A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep is a 1992 science fiction novel by American writer Vernor Vinge, a space opera involving superhuman intelligences, aliens, variable physics, space battles, love, betrayal, genocide, and a conversation medium resembling Usenet. A Fire Upon the Deep won the Hugo Award in 1993, sharing it with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.[1]

Besides the normal print book editions, the novel was also included on a CD-ROM sold by ClariNet Communications along with the other nominees for the 1993 Hugo awards. The CD-ROM edition included numerous annotations by Vinge on his thoughts and intentions about different parts of the book, and was later released as a standalone e-book (no longer available).[2]

A Fire Upon the Deep
A Fire Upon the Deep.bookcover
AuthorVernor Vinge
Original titleAmong the Tines
Cover artistBoris Vallejo
CountryUnited States
SeriesZones of Thought series
GenreHard science fiction
PublisherTor Books
Publication date
April 1992
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3572.I534 F57 1992
Followed byA Deepness in the Sky 


The novel is set in various locations in the Milky Way. The galaxy is divided into four concentric volumes called the "Zones of Thought"; it is not clear to the novel's characters whether this is a natural phenomenon or an artificially-produced one, but it seems to roughly correspond with galactic-scale stellar density and a Beyond region is mentioned in the Sculptor Galaxy as well.[3] The Zones reflect fundamental differences in basic physical laws, and one of the main consequences is their effect on intelligence, both biological and artificial. Artificial intelligence and automation is most directly affected, in that advanced hardware and software from the Beyond or the Transcend will work less and less well as a ship "descends" towards the Unthinking Depths. But even biological intelligence is affected to a lesser degree. The four zones are spoken of in terms of "low" to "high" as follows:

  • The Unthinking Depths are the innermost zone, surrounding the galactic core. In it, only minimal forms of intelligence, biological or otherwise, are possible. This means that any ship straying into the Depths will be stranded, effectively permanently. Even if the crew did not die immediately—and some forms of life native to "higher" Zones would likely do so—they would be rendered incapable of even human intelligence, leaving them unable to operate their ship in any meaningful way.
  • Surrounding the Depths is the Slow Zone. The Earth (called "Old Earth") is located in this Zone, and humanity is said to have originated there, although Earth plays no significant role in the story. Biological intelligence is possible in "the Slowness", but not true, sentient, artificial intelligence. Faster-than-light travel may not be initiated in the Slow Zone, i.e., one may "jump" into the Slow Zone, but not back out. All ships which find themselves in the Slow Zone are restricted to sub-light speeds. Faster-than-light communication is impossible into or out of the Slow Zone. As the boundaries of the Zones are unknown and subject to change, accidental entry to the Slow Zone is a major interstellar navigational hazard at the "Bottom" of the Beyond. Starships which operate near the Beyond/Slow Zone border often have an auxiliary Bussard ramjet drive, so that, if they accidentally stray into the Slow Zone (thus disabling any FTL drive), they will at least have a backup (sub-light) drive to push them back "up" to the Beyond. Such ships also tend to include "coldsleep" equipment, as it is likely that any such return will still take many subjective lifetimes for most species.
  • The next outermost layer is the Beyond, within which artificial intelligence, faster-than-light travel, and faster-than-light communication are possible. A few human civilizations exist in the Beyond, all descended from a single ethnic Norwegian group which managed to travel from the Slow Zone to the Beyond (presumably at sub-light speeds) and thence spread using FTL travel. The original settlement of this group is known as Nyjora; other human settlements in the Beyond include Straumli Realm and Sjandra Kei. In the Beyond, FTL travel is accomplished by making many small "jumps" across intervening space, and the efficiency of the drive increases the farther a ship travels from the galactic core. This reflects increases in both drive efficiency and the ship's automation's increased capacity as one moves outward, enabling the computation of longer and longer jumps. The Beyond is not a homogeneous zone—many references are made to, e.g., the "High Beyond" or the "Bottom of the Beyond", depending on distance to the galactic core. These terms seem to refer to differences in the Zone itself, not just relative distance from the Core, but there are no obvious Zone boundaries within the Beyond the way there are between the Slow Zone and the Beyond, or between the Beyond and the Transcend. Whereas a ship that crosses from the Beyond to the Slow Zone or vice versa will experience a dramatic change in its capabilities, a ship in the Beyond which moves farther from the Core will experience a gradual increase in efficiency (assuming it has the technology to make use of it) until another major shift at the boundary to the Transcend. The Beyond is populated by a very large number of interstellar and intergalactic[3] civilizations which are linked by a faster-than-light communication network, "the Net", sometimes cynically called the "Net of a Million Lies". The Net does connect with the Transcend, on the off-chance that one of the "Powers" that live there deigns to communicate, but has no connections with the Slow Zone, as FTL communication is impossible into or out of that Zone. In the novel, the Net is depicted as working much like the Usenet network in the early 1990s, with transcripts of messages containing header and footer information as one would find in such forums.
  • The outermost layer, containing the galactic halo, is the Transcend, within which incomprehensible, superintelligent beings dwell. When a "Beyonder" civilization reaches the point of technological singularity, it is said to "Transcend", becoming a "Power". Such Powers always seem to relocate to the Transcend, seemingly necessarily, where they become engaged in affairs which remain entirely mysterious to those that remain in the Beyond.


