Jul 3, 2019

Verner Vinge and The Fermi Paradox | A Fire Upon The Deep

There are two things about this book that I really like: The first is Verner Vinge's take on the Fermi Paradox and the second are the Tines, an alien race he created for the story.

[Would you rather watch the video edition of this post? - releasing soon.]

I love reading Science Fiction and Fantasy stories and one of my favourite things about these books are all the different non-human races that we encounter. In Fantasy it’s normally just a handful of races like Elves and Dwarfs, but in Science Fiction there is an unlimited amount of different alien races out there… but what about in real life?

In real life… Have you ever wondered where all the aliens are? Have you ever been looking at the stars and wondered ‘Are we alone in the universe?’

If so you’re not alone. There has been a lot of discussion about this topic by people from all walks of life including philosophers, scientist and writers. In fact this discussion has a name: The Fermi Paradox.

The Fermi Paradox.

Most conversations about The Fermi Paradox try to explain why we haven’t discovered any evidence of other intelligent life in our universe and the explanations range from saying that we aren’t listening properly, to the galaxy’s a big place – were too far apart to communicate effectively. Some say there’s a ‘Great Filter’, that there is a certain level that intelligent life will get to and then it will destroy itself, there are so many answers to that question, that I can’t list them all but if you want to, you can find more just by searching for The Fermi Paradox.

This is where A Fire Upon The Deep comes in. One of the things I like about this book is Verner Vinges, concept called the Zones of Thought which is his answer to the Fermi Paradox. So according this Zones of Thought concept, we haven’t been contacted yet or not found evidence of intelligent life yet is because Earth lies in a very undesirable area of the galaxy.

Zones of Thought Explained

In this book the Milky Way galaxy is divided into areas called the ‘Zones of Thought’ where gravity seems to affect the laws of physics (and biology to some extent) within these zones. The closer the stars are together or the greater the stellar density is, the harder it is to use technology and intelligence, both artificial and biological.

So as a space ship and its crew ‘descend’ toward the galaxy’s core the speeds they can travel become slower, and the advanced hardware and software from ‘higher’ areas will get start glitching and eventually stop working.

The four zones are spoken of in terms of ‘low’ to ‘high’ as follows:

  • First up, the innermost zone, located around the galactic core is The Unthinking Depths. Unthinking because even biological intelligence is affected in this area. Any ship entering will be stranded permanently. In the story there are accounts of ship’s crew who die immediately upon entering this zone, either because they are rendered incapable of enough intelligence to remember how to operate or fix their ship, or they don’t survive the ships life support systems failing.
  • The next zone is called the Slow Zone. This is the zone that Earth is located in and while biological intelligence is possible you can’t create sentient, artificial intelligence, and Faster-than-light communication and travel can not be initiated in the Slow Zone. Ships travelling FTL can enter into the Slow Zone, but the drive will stop and they can’t get it working until they leave the boundaries of ‘The Slowness’. All ships that find themselves in the Slow Zone are restricted to sub-light speeds.

    The problem is that the boundaries of the Zones are unknown and subject to change so accidental entry to the Slow Zone is a major interstellar navigational hazard at the peripheries so ships which operate near the border often have an alternative 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. These ships also have suspended animation equipment, as journey out of the slowness will still take many subjective lifetimes for most species.
  • The third level up is called The Beyond. This is where all the science fiction tech we’ve come love in our stories can happen. Artificial intelligence, faster-than-light travel, faster-than-light communication, and anti-gravity are possible.

    The Beyond is not a homogeneous zone and in the book there are references are made to the "High Beyond" or the "Bottom of the Beyond", depending on distance to the galactic core. The further you are from the galactic core, the better your technology becomes, so your ships engines and automation increases in capacity and performance as you moves outward.

    The Beyond is populated by a very large number of civilisations which are linked by a faster-than-light communication network and who have no desire to ‘descend’ into the slow zone – for the reasons outline above.
  • Finally there is The Transcend, where is it said incomprehensible, super-intelligent beings dwell. When a civilisation from the Beyond reaches the point of technological singularity, it 'Transcends' and relocates to The Transcend, What happens in The Transcend remains entirely mysterious to those that remain in The Beyond.

An Original Idea

We live in a dangerous and undesirable part of the galaxy. I place that no technologically advanced civilisation, in their right mind, wants to visit.
Wolf McTavish

So this is how Verner Vinge explains the Fermi Paradox in his book A Fire Upon The Deep. We live in a dangerous and undesirable part of the galaxy. I place that no technologically advanced civilisation, in their right mind, wants to visit.

