A Fire Upon the Deep

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A Fire Upon the Deep is a science fiction novel by American writer Vernor Vinge, a space opera involving superhuman intelligences, aliens, variable physics, space battles, love, betrayal, genocide, and a conversation medium resembling Usenet. A Fire Upon the Deep won the Hugo Award in 1993 (tied with Doomsday Book by Connie Willis).[1]

Besides the normal print book editions, the novel was also included on a CD-ROM sold by ClariNet Communications along with the other nominees for the 1993 Hugo awards. The CD-ROM edition included numerous annotations by Vinge on his thoughts and intentions about different parts of the book.


Plot summary

A human civilization high in the Beyond (see below for an explanation of the Zones of Thought) dispatches an expedition to a planet in the low Transcend, having learned of a 5-billion year old archive of data there which had been off the Known Net for all that time. It offers the possibility of unthinkable riches for the ambitious young civilization of Straumli Realm, and an expedition of archaeologist programmers is dispatched to open the archive and discover its secrets.

The expedition's precautions are insufficient, however, and their facility, known as High Lab, is gradually compromised by a dormant super-intelligent entity similar to the Powers that develop in the Transcend, yet far more stable and able to exert influence in the Beyond. Initially referred to by other civilizations as the "Straumli Perversion" and later as "the Blight", the entity has the capability to rapidly infiltrate and control computer systems and biological beings. The entity persuades the team to create machines and activate programs they do not understand and cannot guard against. Meanwhile, hidden from the strengthening Blight, two programs, copies of the minds of two expedition members, become self-aware and lurk in the facility's local network. Unable to stop the Blight, they settle instead for carrying out a risky scheme to activate the countermeasure against the Blight that is included in the archive.

Realizing the danger of what they unintentionally unleashed, the members of the expedition attempt to flee High Lab, loading two transport ships with as many of the expedition members as possible and disguising the ships' departure as a routine trip for supplies. Suspicious, the Blight discovers that one of the ships lists in its cargo manifest a data storage device, which it assumes contains information that could harm it. The Blight immediately seizes control of High Lab, instantly killing the remaining colonists, and uses a communications laser to board and destroy the ship holding the data device; the second ship escapes, but the Blight dismisses it, believing the threat to have been averted. In reality, the second ship holds the true countermeasure against the Blight and flees deep into the Bottom of the Beyond.

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