An expedition from Straumli Realm, an ambitious young human civilization in the high Beyond, investigates a five-billion-year-old data archive in the low Transcend that offers the possibility of unimaginable riches. The expedition's facility, High Lab, is gradually compromised by a dormant superintelligence within the archive later known as the Blight. However, shortly before the Blight's final "flowering", two self-aware entities created similarly to the Blight plot to aid the humans before the Blight can escape.

Recognizing the danger of what they have awakened, the researchers at High Lab attempt to flee in two ships, one carrying all the adults and the second carrying all the children in "coldsleep boxes". Suspicious, the Blight discovers that the first ship contains a data storage device in its cargo manifest; assuming it contains information that could harm it, the Blight destroys the ship. The second ship escapes. The Blight assumes that it is no threat, but later realizes that it is actually carrying away a "countermeasure" against it.

The ship lands on a distant planet with a medieval-level civilization of dog-like creatures, dubbed "Tines", who live in packs as group minds. Upon landing, however, the two surviving adults are ambushed and killed by Tine fanatics known as Flenserists, in whose realm they have landed. The Flenserists capture a young boy named Jefri Olsndot and his wounded sister, Johanna. While Jefri is taken deeper into Flenserist territory, Johanna is rescued by Tine pilgrims who witnessed the ambush and deliver her to a neighboring kingdom ruled by a Tine named Woodcarver. The Flenserists tell Jefri that Johanna had been killed by Woodcarver and exploit him in order to develop advanced technology (such as cannon and radio communication), while Johanna and the knowledge stored in her "dataset" device help Woodcarver rapidly develop in turn.

A distress signal from the sleeper ship eventually reaches "Relay", a major node in the galactic communications network. A benign transcendent entity named "Old One" contacts Relay, seeking information about the Blight and the humans who released it, and reconstitutes a human man named Pham Nuwen from an old wreck to act as its agent, using his doubt of his own memory's veracity to bend him to the Old One's will. Ravna Bergsndot, the only human Relay employee, traces the sleeper ship's signal to the Tines world and persuades her employer to investigate what the human ship took from High Lab, contracting the merchant vessel Out of Band II, owned by two sentient plant Skroderiders, Blueshell and Greenstalk, to transport them.

Before the mission is launched, the Blight attacks Relay and concurrently kills Old One. As Old One dies, it downloads what information it can into Pham to defeat the Blight, and Pham, Ravna and the Skroderiders barely escape Relay's destruction in the Out of Band II.

The Blight expands, taking over races and "rewriting" their people to become its agents, murdering several other Powers, and seizing other archives in the Beyond, looking for what was taken. It finally realizes where the danger truly lies and sends a hastily assembled fleet in pursuit of the Out of Band II.