I love this ‘Zones of Thought’ concept as it’s one of the most original ideas I’ve come across in science fiction. Whereas in most science fiction books, the laws of physics don’t change, they apply wholesale across the galaxy and authors have to come up with other conceits to explain how technology, like FTL transportation and communications work, even though modern day physics prove they aren’t possible. Vinge says, well the laws of physics do change and what you can do with technology will vary depending on other factors and where you’re located in this galaxy.

The Aliens

The other thing I like about the story was the alien species called ‘The Tines’. This is a race of dog-like aliens living at a medieval level just on the upper edge of the Slow Zone.

What makes them different from other aliens we normally see in science fiction is that their intelligence, or sentience, isn’t restricted to an individual. As an individual a Tine is just an animal, but when they get into a pack, this pack forms an intelligent mind… and I really I enjoyed exploring this species.

You can tell Vinge put a lot of effort into the world building, and we get an insight into the Tine culture and how having a mind with multiple bodies will affect this. For example they need a lot of space to think, whereas our thoughts are concealed within our head, their thoughts are the dog-like bodies using sound to talk to each other, so if another Tine intelligence gets too close, they can hear the other mind thinking and it sometimes confuses them. This also affects their architecture, so their cities, and buildings are quite expansive.


If you like Space Operas this is one that I’d recommend. To be honest it has everything and more that most people want in a book, or movie even. It contains amazing adventure, clever character creation, profound plotting, scintillating suspense, wonderful world building all wrapped in an intelligent imagination. No wonder this book won a Hugo Award.

I’d encourage you to grab yourself a copy and enjoy it with your favourite beverage.

A Fire Upon The Deep

(Zones of Thought) by Vernor Vinge
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind's potential is determined by its location in space - from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these 'zones of thought', but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artefact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines - an alien race with a harsh medieval culture - and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue party, not entirely composed of humans, must free the children - and retrieve a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.

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Dec 5, 2018

The Most Mysterious Book in the World - The Voynich Manuscript

Bibliophiles who love a good mystery, or conspiracy, should be familiar with the Voynich Manuscript. In the article that follows I’ll take you through a quick overview on this mystery and then provide you with some links for further reading. Enjoy!

The mysterious Voynich Manuscript has been hanging around for almost 500 years, most of that time it was lost among a private collection but is now the focus of intense of scrutiny. It is famous for being written in an unknown language or code which, so far, has yet to been deciphered. The Voynich manuscript, or Beinecke Ms. 408, is thought to be the only medieval document on the planet in that category. This handwritten codex famous for its indecipherable language also contains drawings of strange plants, Zodiac star charts, and what looks like women bathing in green water.

Oct 28, 2018

Union Station Series Review | Recommended Reading

Remember when science fiction was about a future you wouldn't be terrified to live in? Well, the series we're looking at in this video is a light hearted and fun science fiction series which shows such a future.

So if you're after a science fiction novel that doesn't take itself seriously, but one that's not as ridiculous as hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. This could be the series for you.

Watch the video review here. 

Oct 9, 2018

The Connection Between Reading Science Fiction and Productivity.

I want to share with you a simple productivity tip that can help anyone get ahead in our ever changing world. If you follow my advice, you’ll be more agile at work and in your personal life.

[Would you rather watch the video edition of this post? - releasing soon.]

There are plenty of articles and books about productivity and how to get ahead in the life and business.

I’ve read quite a few and could probably write a book on productivity even though I’m no CEO or motivational speaker.

Aug 21, 2018

Hugo Award 2018 Winners and Finalists.

The winner of the 2018 Hugo Awards has been announced and it's as follows:

Best Novel


by N.K. Jemisin
The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.
Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed

Best Novella


by Martha Wells

"As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure."

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid ― a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

Other Categories

Aug 4, 2018

Arthur C. Clarke Award 2018

The Arthur C. Clarke Award winner was announced last month from a short-list of six. This award was originally established by a generous grant from Sir Arthur C. Clarke with the aim of promoting science fiction in Britain.

The annual award is presented for the best science fiction novel of the year, and selected from a list of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year.

The winner is Dreams Before the Start of Time by author Anne Charnock

May 14, 2018

Cycling In The Dark - A Technique For Writing Fiction.

I’ve been reading a lot of ‘how-to’ books on writing novels recently, the majority of them talk about creating an outline even before writing the first draft. For those of us who have attempted this sort of thing it does make sense.

  • Step 1: Create and outline of your story, know where and when everything will happen.
  • Step 2: Write your first draft, don’t worry about spelling mistakes or typo’s just let your creative voice have free reign so you can get the story out there. As Joanna Penn says ‘splurge on words and ideas’ in this first draft.
  • Step 3: Spent time editing. That is using your critical voice, correcting the spelling mistakes and typo’s, rewriting and polishing the story.

The problem is that we spend a lot of time on step 1 and never seem to be able to finish.