So I just finished Vernor Vinge’s latest Zones of Thought book, Children of the Sky. I went in with some trepidation, as my father wasn’t too happy about it, but I loved it! It tied up a lot of loose ends from the preceding book, A Fire Upon the Deep, and introduced a whole new cast of characters, whose actions I eagerly await in the next book!
Vinge was unafraid to plunge off into unexpected directions in this book, and it was, for the most part, absent of cliches. It was thoroughly involving and engaging, and I had trouble putting it down! Perhaps the most interesting aspect of both this book and its prequel are the major “aliens” that appear in it; the Tines.
The Tines are a wolf-like race – in fact, they look almost just like wolves – with special tympana that allow them to hear each other’s thoughts (often called “mindsound”). Their tympana also give them the ability to merge into “packs,” combining their mental abilities and consciousnesses together to form one conscious individual from a group of usually 4 to 8 “singletons,” who are scarcely brighter than a real wold. In effect, this means that each Tinish character’s body consists of multiple organisms, linked together by their tympana and mindsound. Other Tines nearby can break the links between a pack, and sometimes even dissolve them!
Children of the Sky took this concept further, and introduced the idea of the Tropical Choir: a pack that consists of thousands of individuals, with mental waves that ripple along its massive area. With that many members, the pack’s mind becomes overly fragmented and incoherent, but it attains some unique attributes and possibilities that Vinge explores in his latest book.
If you haven’t read any of his Zones of Thought books – or any of his other works – they’re well worth a read!