As you may have noticed, I really enjoy Vinge’s books. As an aside, I noticed his books via a mention of one of them by John Carmack during an interview…
Anyway, on to the book itself. It’s rather short, in particular for a Vernor Vinge “novel” at approximately 370 pages, which translates into about three enjoyable evenings. Considering only the hardcover version is currently out, this may be a bit steep for some.
The time it is set in feels very similar to Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”, so it’s definitely near future extrapolation and often arrives at the same conclusions (or solutions to current problems) that Stephenson does. It does not involve as much action, though, although things speed up towards the end of the book.
As is common with Vinge, the distinction between who is good and who is bad is not clear cut. Nevertheless, there is (at least) one near enough villain (if only due to the measures he is willing to take to achieve his ultimate goal). At first, there don’t seem to be any genuinely likeable characters, although all of them are intriguing and you can see why they act the way the do.
The novel does use some sort of annoying semi-XML convention for showing silent messages between characters, which makes those a tad hard to parse, but in some ways can also be seen as elaborate set-up for jokes on cryptography conventions. Actually, the whole novel is full of humour (and cynicism) and some very nice word-play. It is intelligent, but neither forcedly so nor does it hit in the face with an attitude of “I’m proper literature”. Even the title has a funny twist…
Thankfully, the book is not all fun and some very real problems (just scan chapter titles for some obvious examples) are being looked at. Some in detail, some in passing, but usually without passing judgement – that is very much left to the reader, which IMO is a good thing. It is also fairly suspenseful, although not with as much of an overall feeling of dread as “A Deepness in the Sky” or “A Fire upon the Deep”.
It has a good beginning, it has a good middle part, and – most important of all – it has a good ending. Very recommended.