Below is a response to my comments/criticisms to A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vine that I think bear repeating (and I have his permission)! I am also inserting my return comments in order to clarify my thoughts on it. Just a filler while I think about whether I really want to redo many hours of work on my SciFi movie night post that I somehow deleted by accident. It was the first of several, this one being from my DVD collection. How I hate computers sometimes. In pen and paper days you could at least dig through the trash!
“I appreciate the thought and effort that Kristin has put into this discussion on Fire Upon the Deep, the Singularity and Transcendents.
I didn’t have a lot of problems with the Zones of Thought, first because I recognized them as a writer’s device to tell a story, but also because the idea seemed plausible. There was an implication that Transcendent technology relied heavily on advanced computing technology. In fact, the micro-jumps depended on the ships’ computers being able to make the calculations. What is wrong with the idea that a field of some sort can slow down the electronic interactions necessary for advanced computing? I’m not a physicist, so I can’t supply an explanation, but the idea is not implausible.”
I guess I never thought of the Zones of Thought as being a literary device. I saw it as an extension of his Singularity ideas, and therefore found it lacking. As a writer’s device, it can of course be anything he wishes, inconsistencies and all, although I still wish he had gone into a deeper explanation, since he can’t hide behind the “it’s too complex” thing. So he could have given us lots of cool stuff to spark our imaginations and soar.
“Also, I didn’t have a problems with the Tines as a race that had shared minds. I think Vinge handled that concept rather well. If we look at a race that has shared intelligence, obviously if you add more members the
intelligence increases until you get something Godlike. But, the personalities would seem to put a brake on the interaction, as well as just the basic noise of communications. So, Vinge put a limited of 10-15 individuals per pack so he could have many individuals.”
I didn’t either by the end of the book – they turned out to be an interesting device, once I got over my animal race/medieval setting dislike that smacks of fantasy.
“I agree that Vinge did not do a good job in explaining what a Transcendent society or being might be like. I think that that is an inherent limitation in the concept.. Read Vinge’s classic paper on the Singularity at
and you can see that he is proposing that a supra-human entity (whether a pure machine intelligence or a human-machine hybrid) would not be bound by our same instincts and social mores, and would become very difficult for us to understand, just as we are very difficult for our dogs to understand.”
I still disagree with Chris about this to some extent – see my comments in “Final Thoughts.” I do believe that if you come up with the idea, that you must have SOME idea of what these Transcendents would be like – or how else can you predict their existence? And he does make some references to some of their powers – tech stuff that comes down, Powers beyond the Powers, the fact that they CAN be overcome by something greater than they, that was created by lesser beings (the Blight), etc. This will always be an agree to disagree between me, Chris and others, and Vinge.
My only regret is that he created something innovative and marvelous in its thought, but because of its intrinsic nature, he can’t/won’t explain any more. My personal “idea,” pernicious as it is, is that he just doesn’t want to explain it – that it’s his idea, and if he gives too much away, others will use it, as they have the basic premise. I do believe that secretly he has some ideas of what these beings are – we are more than dogs, and to compare us to them is not an apt analogy to me, although it has some merits. We are reasoning individuals, so I personally think, IMVHO, that we CAN begin at least to understand things beyond us. Many have a concept of God, and he/she is surely beyond them? Isn’t that a better analogy? That these god-like creatures, as they are described, can be understood in that context? Surely, as thinking, reasoning beings, which dogs are not, we can conceptualize them? Although in terms of development, we are probably like the dogs in terms of evolutionary steps. But being higher up the evolutionary plane, and being “human” and able to create and that’s the operative word, a higher order of things, we should be able to have some understanding of them and be able to write at least something about them. Otherwise, it’s just an academic exercise and should have stayed so, not become a fictional device. I just really dislike things that are not explained, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now!