What a year for Science Fiction it's been. I mean we've had LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S A Corey that was excellent. China Miéville's EMBASSYTOWN was weird, wonderful and brilliant. Robert Charles Wilson finished up his Spin trilogy in fine form with VORTEX. And now along comes Vernor Vinge to show us all again how this is really done with CHILDREN OF THE SKY.
I'm going to be perfectly honest here from the beginning. A FIRE UPON THE DEEP (also by Vinge, and actually CHILDREN OF THE SKY is a sequel to it), is one of my favorite books of all time. Around these here parts (and by these here parts I mean amongst us reviewers at EBR), I'm kind of the Science Fiction guy. If an SF book comes along, most likely I'm the one reviewing it. The reason I read SF--and love it so much--and the reason I look at all those SF books and go through the pages of science and weird inventions and sometimes crappy aliens, is so I can find a book like A FIRE UPON THE DEEP. FIRE, along with DUNE, in my opinion, are the standards upon which all other SF must be judged.
Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), when I heard that Vinge was writing a sequel to A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, I was thrilled. When Steve called me and told me he had a ARC for it I did a little happy dance. (He's lucky he didn't tell me in person. I'd have kissed him full on the mouth.)
Were my expectations high for this book? Absolutely. Did Vinge meet every one of those expectations? No. Did he give me something else instead that was wonderful and amazing and still one of the best books of the year (if not the best)? Yes.
The book picks up where A FIRE UPON THE DEEP left off, or rather, ten years after Fire left off. Ravna, Jefri, Johanna, all of the rest of the children and all of the tines, are still stuck in the bottom of the slow zone. The Blight is still out there (supposedly) and is slowly making it's way towards the world. Ravna has been seeking the fastest way to build up the technology of the burgeoning world to have a fighting chance when the blight arrives. Meanwhile the other children are growing up and starting to question the stories they have been told about what has happened since they were put to sleep at the start of FIRE. Complications ensue, alliances, betrayals. Along with all of that is an ever widening view of the tines world and society. Things I had never thought of or considered before were given the spotlight.
CHILDREN OF THE SKY, in short, was brilliant. No one out there does space opera like Vinge. There are books who have great plots with well thought out ideas, but normally characterization suffers because of it. The book is a showcase for a thought experiment. Other books showcase great characters but the plot is quite as intricate; isn't as cool, isn't as mind blowing. Vinge does it all. the characters are real and you feel for them. The book is a page turner. And the ideas are wonderful (the Tines are still up there as my favorite aliens I've ever met in a book).
I loved it. I loved it. I loved it.
I needed to get that out of the way before I mentioned a few things that bummed me out about the book. I don't want you all thinking the book wasn't great. It is. It just wasn't perfect, nor was it A FIRE UPON THE DEEP again. The thing that I felt the lack of in this book was the rest of space. In A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, the story was split between the turmoil on the Tines world, and then what was happening in the rest of the universe with the blight and the zones of thought. There were aliens and Powers and space battles and ships. I loved how the two stories came together. I loved watching it build up to an amazing conclusion. This book focuses on the Tines world and the struggles there. It was brilliant, but I missed being in space and I thought we would see more of it.
The only other thing I can think of that bothered me is that this is obviously a middle volume in a trilogy. Something I didn't know before. There are still questions left unanswered (now more so than at the end of Fire). The problems still approaching our heroes seems even larger now. This is a great book, but the story is not done yet. The problem is, I WANT TO KNOW THE REST, DARN IT! Now we have to wait for Vinge to finish the story.
If CHILDREN OF THE SKY is any indication, the wait will be well worth it in the end.
Age Recommendation: There's some hard science stuff so I'd say 14+, but really as soon as you can understand it and enjoy it, go for it.
Language: Very Little
Violence: A little bit, nothing too gory.
Sex: A few references but nothing shown or talked about.