The Zones of Thought is a science-fiction setting created by Creator/VernorVinge.

In the Zones of Thought verse, the basic gimmick is that {{the Singularity}} is spread out sideways. In the Unthinking Depths near the core of the galaxy, no intelligence is possible; in the Slow Zone, where Earth is, MundaneDogmatic rules apply; the Beyond allows soft SF tropes such as {{faster than light travel}} or {{antigravity}}, and in the Transcend, everyone is {{sufficiently advanced}}. Thus, as you head out of the galaxy, you see the same progression of advancing technologies as you'd expect to see over time if our technology went through a Singularity. In the Slow Zone, Vinge posits that human technological advance reached an apex with the "Age of Failed Dreams", during which it was discovered that faster than light travel, immortality, strong AI, and a few other things are impossible.

''A Deepness in the Sky'' takes place in the Slow Zone, next to a [[NegativeSpaceWedgie very peculiar star]]. Humanity ignored it for centuries, until possible alien radio signals prompt two nearby cultures to each send a fleet of ships: the Qeng Ho, part of a group of interstellar traders, and the Emergents, an enigmatic civilization that has suddenly raised their technology to high levels.

''A Fire upon the Deep'', which was written first, mostly takes place in the Beyond. A human expedition to the Transcend releases [[SealedEvilInACan the Blight]], a malignant artificial intelligence which has been dormant for five billion years. The only survivors of the expedition are one family, who flee to a backwater world, where both parents are immediately killed and the children sucked into the power struggles of the medieval-level alien natives. Meanwhile, the Blight is rampaging across the galaxy, so a second expedition is sent in search of the children, on the off-chance that their parents might also have found a counter-measure.

''The Children of the Sky'', a sequel to ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', came out in October 2011.

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!!The ''Zones of Thought'' series contains examples of:

