A Fire Upon the Deep is an important novel that SF fans really should read. I think, like Niven’s Ringworld, it’s a flawed book with really good ideas. Like Ringworld, it also has a much better sequel.

The original book had two completely different plots centered around different, very interesting ideas. It was obvious that the one plot was moving toward the other, but only because they were appearing in the same book. There was no actual causal relationship between the two, so the book was extremely disjointed until right near the end. That does not happen here, and the plot is well structured throughout. At the same time, not everything gets truly addressed this time, so let us hope the next book does not take another twenty years.

One thing that helps both books, is that in the end they are character focused. I think that’s part of why this book focuses on the Tines, and examines more of the ways that their pack intelligence operates; the Blight and the entire zones of thought side can be fairly impersonal, and harder to do a more human-level story around. However, that part still drives conflict, and that is part of what isn’t resolved here, and it looks like Vinge is well set up for a fight over what to do about the Blight, how to do anything about it, and to delve into the entire nature of the ‘zones of thought’ in the future.

Another problem I had with the original book was being a long slog of a lot of depressing content. All the main characters are in horrible situations, and don’t have a whole lot of agency about it. This book does some of the same, but the characters retain a good sense of agency along the way. Yeah, things go from bad to worse, the fractures in the tiny remnant of human society are worse than it first appears, but all along there are possibilities, and one more card for the main characters to play.

My biggest problem was that it has been more than twenty years since I read A Fire Upon the Deep, and while I remembered some parts, there were a few things that came up here that I had forgotten completely. Vinge takes his time with this book, so while there’s a certain amount of being thrown in the deep end, I think new readers will get a good feel for what’s going on before the plot really gets going. That said, this is a direct sequel to another book, and I do recommend having read it first.