The Children of the Sky
By Vernor Vinge
First Published: 2011
Jacket Art by Stephan Martiniere
Review © 2012 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Alien World, Alien Spy Novel
The Children of the Sky is a sequel to the 1992 Hugo Award winning science fiction novel A Fire Upon the Deep from Vernor Vinge. It’s been 19 years since A Fire Upon the Deep was published but Vinge was far from idle during this time. He published a highly regarded prequel in 1999 called A Deepness in the Sky and a number of other well received science fiction novels. For fans of A Fire Upon the Deep who enjoyed the medieval world of the Tines, The Children of the Sky will be a must read. Anyone who hasn’t read A Fire Upon the Deep should be sure to read it first because the sequel is highly dependent on the previous novel.
With The Children of the Sky, Vinge returnes to the world of the Tines where only one adult woman, Ravna, and 150 children remained trapped in the “Slow Zone” after the thrilling finale of A Fire Upon the Deep. The sequel starts off very slowly as it fills in the background of what happened in the years after the Battle on Starship Hill with updates 2 and 3 years later. The main story begins 10 years after the battle and the plot finally gets underway 76 pages into the novel when Ravna discovers that not all the “children”, who have now grown into young adults, believe her version of the story of how they ended up marooned in the “Slow Zone” after their parents unleashed an incredibly evil power known as the “Blight” which may still be chasing them.
To be honest, I barely made it through the first 75 pages of the novel. While the background was being painted the pace was painfully slow and the writing seemed a bit too juvenile. However, once the stage was finally set and the intrigues and conspiracies of this medieval world got underway, the pace picked up and the novel soon grabbed my full attention.
The Children of the Sky takes place entirely within the Tines world unlike A Fire Upon the Deep which also included space opera adventures. The good news is that there is a lot of new territory to explore in this world with the opportunity for some fascinating discoveries. In addition, advanced technology brought by the humans spurs rapid technological developments that bring rapid changes for both good and bad. One aspect that has not changed is the constant intrigues and jockeying for power between the various groups of Tines. The strength of the novel lies in how well Vinge creates a believable and complex world with aliens that rely on pack intelligence that is permeated with power struggles and very interesting pack characters.
The characterizations of the alien Tine packs is done extraordinarily well with the only problem being this excellent character development contrasts with much weaker character development for the humans. I generally cared much more about the Tines than the humans. The villains among the Tines were also much more fascinating than the human villains. Besides the character development of the humans, my only other real criticism is the ending which resolves the most pressing conflicts but leaves a couple of major issues unresolved and obviously sets the stage for another sequel.
With The Children of the Sky, Vinge succeeds in creating an engrossing alien world spy novel of intrigue with unique alien characters who are in an uneasy coexistence with the new settlement of humans. As the plot unfolds, there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing. Vinge also manages to create a sense of realism and suspense by creating interesting complex characters that are a mixture of good and bad where it’s not clear which side is dominant and by putting main characters in real danger where not all are going to survive.
For anyone who enjoyed the intrigues of the medieval alien world of the Tines from A Fire Upon the Deep, the new sequel should not be missed. The Children of the Sky provides another highly entertaining chapter in the fascinating world of the Tines created by Vernor Vinge. However, if you have not read the previous novel, make sure you read it more you pick up this fine sequel.