leaves the book hanging in many ways and leaves the reader with a bit of dissatisfaction.

Despite all this, this is an excellent novel, and I would not be surprised to see it win the Hugo award this year, and I would be happy to see it win one. Recommended

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