This story is just barely 20 years old but I squeezed it into our older genre reviews because, at long last, Vinge has provided us a sequel. Read a review here.
Be prepared: this is a huge story. I’m not sure I can even encapsulate the plot. There’s a bunch of humans excavating a ruin who find some kind of monster. A family escapes the devastation they unleashed but crashes their spacecraft on a backwater planet stranding their two surviving children and the cryogenically suspended bodies of a couple hundred other children. The species and culture on this backwater planet is unique and completely fascinating. They would have been sufficient for a story alone; but, Vinge needs a bigger landscape.
In the center of the civilized universe is a young human woman, Ravna, who gets pulled into the universe-wide catastrophe caused by the monster solely because she’s the only human around when a higher life form reanimates a dead human man from an eons-old culture. Her complicated relationship with Pham and her efforts to confirm his humanity runs through the whole book. Ravna is also the only one to find and communicate with one of the lost children on that backwater planet.
Ravna and Pham believe the lost children and, more particularly, their crashed spaceship, hold a secret to stopping the monster that is quickly decimating the entire known universe and heralding a dark age unprecedented in any culture’s history. The monster seems to also hold that belief because it sends an entire armada to that backwater planet and makes attempts to stop Ravna and Pham from finding that secret.
There are so many wonderful plot devices in this epic. The creatures on the backwater planet are unique with wonderful characterizations. The children are well-developed and lend great support to the story. The civilized universe is so…different. As such a thing would be to us primitives. I admire Vinge’s vision while I struggle to understand it. The universe holds so many species of which humans are such a small part. Ravna and Pham travel with two of the most peculiar aliens I’ve ever read of. And, one of the best devices were internet-type postings from beings all over the universe as everybeing tried to understand, anticipate or flee the oncoming catastrophe. An awesome story and I am so grateful that Vinge finally came back to it. Be sure to watch for the review of “The Children of the Sky” under our Book Nook link. ~~ Catherine Book