Vernor Vinge’s 1992 novel fire of the abyss A treat for adventure lovers across the galaxy. Science fiction author Mercurio D. Rivera was particularly impressed by the book’s depiction of Tines, dog-like aliens.
“When I read the book 25 years ago, what I had in mind was the Tines, the aliens in this world, and the group mind he created for these aliens,” Rivera said in episode 530. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “It blew me away at the time, and it stayed with me all these years. That’s what I look forward to reading it now. The way he gets it done is just amazing.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Moderator David Barr Kirtley agrees fire of the abyss is a remarkable achievement. The central idea of the book is a universe in which calculations become easier the farther one is from the galactic core, creating a scenario that encompasses nearly every sci-fi concept imaginable. “It contained ideas for 10 books,” Kirtley said. “Every couple of pages there’s some amazing idea, and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah,’ and I underline everything.”
fire of the abyss Play around with dozens of characters and plots without getting chaotic. Science fiction author Abby Goldsmith appreciates the book’s well-crafted story. “In terms of plot, it’s amazing and creative,” she said. “The work shows. He puts a lot of time and effort into thinking about it, and I really admire that.”
The novel imagines a galaxy in which thousands of alien races are able to communicate with each other through brief passages of text. According to science fiction author Tobias S. Buckell, the novel neatly captures the various ways in which such systems can be abused. “I read all these cyberpunk books that I thought prepared me for the Internet, but it turns out that the book that most prepared me for the Internet today is fire of the abyss And its “web of a million lies,” and its entire “group of people who are trying to commit genocide because of what they read on the web of a million lies,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, this book really, really, really prepared me for all of this.'”
Listen to the full interview with Mercurio D. Rivera, Abby Goldsmith and Tobias S. Buckell in Episode 530 Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Tobias S. Buckell fire of the abyss:
I was low key obsessed with this book in high school. …I even paid my sister $20 to count the pages in each chapter, and I made a chart of what each chapter says and what happens in each chapter. I draw the plot of the book on 10 sheets of paper that I can unroll and unfold the whole floor so I can visualize the shape of the book, I use different colored pens to indicate different points of view. This book really had a huge impact on my ability to plot and think about the structure of the novel because I literally dissected it over and over because I was just trying to figure out how the hell he did it.
Abby Goldsmith on Tine:
They’re cute, first of all, because they’re basically wolves. Their minds are connected, so there are four to eight wolf individuals, called “members,” but three of them cannot form a complete individual. It must be four or more. …They can’t get close to each other, or they start to lose their sense of self, because if they stand three or four members side by side, they start overlapping thoughts. The point is that wolves have to come together in order to remain cohesive – they do see themselves as separate individuals, as a pack. Each member is not an individual. It doesn’t think for itself. A “person” in this world is basically a person with four or more bodies.
Setting by Mercurio D. Rivera:
There is an interesting blend of fantasy and science fiction tropes in both storylines. In Tines World, we’re dealing with these very interesting aliens, but it’s set in this bizarre medieval setting with queens and castles. It’s a typical fantasy setting with sci-fi aliens in it. …we keep talking about how great this book is, and I agree. I do have one reservation–probably my only reservation–that I think Tines World’s medieval setting is so, so human. I mean, the alien characters are in the library, and they’re drinking brandy, and they’re smoking, and they’re doing nothing, and I can’t help but think of those pictures of dogs playing poker. That’s my only reservation, the world is so, so, so human.
David Barr Kirtley on worldbuilding:
occasionally [human characters] What is said reveals what their society is like. …the example I really wanted to mention was when they were in this place called Harmonious Repose, they were negotiating with the aliens to fix their ship, and the Skroderiders were negotiating with the aliens, and Ravna had never seen it before Over haggling because she’s only in a society where everyone always has a perfect idea of what everything is worth, so there’s never any negotiation. “We all know it’s worth it, so that’s the price.” I think that’s a really interesting idea.
More wonderful connection stories
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