The humans arrive at the Tines homeworld and ally with Woodcarver to defeat the Flenserists. Pham initiates Countermeasure, which extends the Slow Zone by thousands of light years, enveloping the Blight at the cost of wrecking thousands of uninvolved civilizations and causing trillions of deaths. The humans are stranded on the Tines world, now in the depths of the "Slow Zone". Activating the countermeasure costs Pham his life, but just before Pham dies, he realizes that, although his body is a reconstruction, his memories are real. Vinge expands on Pham's backstory in A Deepness in the Sky.

Intelligent species


A race of humanoids with colorful butterfly-like wings who attempt to use the chaos wrought by the Blight to reestablish their waning hegemony. Despite their attractive, delicate appearance, the Aprahanti are an extremely fearsome and vicious species.


An ancient, malevolent super-intelligent entity which strives to constantly expand and can easily manipulate electronics and even organic beings.


An older race which originally inhabited Sjandra Kei before the arrival of humanity.


All humans in the novel (except Pham) are descended from Nyjoran stock.[4] Their ancestors were "Tuvo-Norsk" asteroid miners from Old Earth's solar system, which is noted as being on the other side of the galaxy in the Slow Zone. (Nyjora sounds similar to New Norwegian "New Earth".) One of the major human habitations is Sjandra Kei, three systems[5] comprising roughly 28 billion[6] individuals. Their main language is Samnorsk, the Norwegian term for a hypothetical unification of the Bokmål and Nynorsk forms of the language. (Vinge indicates in the book's dedication that several key ideas in it came to him while at a conference in Tromsø, Norway.)


A race of plantlike beings with fronds that are used for expression. The riders have no native capacity for short-term memory. Five billion years ago, someone gave the species wheeled mechanical constructs ("skrodes") to move around and to provide short-term memory. It is later revealed that their "benefactor" was the Blight, and it is able to corrupt and remotely operate the Riders via their skrodes.


A canid race, each "person" comprising a group mind of 4–8 members, which communicate by emitting ultrasonic waves from drumlike organs called "tympana". Each "soul" can survive and evolve by adding members to replace those who die, potentially for hundreds of years, as Woodcarver does.


A race of insectoid humanoids which constitutes one of the "majority races" of the Vrinimi organization.

Related works

Vinge first used the concepts of "Zones of Thought" in a 1988 novella, The Blabber, which occurs after Fire. Vinge's novel A Deepness in the Sky (1999) is a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep set 20,000 years earlier and featuring Pham Nuwen. Vinge's The Children of the Sky, "a near-term sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep", set ten years later, was released in October 2011.[7]

Vinge's former wife, Joan D. Vinge, has also written stories in the Zones of Thought universe, based on his notes. These include "The Outcasts of Heaven Belt", "Legacy", and (as of 2008) a planned novel featuring Pham Nuwen.[8]


Vinge's original title for the novel was "Among the Tines"; its final title was suggested by his editors.[9]

Awards and nominations

A Fire Upon the Deep shared the 1993 Hugo Award for Best Novel with Doomsday Book.[1] The book was nominated for the 1992 Nebula Award for Best Novel,[10] the 1993 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel,[1] and the 1993 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.[1]

Critical reactions

Jo Walton wrote: "Any one of the ideas in A Fire Upon the Deep would have kept an ordinary writer going for years. For me it's the book that does everything right, the example of what science fiction does when it works. ... A Fire Upon the Deep remains a favourite and a delight to re-read, absorbing even when I know exactly what’s coming."[11]


  1. ^ a b c d "1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  2. ^ Review of the annotated ebook edition of A Fire Upon the Deep at Slashdot
  3. ^ a b Vinge, Vernor. A Fire Upon the Deep. Relay was now the main intermediate to the Magellanics, and one of the few sites with any sort of link to the Beyond in Sculptor.
  4. ^ Vinge, Vernor (1992). A Fire Upon the Deep (1st mass market ed.). New York: Tom Doherty Associates. p. 62. ISBN 0812515285. LCCN 91-39020.
  5. ^ p. 436
  6. ^ p. 322
  7. ^ "Interview with Vernor Vinge". Norwescon. October 12, 2009.
  8. ^ Vinge, Joan D. (November 2008). "A letter to my readers". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
  9. ^ Lilley, Ernest (February 26, 2007). "Interview: Patrick Nielsen Hayden". SFRevu. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  10. ^ "1992 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  11. ^ Walton, Jo (June 11, 2009). "The Net of a Million Lies: Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep". Tor.com.

