Was in a lot of pain and couldn’t sleep last night, so decided to finish Vernor Vinge’s Children of the Sky. Children picks up directly from A Fire Upon the Deep. Stuck in the dark ages of the slow zone, Vinge uses the setting as an opportunity to, more or less, write fantasy instead of science fiction. In a way, he’s writing a singularity book, but he’s focusing much earlier on the curve — how the industrial revolution plays out for a society with advanced information but without advanced assistance.
Spoiler incoming, so stop now if you care.
The planet, baring two small exceptions, stays in the slow zone for the entire book, so the science fiction mechanics leveraged in the first two novels is not relevant. Instead, the book focuses on the political and social aspects of the tines, and of warring factions, secrets, espionage, and so forth. There’s a little bit of exploration of the riders and emerging super-intelligences, but it’s tacked on as an afterthought at best. Thus, the book ends where it starts: The blighter fleet is still approaching, they’re still stuck in a slow zone, and in the scale of the Zone of Thought frames, nothing happens.
There’s obviously a setup here for a fourth novel to actually start dealing with none of the problems of this book really being resolved.
I guess I shouldn’t expect much from a sequel written twenty years after the fact. Vinge’s style and sensibility has changed quite a bit. There’s a decent setup here for a good book to come, but the things that really sucked me in and made me thirsty for more with the first two Zones of Thought books is just completely missing here. This is at best an infantile attempt at writing in a style that Vinge just does not excel at (cf. the character development and “color” of the first two books in the universe, but now focus on that for an entire book), and the result is pretty much crap. The only really redeeming part of the book is as a study of what an alien intelligence might be like in early stages of its “awakening” … but then we get that more or less verbatim with A Deepness in the Sky and, well, with A Fire Upon the Deep in the first place.
If you’re content going into the fourth novel of the series with the knowledge that nothing of import happened in this book, and the blighter fleet is still coming, you can be happy not wasting your time and being disappointed. At best it’s a sloppy attempt at fantasy; at worst it’s a prolonged and contrived romantic comedy. 5/10.