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Several years ago, I wrote something about every book I read that year. I decided to do something similar this year, but because I often ended up without enough that was interesting to say the year I wrote about every book, this year my goal is to write about one in every five books that I read.

The only other guideline I've come up with for myself is not to get into whether the book is good. I'm not trying to write book reviews, just book reactions and book thoughts. Sometimes my thoughts may have more to do with me than with the book.

On the not a review front, I'm also not going to try to explain what the books are about, or what type of book they are, unless that seems important to me.


The Children of the Sky was a reread this year, but instead of that meaning that I knew what to expect, it turned out that I had a very vivid memory of a scene that never took place in the book. I think I was so convinced that a certain plotline would be resolved in a certain way the last time I read the book that I kept repeating this made-up scene in my head as I was reading, waiting for it to happen, and that ended up being a more vivid memory than my memory of the actual book.

Because in fact, this plotline was not resolved at all.

Even aside from than that semi-disappointment, I don't think this book quite stood up to a reread. I still like the ideas, I can see why Vinge might have wanted to revisit this world to add in the new ideas he'd had about the Tines...but on reread, I already know all that, so the story has to stand on something other than my delight in the ideas, and as a story, it just wasn't very satisfying to me.

I put this down to two things. First, the only character I was really interested in and really believed in was Ravna (and that's not just because I believe in her arc but because I absolutely empathize with the way she was led to her downfall and the weaknesses that allowed this to happen). Second, the villain was just too evil, and the people dealing with the villain didn't have some tools that I thought they should have.

Which is to say, if you come from an uber-civilization, then I would think you'd have some conceptual tools for putting together societies that go a little further than "well, maybe we should have some elections some day, oh sure, we can do that now if you want". I also looked in vain for any glimmer that anyone had thought about rule of law, or about trying to hold the villain (or anyone else among any of the characters) accountable for the actual crimes that were committed. Or thought that it would be a good thing to develop these kinds of rules or the capabilities to enforce them.

I guess part of the point of the book is that Tine world is not at a stage where the political system has any resilience or depth; it's all individual people without much of a system to sustain them. Tine world is whatever you make it; the Tycoon seemed to prove that point as well.

But back to Ravna, I think one very small point that I liked about the way things were treated is that a difference in fundamental beliefs was treated as important. No matter how much she bonded, a difference in fundamental beliefs was not something to just ignore.

I will note that there wasn't actually a lot of real debate shown on the really important point in this book: i.e. did things in the past happen the way Ravna claimed. I suppose this is because you can't really have a satisfying and interesting debate when first of all, the reader is firmly on Ravna's side because of the previous book and second of all, apparently there's no hard evidence (I guess it all dissolved along with other non-working technologies), just Ravna's word on things.

So any debate hinges on not believing Ravna's word, and no matter how hard Vinge tries to make the deniers have a point, this is never going to fly with me. I was there, I saw it happen is not just Ravna's position, it's the position of anyone who read A Fire Upon the Deep.

And while I'm somewhat willing to entertain the hypothesis that it didn't happen that way, like if Vinge were to write another book and prove that Ravna (and everyone else) had been deceived and how and why, I might read it, but the deniers don't seem to have any actual points that refute "I was there, I saw it happen", just a strong wish for it to be untrue, and this is not a good starting point for a reasonable debate.

So while I'm happy that a difference in beliefs is treated seriously, I find the whole denier position -- not exactly ridiculous, but...you know, actually, if it wasn't framed as "denier", if it was "how should we use our resources" then that's where I see the actual debate lying.

And that's where Ravna has made an almost magical advancement via Tycoon, i.e. she's hit a point where resources are suddenly going to be less scarce, where the technologies she wants to develop will happen faster...

And that's where things get interesting. The worldbuilding. The Choir. The Tines, as individuals and as not always individuals, the development, the politics -- not just the personal politics, but the glimpses of a world dealing with and developing technology past its level of political order, the people trying to make the world be what they want it to be...

But poor Ravna is trying to be Bren Cameron handing out (and therefore controlling) technology (not just to aliens, but also to the humans) and trying to deal with the social and political change it causes (on both sides, though for humans impatience with not having tech is the change) without any support at all. She needs Jago and Banichi and all the others to protect her and make her environment supportive and let her do her job, because this thing she's trying to do is not settled, it's just starting. And the kinds of trouble she got into in this book are not over. There's so much more technology and technological capability to go.

So are there going to be more books in this universe, following these characters? Because the more I look at it, the more this book seems like a middle book, like setup for something more... It just doesn't feel like an ending for this universe or these characters.

ETA: The problem with Ravna as a leader is that she is generous to her enemies, which is absolutely a personal virtue, but as someone who is (by default, admittedly, and reluctantly, and this is not easy) trying to lead a society, what is a personal virtue becomes a leadership flaw. She is not looking out for the interests of the society when she decides to ignore the part where the villain committed actual crimes. (And also the part where they really need some way of having elections besides "okay sure, now is good, why not?")

I mean, yes, practically, at that point maybe she couldn't have done anything, but... There's just no indication that anyone is even thinking about creating a society where certain crimes are not the norm, or about preventing the same thing from happening all over again the next time some issue comes up. It's just assumed that it won't happen again, and the only reason it happened in the first place is because the villain is evil, and that there's only one important issue and it's been settled. Which is just frustrating.

ETA2: This actually reminds me a little of Regenesis, the sequel to Cyteen, by C. J. Cherryh. Just because they're both sequels to books that are pretty complete in themselves, and in both cases the author obvious had more they had to say and refinements they wanted to make to the world, but the story of the sequel book isn't quite up to the story of the original.
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