External links

1992 in literature

This article presents lists of literary events and publications in 1992.

51st World Science Fiction Convention

The 51st World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), also known as ConFrancisco, was held September 2–6, 1993, at the ANA Hotel, Parc Fifty Five, and Nikko Hotels, and the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California, United States.

The supporting organization was San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. The chairman was David W. Clark. The Guests of Honor (called "Honored Guests") were Larry Niven, Alicia Austin, Tom Digby, Jan Howard Finder, and Mark Twain (Dead GoH). Mark Twain was "channeled" by Jon deCles. The toastmaster was Guy Gavriel Kay. Total attendance was 6,602, of 7,725 paid memberships.

ConFrancisco was the last Worldcon not to have its own official website.The original plan of San Francisco Science Fiction Conventions, Inc. was to hold the convention at the futuristic San Francisco Marriott Marquis, designed by the noted architect Anthony J. Lumsden, which is topped with a jukebox shaped glass tower that makes it look like a skyscraper from a Flash Gordon comic strip by Alex Raymond. This building is a notable example of futurist architecture. However, the hotel backed out of the contract when a more lucrative larger convention wanted to schedule there on the same weekend.

A Deepness in the Sky

A Deepness in the Sky is a science fiction novel by American writer Vernor Vinge. Published in 1999, the novel is a loose prequel (set twenty thousand years earlier) to his earlier novel A Fire Upon the Deep (1992). The title is coined by one of the story's main characters in a debate, in a reference to the hibernating habits of his species and to the vastness of space.

American Gods

American Gods (2001) is a fantasy novel by English author Neil Gaiman. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on the mysterious and taciturn Shadow.

The book was published in 2001 by Headline in the United Kingdom and by William Morrow in the United States. It gained a positive critical response and won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.A special tenth anniversary edition, which includes the "author's preferred text" and 12,000 additional words, was published in June 2011 by William Morrow. Two audio versions of the book were produced and published by Harper Audio: an unabridged version of the original published edition, read by George Guidall, released in 2001; and a full cast audiobook version of the tenth anniversary edition, released in 2011. In March 2017, The Folio Society published a special collector's edition of American Gods, with many corrections to the author's preferred text version.In April 2017, Starz began airing a television adaptation of the novel. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green served as showrunners, and Gaiman is an executive producer. Fuller and Green departed the show after the first season.

Beyond This Horizon

Beyond This Horizon is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein. It was originally published as a two-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction (April, May 1942, under the pseudonym Anson MacDonald) and then as a single volume by Fantasy Press in 1948. It was awarded a Retro-Hugo award for best novel in 2018.

Blight (disambiguation)

Blight is a symptom affecting plants in response to infection.

Blight may also refer to:

Blight (urban), abandoned, derelict, or severely neglected buildings and lots; slums

Blight (surname)

Blight (play), a play by Oliver St. John Gogarty

Blight (band), a hardcore punk band from Lansing

Urban Blight (band)

Blight, a group of worlds devastated by a dangerous technology in the book Worlds of the Imperium

The Blight, the malfunctioning terraforming microbes created by the Eden colony in the fictional Outpost 2 universe

The Blight, a malevolent quasi-Power in the novel A Fire Upon the Deep

Derek Powers or Blight, a supervillain in the Batman Beyond animated series

Blight (comics), an alien race in the universe of DC Comics

Dr. Blight, a villain in the animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers

Blight (Transformers), a fictional character

Double Star

Double Star is a science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, first serialized in Astounding Science Fiction (February, March, April 1956) and published in hardcover the same year. It received the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novel (his first).

Evocation (disambiguation)

Evocation is the act of calling or summoning a spirit, demon, god or other supernatural agent, in the Western mystery tradition.

