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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Radio Active #45: Crawling Babies, Podcasts Galore, A Deepness in the Sky

by Ken Newquist / March 14, 2007
Cover: A Deepness in the Sky

Baby Luke learns to crawl and joins me as a guest host of the latest edition of Radio Active. In addition to news about our littlest geek, I've got news about a new "Game Day" column that's running on Nuketown and a review of Gears of War, as well as audio feedback from Doug of the Geek Acres podcast.

In Net News, I catch up everyone on podcasts that I'm listening to nowadays including old favorites like Random Signal and Roll 2d6 as well as new ones like the audio novelization of Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe, the musical stylings at Mainstage at the Monkey and the covert happenings at the Stealth Geek podcast. Finally, I have a review of Vernor Vinge's science fiction novel A Deepness in the Sky.

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Show Notes

  • Nuketown News
    • The Kids
      • Luke is crawling and pulling himself up, which means we're baby proofing. He has a particular interest (as his sister did) in all things electronic, though he takes it to the next level by actively seeking out the vacuum cleaner when we're vacuuming in an attempt to snag the power cord.
    • Sickness
      • Everyone's been sick for the last two weeks,  and they finally took me down last Tuesday. I got a nasty cold plus (for the first time in about 20 years) a case of Pink Eye.
    • Game Day Columns
      • Soon it will be game day, meaning that in about seven hours, a horde of geeks will descend on my house and we'll spend 4-6 hours hacking, slashing (and yes, role-playing) our way through a variety of humanoid menaces.
      • Alternatively, we may be vying for world domination playing Risk 2210 or trying to prevent the Rise of the Sheeple in Settlers of Catan. Regardless of the game, you can be assured we'll be playing something.
      • Game Day's a big deal for me (and for everyone in the group), as it's a chance to blow off steam, relax away from the family and significant others, joke with friends and generally have some fun.
      • With that in mind, I've decided to start writing a weekly "Game Day" column dedicated to all things gaming and geeky as a way of ramping up for the night's adventure.
    • Gears of War
      • I've got a full review of this shooter for Xbox 360 up on Nuketown.
    • Voicemail!
      • Yes, we've got voice mail. Doug Rapson from Geek Acres in which he talks about geek fitness, road tripping with the young children, and comic books.
      • Doug mentions Nuketown Radio Active in Geek Acres #73.
  • Podcast Promo: Random Signal
  • Net News (Podcast Roundup)
  • Podcast Promo: Goblin Gaming Network
  • Book Review: A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
    • Details
    • Summary:
      • This book is a prequel to A Fire Upon the Deep, taking place 40,000 years earlier and featuring one of the main characters from the first novel: Pham Nuwen.
      • For centuries, the mystery of the On/Off Star has teased humanity's collective imagination. As A Deepness in the Sky opens, star fleets from two human faction have just arrived in system eager to learn its secrets and make contact with any civilizations which might call it home.
      • The first is the Qeng Ho, a group of capitalism-loving free traders who come looking for trade partners. Theirs is a far-flung civilization -- its too loosely organized to call it an empire -- that provides valuable links between the galaxy's star systems. Their ships take centuries to arrive at new worlds, time most of them spend hibernating cold sleep.
      • Their rivals in this are the Emergents, a group of humans from a close by solar system who claim to have come for similar reasons … but soon betray their competitors by launching a short brutal war that destroys the Qeng Ho leadership and most of its flee.
      • They seize the remaining Qeng Ho, claiming their starships and crew and forcing them into a tyrannical communist system that served the Emergents well in the "Emergency" on their homeworld that gave them their name.
      • They also mentally enslave certain Qeng Ho via "Focus", a savant-like state brought about by a virus that turns ordinary people into geniuses, but deprives them of much of their emotional range. They are exceptionally gifted within a particular area; everything else is ignored.
      • The surviving Qeng Ho struggle to retain what little freedom they can under the Emergents while at the same time a few of them plot a centuries long plan to overthrow their new masters.
      • Meanwhile, the Star they came to observe is in its "off" phase, and they find that its sole terrestrial world (there are no gas giants, no asteroids, no Kuiper belt) is frozen solid -- all of its air has frozen to the ground, and its cities are icy tombs.
      • And there are cities … and their makes are not human. Studying statues and books found there just prior to the war reveals that they are unlike anything humanity has encountered before: spider-like, multi-armed creatures that apparently fled deep into the planet to escape the world-encompassing cold.
      • Once they seize control of the orbital fleets, the leaders of the Emergents begin formulating a plan to study … and eventually conquer … this new race.
    • Good
      • The concept of "Focus" is brilliantly scary -- totalitarian communists always run into problems maintaining a hold on their population while at the same time creating the innovations they need to keep their civilization going. "Focus" provides the sort of brilliance they need to survive, coupled with the control their despotism demands.
      • The evolution of the alien society from late-1800s technology through to 21st century tech makes for a great read, as does Vinge's adaptation of our tech to their circumstances. For the Spiders, the greatest challenge is how to survive the coming cold of their star's "off phase" without resorting to the traditional hibernation state.
      • The Emergents are great villains, playing the mastermind card again and again as they outmaneuver their Qeng Ho slaves time and again. The concept of tyranny is so alien to the Qeng Ho that it takes them centuries to come up with an effective resistance.
      • Pham Nuwen epitomizes what a long-lived individual might truly look like, and he's easily one of the book's most engaging characters. Particularly liked his field of "archeological computing",  in which he digs through three thousand years of code looking for possible bugs and exploits to use to his advantage. When you think about how convoluted our current code base can be (remember Y2K), it's all too easy to forsee the need for such a profession in the future.
      • Nice to see capitalists as the good guys, as well as to have a book that shows what a moral capitalist society looks like, one that's based on trade and non-aggression. Well done!
      • The book's climax is satisfying and a bit surprising, with a big reveal that makes sense when you look back through the book's earlier chapters.
    • Bad
      • There's no bad really. This is the first book in a long time that I can see myself re-reading. Some have complained about a lack of character depth and a certain humanization of the alien species, but I found the main characters well rounded, and the humanization ultimately has a purpose.
  • Outro
    • Coming up: In Radio Active #46 I'll have reviews of the Midnight Syndicate “best of” album Out of Darkness, the horror board game Betrayal at the House on the Hill. In Radio Active #47, I'll focus on kids and gaming, with an interview with my daughter Jordan. I'll also have a review of the excellent novel Learning the World.
  • Contact Info:
Audio icon NuRA-2007-03-11.mp326.75 MB


I just listened to this episode and heard your review of A Deepness in the Sky. I'm interested in reading the book. I know you said it was set something like 40,000 years before another novel, so I think it ought to stand on its own, but I'm just checking: Do you think it would be good to start here, or should I read another first?

I think you could start with either novel. They're not tightly integrated within one another, and there's nothing in the way of spoilers in the prequel A Deepness in the Sky that would ruin A Fire Upon the Deep -- it's more expanding upon the history hinted at in the first book and confirming that yes, that history really did happen.