A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (Books 2016, 4)

A rereading, this, but I remembered much less of it than I thought, and enjoyed it even more than I expected to.

All I really remembered in any detail was the dog-like pack-based beings, the Tines. Maybe a vague sense of the rogue superintelligent AI that caused all the problems.

And the “Zones of Thought” themselves, of course. A genius idea, which, in brief summary, is this: the further out from the galactic core you get, the more advanced the technology that is possible. Implicitly that includes biology. It’s never explicitly stated, but it seems likely that deep inside the galaxy, in the “Unthinking Depths,” intelligence is not possible. Further out you get the “Slow Zone”, which is where Earth is.1 Only sub-lightspeed travel is possible here, and machines cannot become intelligent.

But all this changes when you get to the galactic fringes, or the “Beyond,” where FTL and something close to AI are commonplace. And the further up the Beyond you go, the more this is true, until you reach the “Transcend,” where godlike AIs exist.

My memory was that the sections with the Tines were kind of annoying, with a sense of, “I want my space operas to be set in space, with high tech; not on a mediaeval-level world with nothing more advanced than cartwheels."2 But of course the story of the kids stranded on the Tines' World are both fundamental to the overall story, and at least as good as the galaxy-spanning main plot.

This book has gone from new, Hugo- & Nebula-Award winner to SF Masterwork in what feels like a very short time. It was first published in 1991, which is 25 years ago. I suppose that’s enough time to become a classic.3 The accolades are thoroughly deserved, of course.

The SF Masterworks edition has an introduction by Ken McLeod, which is well worth reading, and the whole is highly recommended by me.

  1. Or possibly, was: Earth doesn’t feature in this story. ↩︎

  2. I lost interest in Stephen Baxter’s Origin: Manifold Three largely because of the scenes on the stone-age planet. I see from GoodReads that a lot of other people had trouble with it too. ↩︎

  3. Arguably it was instantly a classic, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. ↩︎

ThiGMOO, by Eugene Byrne (Books 2008, 11)

This is, in effect, a [Singularity](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity) story, though a rather gentle, slightly comic one.

The AIs that gain self-awareness and seek to achieve independence and change the world, start out as part of an educational project called the Museum of the Mind. In this construct there are a number of simulations of figures from history (mostly fictional, like the victorian prostitute). School pupils, students, researchers and others can interrogate them about life in their time.

It’s interesting that Byrne has them start to gain self-awareness after their systems get infected with a religious program: a virus that tries to ‘convert’ them to Mormonism. I don’t know whether Byrne is trying to tell us that religion is necessary for self-awareness, or if it just seems like a useful trigger to give the programs some extra input and start them asking questions.

Anyway, one of the erams, as they are called (electronic recreation of a mindstate) is based on an early-20th-century socialist activist. Shocked at the apparent absence of socialism in the world he sees outside the computer networks, he organises his fellow erams, and sets out to change the world (and protect their very existence along the way). The title stands for “This Great Movement Of Ours”, which was once a common phrase in speeches by Labour activists, apparently.

It’s good fun, if lightweight. It was published in 1999; I wonder what’s happened to Eugene Byrne since then?