the item

A Deepness In The Sky
A Deepness In The Sky

the questions

  1. What's good hacker sci-fi

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the consensus

Mixing hacking and a strong plotline, with lots of science thrown in, this makes for an excellent diversion into a place with tons of tech, science, and the questions that come along with it. Not fantasy. Good, hard, sci-fi.

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the review

Why does so much science fiction suck?

When I read sci-fi, I want engaging fiction that asks a simple "what if" question. Fiction that engages me with lots of science -- things I can reason about on my own. So many times what we call "sci-fi" is just space opera with a couple of blasters thrown in. It's all magic. It's fiction, sure, but there isn't a lot of science going on.

"A Deepness in the Sky" isn't like that. The author, a computer science professor, has writte a story with lots of relativistic time dilations, physics anomolies, and wonder of wonders, lots of hacker stuff.

Vernor Vinge is a sci-fi writer for hackers.

Deepness is a prequel to one of his other books, the award-winning "A Fire Upon the Deep". In "A Deepness in the Sky", Vinge asks several great "what if" questions, one of which is about our relationship to our work. How does technology contribute or distract us from a healthy relationship to our work? What is a helathy relationship? There are several other threads, most of which I don't want to spoil for you. But they're all exploring really good questions.

Best of all? It's full of hacker goodness. He understands the role computers play in our lives. One of the things I loved the most about reading him was the fact that he "got" how important networking was, and could describe it's strengths and weaknesses. In one scene, a character realizes that there are several thousand nodes accessible from his current spot on the net, but that their remaining charge is limited. "Depending on usage, he could still get a lot of information out of the nodes if he set the packets up right"

That's cool stuff. In another scene we go into the various protocol layers of the space-faring technology being used. We talk about the mathematical difficulties of large gobs of fluids in microgravities, or the nature of a culture that could evolve in a system with a variable star.

None of it is terribly deep -- this book is for anybody -- but it's all stuff that years ago would have been completely too far in the weeds. Not any more. Now when characters talk about light-speed limitations on network latency, it's something that anybody with satellite interrnet can identify with. When they talk about layers upon layers of code, it's something that anybody with a modern complex OS can grasp. Or any modern programmer.

The future is in computers and technology, and a writer that knows computers is going to do a better job at describing the future than one who doesn't.

Did I have problems with the book? Sure. It wasn't perfect. I felt it went on a bit too long, took too long to wrap up. At one point I think Vinge showed his manuscript to somebody else, because after that he spends a bit of time defending his description of some of the aliens The author protests a bit too much. Because it's a prequel, there is just a bit too much detail.

But overall this was really good science fiction. The long format and the richness of all the character threads make the book immersive. I really like the way he describes something without explaining it, then you end up figuring out what it was as the book unfolds. Late in the book I was getting these "ah-ha!" moments about things I had read in the first few pages. Very neat. While away from reading, I found myself thinking about the characters and problems they faced. At the end I was hanging on pins and needles as the final scenes played out. I can see why this storyline won a Hugo Award.

Books are so much better than movies

What makes good science fiction? Stuff that makes you think. Stuff that sucks you in. Stuff that takes you for a wild ride. Stuff that you talk about.

This book was all of that. It was a fun diversion and great book if you're a hacker and getting a little tired of all the lame sci-fi you usually get. Fair warning though: read many of Vinge's books and you'll find it difficult to go back to the other stuff.


the buzz

Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along
Nothing to see here, please move along

This hefty novel returns to the universe of Vernor Vinge's 1993 Hugo winner A Fire Upon the Deep--but 30,000 years earlier. The story has the same sense of epic vastness despite happening mostly in one isolated solar system. Here there's a world of intelligent spider creatures who traditionally hibernate through the "Deepest Darkness" of their strange variable sun's long "off" periods, when even the atmosphere freezes. Now, science offers them an alternative... Meanwhile, attracted by spider radio transmissions, two human starfleets come exploring--merchants hoping for customers and tyrants who want slaves. Their inevitable clash leaves both fleets crippled, with the power in the wrong hands, which leads to a long wait in space until the spiders develop exploitable technology. Over the years Vinge builds palpable tension through multiple storylines and characters. In the sky, hopes of rebellion against tyranny continue despite soothing lies, brutal repression, and a mental bondage that can convert people into literal tools. Down below, the engagingly sympathetic spiders have their own problems. In flashback, we see the grandiose ideals and ultimate betrayal of the merchant culture's founder, now among the human contingent and pretending to be a senile buffoon while plotting, plotting... Major revelations, ironies, and payoffs follow. A powerful story in the grandest SF tradition.


the video

Vernor Vinge explains the concept of localizers and his thoughts on the Great Singularity

What is this?

A while back I wrote an article on my blog listing all the books that hackers recommended to each other from the site HackerNews. The purpose was to provide a place to list book recommendations so that people didn't have to type in the same list over and over again. (HN gets several requests for book recommendations a week. I also get at least a couple each month). It was very well received, and many posters and commenters either asked that I make a site or sent me an email asking me to do so.

How is this any different from the list on the blog?

This list has more books. This list is sortable both by what question you have and your skill level. In addition, once you sort the list, you can save the link with your sort and send it to somebody else. So, for instance, when somebody wants a book for noobs learning to program, you can make a link for that and then reuse it

How did you collect these books?

Initially the list came from Googling "best book" and taking the books from the first few pages returned. Later, I added all the books that were mentioned "You left that out!" when Jacques posted the link. While adding those books, I came across a Stack Overflow link where programmers were asked to list their favorite tech books, so I included those too.

If I ask you to put a book on here, will you?

It depends.

These books were all gathered by finding places where hackers hang out and are suggesting books to other hackers and other hackers agree with them by voting up their suggestion. If I can find an example of this for your book, I'm happy to include it.

How are the books ranked?

I did the best I could with ranking. I am sure there are many things you do not agree with. It would be possible to add voting and personal ranking -- that would make the system much better. Heck, you could rank the books yourself and use it as a customized book list to show to people who want your advice. I'd like to do that, but if I've learned anything is to not let your featureset get ahead of the users. This first version will test the waters to see what kind of interest the community might have.