Evocation may also refer to:

Evocation I: The Arcane Dominion, a 2009 folk album by Eluveitie

Evocation II: Pantheon, an upcoming 2017 folk album by Eluveitie

Evocation, a method of compressing communication into very high-level information, as described in the novel A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Evocation (band), a Swedish metal band

Forever Peace

Forever Peace is a 1997 science fiction novel by Joe Haldeman. It won the Nebula Award, Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1998.

Henry Spencer

Henry Spencer (born 1955) is a Canadian computer programmer and space enthusiast. He wrote "regex", a widely used software library for regular expressions, and co-wrote C News, a Usenet server program. He also wrote The Ten Commandments for C Programmers. He is coauthor, with David Lawrence, of the book Managing Usenet. While working at the University of Toronto he ran the first active Usenet site outside the U.S., starting in 1981. His records from that period were eventually acquired by Google to provide an archive of Usenet in the 1980s.

The first international Usenet site was run in Ottawa, in 1981; however, it is generally not remembered, as it served merely as a read-only medium. Later in 1981, Spencer acquired a Usenet feed from Duke University, and brought "utzoo" online; the earliest public archives of Usenet date from May 1981 as a result.

The small size of Usenet in its youthful days, and Spencer's early involvement, made him a well-recognised participant; this is commemorated in Vernor Vinge's 1992 novel A Fire Upon the Deep. The novel featured an interstellar communications medium remarkably similar to Usenet, down to the author including spurious message headers; one of the characters who appeared solely through postings to this was modeled on Spencer (and, slightly obliquely, named for him).

He is also credited with the claim that "Those who do not understand Unix are condemned to reinvent it, poorly."

Mirror Dance

Mirror Dance is a Hugo- and Locus-award-winning science fiction novel by Lois McMaster Bujold. Part of the Vorkosigan Saga, it was first published by Baen Books in March 1994, and is included in the 2002 omnibus Miles Errant.

Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls is a 2003 fantasy novel by American writer Lois McMaster Bujold. It won the "triple crown" of Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards. It is a sequel to The Curse of Chalion, set some three years later.


Phạm is the fourth most common Vietnamese family name.

The Beyond

The Beyond may refer to:

The Beyond (film), a 1981 Italian horror film

The Beyond (band), a UK progressive metal band

The Beyond (album), an album by Cult of Luna

A fictional region of space in the Demon Princes novels by Jack Vance

A fictional "Zone of Thought" in the novel A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, and its prequel, A Deepness in the Sky

The Children of the Sky

The Children of the Sky is a science fiction novel by American writer Vernor Vinge. It is a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep and shares the Zones of Thought universe with A Deepness in the Sky. Unlike A Fire Upon the Deep, the novel is set completely on the Tines' world. It was nominated for the 2012 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the Prometheus Award.

The Sword in the Stone (novel)

The Sword in the Stone is a novel by British writer T. H. White, published in 1938, initially as a stand-alone work but now the first part of a tetralogy, The Once and Future King. A fantasy of the boyhood of King Arthur, it is a sui generis work which combines elements of legend, history, fantasy and comedy. Walt Disney Productions adapted the story to an animated film, and the BBC adapted it to radio.


Tine may refer to:

Tine (structural), a 'prong' on a fork or similar implement, or any similar structure

Tine (company), the biggest dairy producer in Norway

Tine (film), a 1964 Danish film

Tine, Iran, a village in Mazandaran Province, Iran

Tiné, a town in Chad near the Mourdi Depression

Tine test, a medical test for tuberculosis

Tine 2.0, an open source business software covering the software categories groupware and Customer Relationship Management

Tine (race), an alien race in the novels A Fire Upon the Deep and The Children of the Sky


In science fiction, ultrawaves (or hyperwaves or subwaves) are transmissions or signals that may propagate faster than light through either normal space, or alternate space, such as hyperspace or subspace.

Ultrawaves are also sometimes a form of energy transmission or weapon such as a beam weapon or death-ray.

Vernor Vinge

Vernor Steffen Vinge ( (listen); born October 2, 1944) is an American science fiction author and retired professor. He taught mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University. He is the originator of the technological singularity concept and perhaps the first to present a fictional "cyberspace". He has won the Hugo Award for his novels and novellas A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), Rainbows End (2006), Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002), and The Cookie Monster (2004).


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