Nov 232009

I started reading Cheri Priest’s Boneshaker recently.  About 8 or so chapters in, I had to admit it has a well detailed steampunk world, nicely grimy, and focused on an interesting tale of parents and children. But I just wasn’t gripped by it, so for the moment it’s been put aside on my “promising, but I’ll work on it later” pile.  Good stuff, well done, yes, but not grabby.

I’ve been tweeting back and forth with Brad Murray about many things (the Fate game Diaspora that he and three other gents worked on being a big part of it), one of which is our mutual admiration of Vernor Vinge’s novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In The Sky.  I am not a hard sci fi sort of guy when it comes down to it, but Vinge’s novels really grabbed me. Yes, there’s bits of science and intriguing speculation flying fast and furious at your face, but he also has a master’s touch in pacing and character.

It’s been a while since I read those books, but their fingerprints were all over Diaspora.  So Brad pointed me toward Vinge’s earlier work, Marooned in Realtime.  I saw that The Peace War was essentially a prequel story to Marooned, so I picked up both and got to reading War.

Vinge owned me all over again.  I’m prone to the occasional mild bout of insomnia, but that wasn’t the case while I was reading The Peace War.  I came to bed dog tired and ready to sleep.  Then I’d pick up the damn book, and I’d be up past three A.M.  While not all of Vinge’s work grabs me this hard (I’ve never managed to get into Rainbows End, but I might give it another try later), those failures to grab are the exception.

The Peace War was written before the end of the Cold War, so it has some “future history” anachronisms in it based around that, and they just do not matter.  It’s a solid thriller with a future Earth that’s been irrevocably changed by a bit of technological blackmail and the regrets of the guy who made the technology possible.  I’d summarize more, but Vinge’s ideas are the sort that are difficult to describe without spoiling some of the essentials.  Highly recommended.

I’m starting into Marooned now, and I’m at that crucial 8 chapter mark. No chance of this going on the Later Pile, though — I’ve been staying up past three again.  The grab is in the characters, at the end of the day: I care about the characters first, and get lulled into the exploration of the hard(ish) sci fi ideas afterwards.  Which is really the way it should be: give me a great story about interesting people first, and explore ideas second.

Which has me thinking about Shock: and Diaspora both, and how my preferences relate to ’em, but that’s a post for another time.


  7 Responses to “Vinge”

  1. Oh, total agreement. In fact, in some ways I prefer Peace War/Marooned over some of his later stuff – I think they’re both excellent books, the sort I return to to reread every few years.

  2. I’m not a big sci-fi fan, but I do like Shock: quite a bit. I haven’t been able to sell anyone on playing it yet and maybe that is because I’m pitching it as a sci-fi game instead of a game about the character’s choices in the particular setting that gets created. I’m looking forward to that post on your preferences to see if that will grant a different perspective.

  3. Marooned is especially wonderful because it echos early-ish Asimov — it’s a detective story that leverages an amazing technological change, but it’s still a detective story. With great characters.

    Your next stop might be Jack McDevitt, though you will want fairly precise directions as it’s not all great. Chindi is a reliable starting point, though not all of that series is worth the energy. A Talent for War, perhaps, but I wouldn’t delve deeper. His other series is more reliable.

    • I should add that I am not generally a science-fiction (in fiction) fan either. In fact I’m not a huge fiction fan at all. This will colour my recommendations significantly.

    • Interesting, that you’re not a big sci fi fan either. That might explain a few things about why Diaspora is the kind of “fit” it is.

    • I’m even less a fantasy fan, but I love fantasy gaming. This is the source of my impression that gaming and fiction are not tightly (maybe not even loosely) related. Or it might just mean that there is so much crappy material in the genres that it stops being worthwhile to sort.

    • Fair point, though I do think it has more to do with the latter — there’s a ton of crap.

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