21 July 2012

First world problems of the future

Science Fiction | Vernor Vinge | Children of the Sky

So I finally finished Children of the Sky. Indeed, once I started on it again, it was unputdownable.

This is the follow up story to A Fire on the Deep, which is a sequel itself to A Deepness in the Sky. The last two books in the series could well have been published as one book, since the events follow so closely and the characters are shared between the books (except the ones that got killed in Fire, but Vinge is no George RR Martin, thank goodness, and is thrifty with the deaths). One major difference between these two is that the villains this time include humans as well (oh! the horror!).

Ravna revives the surviving children from the cold sleep boxes, and they all grow up into young adults, with no real adult supervision along the way, given how much time Ravna spends on frantically preparing to confront the Blight. And if you've read Lord of the Flies, you know what's going to happen then. Well, not really, the Tines do a good job of adult supervision, for what it's worth.

In the meantime, one of the old villains steals a dataset and ties up with a Tine in another country, a brilliant inventor, if somewhat erratic. This villain continues with worse villainy in this episode.

Ravna faces slow technology, slow progress, fast talking villains, perfidy and kidnapping. On the plus side are her loyal friends (though one is getting paranoid) and, well, loyal frenemies. Good guys turn out to be bad guys and vice versa.

The children are led astray by smooth villains who object to the available technology not being used for things they were used to in the high-tech Beyond. Complete First World Problems complaints! You want to shake sense into them. But are they wrong in their worries?

Good eventually triumphs, as in all Vinge's books, but, as usual, only squeaking through in the very last hour. (Hmph, in Deepness, they did their squeaking through in the last few pages-- we were down to single digit numbers of pages by the time the villains were vanquished-- so either Vinge is getting slow in his older age, or this story is not supposed to be as tense a read).

I dunno, you may cavil, but I liked Deepness best and I still wonder what Sherkaner Underhill got up to. There is, however, a possibility that there will be another sequel coming up. Ravna has yet to take on the Blight. On the other hand, even a major talent like Vinge may quail at taking on that encounter. He needs to exercise, eat protein-rich diets, fish oil, yoga and things before sitting down and cracking his knuckles for that one. The Blight is a Metavillain.

Next up, I will be covering my re-read of Terry Pratchett's Jingo.

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