• A Fire Upon the Deep

  • By: Vernor Vinge
  • Narrated by: Peter Larkin
  • Length: 21 hrs and 37 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (2,838 ratings)

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A Fire Upon the Deep  By  cover art

A Fire Upon the Deep

By: Vernor Vinge
Narrated by: Peter Larkin
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Publisher's Summary

A Fire Upon the Deep is the big, breakout book that fulfills the promise of Vinge's career to date: a gripping tale of galactic war told on a cosmic scale. Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. 

Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these "regions of thought", but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

A Fire upon the Deep, which began the Zones of Thought series, is the winner of the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Novel. 

©1992 Vernor Vinge (P)2010 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

  • Hugo Award, Best Novel, 1993

What listeners say about A Fire Upon the Deep

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,503
  • 4 Stars
    838
  • 3 Stars
    343
  • 2 Stars
    95
  • 1 Stars
    59
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
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    1,365
  • 4 Stars
    702
  • 3 Stars
    249
  • 2 Stars
    78
  • 1 Stars
    36
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,338
  • 4 Stars
    645
  • 3 Stars
    302
  • 2 Stars
    108
  • 1 Stars
    45

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

What a wild, wacky, awesome book!

A galaxy where faster-than-light communication is possible, but only at very low bandwidth...so the galaxy becomes a hangout for USENET trolls and forum spammers.

A sentient plague of fascist oppression that spreads like a virus throughout the galaxy.

Wolflike creatures with pack minds, so that each pack member is both a body appendage and a piece of the individual's personality...

This book has some of the wackiest, wildest ideas I've ever read in sci-fi, and I've read a LOT. The plot moves fast and the scenery is spectacular. The characters are a bit less fleshed-out than in some of Vinge's other books, but that's OK...to find out more about the dashing space-hero Pham Nuwen, just read the (even better) prequel, A Deepness in the Sky.

Overall, one of the best space opera books ever, right up there with David Brin's "Uplift" books and Dan Simmons' "Hyperion".

39 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Horrible narration

What would have made A Fire Upon the Deep better?

I honestly couldn't listen past the first hour. The narration is so annoying that I just couldn't take it. I'm looking forward to reading the paper version

What didn’t you like about Peter Larkin’s performance?

I felt like I was listening to an awful version of Nick at Night. The cartoonish voices he uses...high pitched and irritating, are bad enough, but he also seems to be telling the story like he is talking to 3 year olds. Very odd inflection

27 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

terrible narration

The narration of A Fire Upon the Deep is so silly that it would be preferable to have the voice cast of Dora the Explorer read this book. I could not get through more than a few hours, though I wanted to read the book. I'll be checking it out from the library.

21 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

A Critically Acclaimed Disappointment

This novel won the Hugo award and was nominated for the Nebula award as well so I went into it with relatively high expectations. Unfortunately, it turned out to be somewhat of a bore. A Fire Upon the Deep contains some original and fascinating ideas but the characterization is stiff and the novel really drags in the middle. Vinge seems more interested in exploring the medieval world on which he's stranded some of his characters than the complex and interesting galactic structure he's created, populated with numerous intelligent races and super intelligences so powerful they are impossible for lesser being like humans to comprehend.

Peter Larkin's reading contributed to my disappointment with the book as well. He used cartoony voices for a number of the alien characters that made it increasingly difficult to take the book seriously.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good Story Torn apart by bad narration

The story and premise are really good, but god that narration. The cartoonish voices have been frequently mentioned but what really got me was how congested the narrator sounded. It's like he had a really bad cold or flu and they decided to record anyway. I couldn't finish i'll have to get a hard copy of the book.

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

As the Universe Turns

I am coming to the conclusion that Space Opera is not for me. This is about my fourth space opera by the fourth author and I have yet to really like any of them. This started out really great, through the first six chapters I thought I was really going to enjoy the book. It had a fast start with some really cool things happening. Then it went to drool slow moving, I don't care, I am confused, just like that. I stuck it out through 27 chapters. At about the 18th chapter I was looking for a gun to put myself out of my misery.

Space Opera seems to be like Soap Opera, watch on Monday and Friday, skip through the week cause nothing new is going to happen. There are too many good books out there for me to beating myself in the head waiting on something to happen that I care about.

Narrator was good, although he made all aliens sound cartoonish. I don't know if that was the right thing to do or not.

I liked the aliens. The pack people/animals reminded me of the aliens in Robert Reed's "Beyond the Veil of Stars" or the swamp like creature in Clarke's "The City and The Stars", both great books.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Some of the best SF ever

There's a reason this and the followup (A Deepness in the Sky) are in any top 25 SF list. Fantastic books, and certainly worth the somewhat higher than normal price.

With that said though, you can't help but notice that the tone of the narrator often doesn't truly reflect the adult and serious nature of the story being read. It's good narration for sure, but often the content and narrator tone just don't seem to match. I almost regret not buying the paperback for this reason, so my minds voice could capture the suspense and all seriousness of the situations that often gets lost in elocution by Mr Larkin. But I'm not disappointed. Still 5 stars.

