Re: WISN99: True Names, Vernor Vinge -- new millennial edition

Koen Holtman (
Thu, 27 May 1999 15:38:08 +0200 (MET DST)

On Thu, 27 May 1999, Rohit Khare wrote:

> [How the hell does a book that's not even coming out for half a year
> 1) already have a firm price tag and 2) is already the 7,040th most
> popular book at Amazon?!?!]

Right, I don't know if that was a rhetorical, but you'll get an answer

As the review says, 'true names' is widely considered to be the first
cyberspace story. It is supposed to predict VR, muds, and the
importance of having a virtual identity not traceable to your real
identity. No I have not read it (yet). Being a first of its kind,
and still the best of its kind according to some people (including RMS
according to TNHD), it is a must have for any dedicated SF reader.
The short story collection of which 'true names' was part has been out
of print since the last ice age or so. As far as I know, only
Clarke's 'the lost worlds of 2001' has the same out-of-print must-have
status. Someone posted an OCR version of 'lost worlds' on
rec.arts.sf.written about a year ago, so that leaves just 'true
names'. The original 'true names' collection is the one single book I
always hope I will find when I go through the slush pile in second
hand book stores, without any luck so far. The new version mentioned
above has been coming out RSN for the last 4 years or so. All this
means that some people are a bit anxious to get it.

In the space opera/hard sf section of written sf fandom, Vinge has a
status similar to that of George Lucas in sf movie fandom. Part of
this is just because of how good the guy is, but the real mythical
proportions come in because he lets everybody wait for so long. As
Vinge is a full time (I believe) CS professor, he is slow on writing
new books. We waited something like 7 years for his new mega-novel, 'a
deepness in the sky', which I just finished reading, yay! I managed to
buy a hardcover copy of 'deepness' some 4 weeks ago at a Borders when I
was visiting Caltech. I'm less lucky with SW:TPM, being at WWW8 in
Toronto one week too early, then flying back to Europe and having to
wait till @#$@#$ September for the thing to run in Geneva.

Personal spoiler-free mini-reviews for some of Vinge's books:

*A fire upon the deep* Reread it numerous times. Bit slow in parts,
but mostly a lot of good fun. Nicely done mega-intelligent godlike
entities with unknowable motivations. Good world-building. Lots of
intellectual candy. Cool parody of Usenet as it was in the early 90s
worked into the plot. Believable aliens who think as well as us, but
much differently. Points off for spending time in an alien culture at
the end of their dark ages, but lots of bonus points for descriptions
of how these aliens can change their thinking by reconfiguring their
internal network topology. A must-read, though some otherwise normal
people are known to find it unreadable. Warning: contains some kids.

*A deepness in the sky*. Just published, still in hardcover. Somehow a
more conventional book than 'fire upon the deep'. Set in the same
universe, but is a prequel (aaaaaaahhh!!!!). Word-building limitations in
the setting make this somehow a less exuberant and upbeat book than
'fire'. Better character development, but fewer cool new ideas. Nice in
how, gradually, more and more hints are dropped which make you realise
just how *eeevil* the evil guys are. Very end-of-90s book in that much of
the plot centres around controlling people by controlling their
information technology. I have not completely made up my mind on this
one, but my advice is to buy/read 'fire' before 'deepness'.

The 3-story collection *Across realtime* can also still be found in
some bookstores. These stories were written much earlier, have some
cool ideas, but are only for readers who have high tolerance against
cardboard characters. For me, the singularity backstory in the last
part of 'realtime' is worth the price of admission alone. Some people
are known to hate 'realtime' for the implied anarcho-libertarian(?)
political views therein.