Details: (c) Vernor Vinge 1999; Pub Millennium 2000; ISBN 1-85798-851-5
Verdict: A deepness in the sky is a thrilling story and handles all the elements of traditional SF really well.
Reasons for reading it: A deepness in the sky is a (fairly tenuously linked) prequel to A fire upon the deep, which I enjoyed.
How it came into my hands: Birthday present from lethargic_man. Thank you, that's most appreciated!
A deepness in the sky is really, really exciting as a story. There's enormous variation in emotional tone, and I cared about all of it; there were no boring bits, but plenty of different aspects that were exciting in different ways. The multiple viewpoints thing works very well, and to my surprise I didn't get annoyed by the jumping about between different threads at cliffhanger points. The structure is really impressive, with all the subthreads coming together in a final crisis that manages to be a step up from the already exciting buildup. Although aDitS is longer than most of what I prefer to read, its length and complexity are actually advantages rather than flaws.
On a different level, I also enjoyed Vinge's sense of scale when it comes to worldbuilding. A pan-galactic empire is not simply a scaled up version of the kinds of structures that exist at the level of scale we're used to. There's a convincing impression of vast distances and vast timescales and seriously complicated software, and worlds that have enough detail to be actual worlds (rather than the more expected overgrown cities), even though there are lots of them.
ADitS is almost a distillation of everything that a reader might look for in SF: worldbuilding, and spaceships, and interplanetary exploration, and cool techy stuff, and a first contact scenario (with translation issues, yay!), and a personal battle between two titans with futuristic (but carefully finite) technology at their disposal. I very much enjoyed the dynamics of that, with Nau as a plausible villain who doesn't fall too much into the Evil Overlord errors, and Pham as an interestingly flawed hero.
The gender stuff is a lot less annoying than in A fire upon the deep. There's still an element of intelligent women playing the role normally filled by women with big breasts in second-rate genre stuff, and a rather heavy reliance on rape for emotional impact for my tastes, but it's really not too bad at all. And I did like Trixia's choice at the end, giving just that little fillip to the expectations of people pairing up in the happy ending.
I don't want to give the impression that aDitS is unoriginal; to some extent it's doing conventional stuff well, yes, but there's plenty of novelty to the writing at a local scale. All in all, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read and I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't actively hate SF.