Vernor Vinge

singularity

Vernor Vinge (b. 1944) is a computer scientist and science fiction author. He is best known for his Hugo Award-winning novels and novellas A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), as well as his 1993 essay ‘The Coming Technological Singularity,’ in which he argues that the creation of superhuman artificial intelligence will mark the point at which ‘the human era will be ended,’ such that no current models of reality are sufficient to predict beyond it.

Vinge came to prominence in 1981 with his novella ‘True Names,’ perhaps the first story to present a fully fleshed-out concept of cyberspace, which would later be central to cyberpunk stories by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and others.

His next two novels, ‘The Peace War’ (1984) and ‘Marooned in Realtime’ (1986), explore the spread of a future libertarian society, and deal with the impact of a technology which can create impenetrable force fields called ‘bobbles’. These books built Vinge’s reputation as an author who would explore ideas to their logical conclusions in particularly inventive ways.

These two novels and True Names also emphasized Vinge’s interest in the technological singularity. ‘True Names’ takes place in a world on the cusp of the Singularity. ‘The Peace War’ shows a world in which the Singularity has been postponed by the Bobbles and a global plague, while ‘Marooned in Realtime’ follows a small group of people who have managed to miss the Singularity which otherwise encompassed Earth.

His next novel, A Fire Upon the Deep, was released in 1992. In it, he envisions a galaxy that is divided up into ‘zones of thought,’ in which the further one moves from the center of the galaxy, the higher the level of technology one can achieve. Nearest the center is ‘The Unthinking Depths,’ where even human-level intelligence is impossible.

Earth is in ‘The Slow Zone,’ in which faster-than-light (FTL) travel cannot be achieved. Most of the book, however, takes place in a zone called ‘The Beyond,’ where the computations necessary for FTL travel are possible, but transcendence beyond the Singularity to superhuman intelligence is not. In the last zone, ‘The Transcend,’ there are apparently no limitations at all.

The Beyond, therefore, permits a classic space opera, using technology that would push past the Singularity. Fire includes a large number of additional ideas making for an unusually complex and rich universe and story.

‘A Deepness in the Sky’ (1999) was a prequel to Fire, following competing groups of humans in ‘The Slow Zone’ as they struggle over who has the rights to exploit a technologically emerging alien culture. In addition, Deepness explores the themes of technological freedom vs. technology as a tool of enslavement and control, among other deep political issues.

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