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Wow, didn't see that coming!

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

I have never taken the time to write a review before this one. I know we all have different tastes and many have reviewed this book in a positive light (that is why I bought this in the first place). This is the first audio book where my mind would wander. My own thoughts about what to eat for dinner or which route to take home from work were more engaging than the story. Very disappointing. I have about 9 hours left and just can't finish it.

Would you ever listen to anything by Vernor Vinge again?

I do not know how narrators are chosen to read for an author, but if Vernor had some decision in the process, then NO, I would never listen to another book by him again. This book is probably better to have read physically than to listen too.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Peter Larkin?

I have read that people describe Peter Larkin as using a "cartoonish" voice for the aliens. Of course I read that after I purchased the book. I actually began to interpret the story through the lens of the animated "Heavy Metal" movie. I thought that might be ok; first audiobook that I saw as a cartoon in my mind. But it was the constant stuffed-up-nose-muppet voices that finally killed it for me. To answer the question, anyone who can keep the listener from visualizing cartoons would be better.

What character would you cut from A Fire Upon the Deep?

I was never invested enough to care about the characters. I thought the hive mind dog pack was an original concept, but not worth building a world around. I would also cut the syllable count for the characters. Listening to the 4 and 5 syllable names over and over became pretty sing-song like and whoops, there went my attention again.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Galactic war, librarian heroine

This is the story of what happens to humans and other residents of the galaxy when they encounter more ancient beings in the far beyond. The Internet (or whatever the Internet has become in this future time) plays an interesting role, in that various powers use it to spread information and disinformation in the growing war. I really liked that the heroine was a librarian, so her knowledge of how to find information and act on it made her critical to the humans' survival.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Classic post-Internet space opera

A Fire Upon the Deep was a favorite of mine after I first read it years ago, and it still holds up pretty well after a second visit, this time in audio. Vinge is a former computer science professor turned writer, and the guy responsible for popularizing the concept of a technological singularity. In the galaxy he imagines here, such singularities have been occurring for eons, technological races or their constructs transcending into godlike artificial minds. However, in this universe, there's a catch: faster-than-light travel and communication only work beyond a certain distance from the galactic core. Thus, the outer darkness is home to unimaginably advanced beings, while the inner "slow zone" protects newly-started civilizations from interference from above. In the jostling middle known as "The Beyond" lives everyone else, including humans, connected by a vast and ancient galactic internet (as envisioned from 1992, when it was still the age of newsgroups and slow image uploads).

Vinge isn't a fantastic writer, but he makes up for it with some imaginative, insightful ideas for alien races. There’s a race of sapient plants that travel about in cybernetic carts and a species of dog-like beings that are intelligent only when composed into small packs, whose members share a single mind. The latter, called Tines, are important characters in the book, and live on a medieval-level world.

Unlike some space opera, the plot here is well-constructed, comprehensible, and fun. After a contingent of humans awaken an ancient power lying dormant in the ruins of a long-gone civilization, they are killed off, except for a few survivors that manage to escape to Tines World. There, further disaster occurs, and two children, the last remnants of the crew, end up in the hands (well, mouths) of two different political factions, one with a more ruthless agenda for the captured spacecraft and its technology. Meanwhile, the newly awakened monstrosity begins to rampage through its region of the galaxy, conquering nearby worlds and instilling panic that, distorted by internet message boards (plenty of prescience there), gives rise to other horrors. Another group of characters, a motley crew consisting of a librarian, a long-frozen adventurer from the distant past, and two of the sapient plant beings, stumbles on the realization, unsuspected by anyone else, that the lost ship on Tines World may hold the key to saving the galaxy. From there unfolds a gripping plot, with many twists and turns.

On my second read, I still enjoyed the humor and warmth Vinge brings to his characterizations, and the way he makes the Tines sympathetic to the reader, turning their initially bizarre pack minds into something that feels very familiar by the end of the book. There are goofy sidekicks, brave heroes, and villains that are dangerous, cunning, and manipulative. While there could have been a firmer ending to the larger plot (Vinge came back two decades later to write a sequel), I thought the personal stories concluded satisfyingly enough. Peter Larkin’s audiobook reading may have made some of the characters a little more “cute” than I originally saw them, but it wasn’t enough to bother me and he did a decent job otherwise.

Given the explosion of harder-edged techno-space opera since 2000 or so, Vinge's ideas might not seem as novel as they once did, but I think there's still a charm to his fanciful-but-smart universe-building, his experimentation with unusual alien physiologies, and his familiar characters. Depending on your tastes, this might be a friendlier entrée into the subgenre than Reynolds, Banks, Hamilton, Stross, etc. The other classic book of his that gets a lot of attention is A Deepness in the Sky, which I didn’t think was quite as good as Fire, but it has lots of fans, too, and is worth checking out.

9 people found this helpful