A Fire Upon the Deep
Reviewed date: 2004 Oct 31
The Tines are unique among sapient races: singleton--that is, individual--Tines have animal-level intelligence and are only vaguely self-aware, but when they group together in packs, each pack has a single intelligent mind. Tinish packs consist of four, five, or six singletons; to maintain the mind link between its units a pack must keep its selves close together--no more than a few meters apart. To prevent other packs' minds from interfering with its own thoughts, a pack can never approach another pack closer than a few tens of meters.
Having pack minds and being crippled by the inability to have close physical contact with other Tinish packs shapes how the Tines' culture has developed. The real story begins when a human spaceship crashes on the Tines' world. The infusion of human ideas and technology into Tinish society spurs political upheaval. Meanwhile, in other faraway parts of space, the fate of the universe hangs in the balance as everyone joins in the mad scramble to locate the crashed humans and their mysterious cargo.
I recommend A Fire Upon the Deep. This Hugo award winning novel is among the best that science fiction has produced in the last two decades. The writing is reminiscent of early Golden Age science fiction, the story is engaging, and the ideas in A Fire Upon the Deep have strength enough to carry the story on their own.
I rate A Fire Upon the Deep on par with David Brin's Uplift books and slightly below Dan Simmons's Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion.