In this monthly series reviewing classic science fiction books, Alan Brown will look at the front lines and frontiers of science fiction; books about soldiers and spacers, explorers and adventurers. Stories full of what Shakespeare used to refer to as “alarums and excursions”: battles, chases, clashes, and the stuff of excitement.
Sometimes a book comes along that completely knocks you off your feet. A perfect example is A Fire Upon the Deep, by Vernor Vinge. It takes all the tropes of space opera, but grounds them in interesting speculations about physics. It is a war story, but told from the viewpoint of refugees fleeing that conflict. It is a heroic quest, but set in a far future society that travels between stars. It pushes all the emotional buttons, and keeps you on the edge of your seat right up to the last page. If you haven’t read it, consider this article a taste of what you’ve been missing. If you have read it, join me for a fond visit to an old favorite. There are a few spoilers ahead, but relatively gentle ones that describe the setting without revealing the plot past the first few chapters.