* AffectionateParody: Of {{Usenet}}, in the otherwise serious ''A Fire Upon the Deep''.
* AlternateNumberSystem: The Tines have two different number systems: one where they count "by legs" (in base 4) and one where they count "by fore-claws" (in base 10). Confusion between these two systems leads to the accidental meeting of two of the major characters in ''A Fire Upon the Deep''. Amdiranifani is housed in room 33, Jefri is supposed to be imprisoned in room 15 (33 in base 4), and the guard who's taking him there uses the wrong numbering system.
* AnyoneCanDie: Named characters fall like flies.
* ApocalypseHow: ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' features a mind-boggling amount of death and destruction. [[spoiler: While most of the good guys survive, and so does the planet on which most of the novel unfolded, an enormous area of High Beyond is converted to Slow Zone. This destroys the Blight, which is dependent on High Beyond technology for its survival. It is also the deathblow for trillions of beings and countless civilizations across a huge swath of the galaxy, whose existences depended on FTL and the same advanced tech as sustained the Blight.]]
** [[spoiler: While it was said that trillions were killed in this act, if you look at the visualization of the galaxy and it's zones, the area affected is relatively small in comparison the totality of the Beyond.]]
* AncientConspiracy: ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' contains an extremely dormant trap setup by [[SealedEvilInACan the Blight]] the last time it was active, ''billions'' of years ago.
* AndIMustScream: What happens to any [[spoiler:Skroderider]] within the Blight's transmission range. The only one that is freed from control, [[spoiler:Greenstalk]], actually DOES break down screaming after a long period of mute shock and horror.
** The characters speculate, that ''everyone'' in the regions directly overtaken by the Blight lives like this.
* AndroclesLion: In ''Children of the Sky'', what saves [[spoiler:Johanna]] from being torn apart by the Tropicals when she escapes into them. [[spoiler:Their hive mind remembers her kind treatment of their singletons, and her work at the Fragmetarium.]]
* AuthorTract: ''A Deepness in the Sky'' often veers in this direction, particularly whenever there are comparisons between the Emergent civilization and Qeng Ho.
* BackupBluff: Pilgrim Wickwrackscar pulls quite a bold one one on [[spoiler: Vendacious]], successfully convincing the latter, that his treachery is fully unweiled, and Pilgrim is here to negotiate with him instead of Woodcarver and her soldiers only to prevent him from killing the hostage he had before anyone gets close enough to talk. Except that is all bullshit, no one else is suspecting anything yet, and Pilgrim's actions are based purely on a hunch.
* BadassGrandpa: Pham Nuwen
* BatmanGambit: ''A Deepness in the Sky'' has [[spoiler:a rare example of competing '''protagonist''' [[BatmanGambit Batman Gambits]]. Sherkaner Underhill invaded the Focus system and manipulated it to defend against Nau's genocidal plans, while Pham Nuwen used the localizers to invade the system and manipulate it against Nau. They both almost squash each other by accident, buying Nau valuable time when executing his EvilPlan and leading to the probable death of both Sherkaner and his wife.]]
* BigBrotherIsWatching: In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', [[spoiler:the Emergents take over the Qeng Ho ships, using thousands of dust sized cameras to watch over the Qeng Ho]].
** That naturally pales before Beyonder surveilance methods, revealed in ''The Chidren of the Sky'' - swarms of nanocameras, that infuse the target's bloodstream, can be transferred by a casual touch, and relay everything their host hears and sees. Of course, such technology swiftly decays in the Slow Zone.
* BittersweetEnding:
** ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', as described above at "Apocalypse How".
** ''A Deepness in the Sky'', arguably only if you've already read ''A Fire Upon the Deep''.
** ''Children of the Sky'' isn't quite as dark, but still makes it clear that its characters still have some ''very'' dangerous foes and obstacles to face in the near future; there are also some bittersweet partings.
* BrainComputerInterface: Such interfaces are noted in passing in ''A Fire Upon The Deep''. They don't work very well below the High Beyond, but their users still don't like taking them off.
* BreakTheCutie: Qiwi in ''A Deepness in the Sky''... oh, where do we start?
** She spends 5 or 6 years aboard a star ship, isolated from her peers with only a low-population skeleton crew for company. Of course, Qiwi and her parents find this a fun learning experience.
** Later, [[spoiler:the older Lisolet (Qiwi's mom) is killed in rather gruesome (or serene, your mileage may vary) scene.]]
** [[spoiler:A work crew is seemingly cooked alive as soon as [=OnOff=] enters its 'On' state. Qiwi remarks, "I should have been there."]]
** [[spoiler:Not to mention the fact that, every so often, she learns the horrible truth about her situation- particularly the scene where she stumbles upon a recording of Thomas Nau enjoying torturing her mother to death- just to have her mind wiped. Again and again and again.]]
** So many other things.
* TheChessmaster:
** In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', Pham Nuwen and Tomas Nau.
** In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', Flenser. (Probably The Woodcarver, too; Flenser was her student originally.)
** In ''Children of the Sky'', Vendacious reprises his role and pulls a DragonAscendant between books to have a go at a bit of the old game.
* ChronicBackstabbingDisorder: Just about all significant villains engage in treachery and double-dealing, but the most prominent example is [[spoiler: Vendacious]]. ''You're kind of a record setter for treason aren't you...'', indeed.
* ConsummateLiar:
** Tomas Nau.
** The old Flenser once was this, noting, that his previous self could have convinced a fish to swim right into his mouth, but during the story he's no longer able to maintain his facade consistently, thanks to Tyrathect's influence. [[spoiler: After his new personality settles in, he manages to convince Vendacious - who is another example of this trope, by the way - into letting him participate in the latter's top secret operation (just to disrupt them), and convinces one of Woodcarver's key underlings to return him the remaining fragment of Steel, while faking his death. That despite old Flenser's ChronicBackstabbingDisorder being well-known to everyone. Good thing that his HeelFaceTurn was genuine.]]
* TheCuckoolanderWasRight: In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', there's a galaxy-spanning {{Usenet}}-like network where various aliens discuss the crisis, from a number of different perspectives. One particular alien, "Twirlip of the Mists", is talking through several layers of auto-translation software on an extremely low-bandwidth connection, so most of what it says sounds rather bizarre. It's pretty much all exactly right, though, including such apparent nonsense as "hexapodia is the key insight" [[spoiler:since the Skroderiders have six ''wheels'' and are in fact the sleeper agents of the Blight that Twirlip was speculating about.]]
* CrazyPrepared: Pham Nuwen in ''A Deepness in the Sky''. For centuries he has been collecting the most advanced technologies from around the galaxy for his own personal arsenal of tricks. He put secrets into the standard design and equipment of Queng Ho ships that nobody else knows about, and which have layers of innocuous disguises.
* DarkestHour: All three books have them.
** In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' it's the [[spoiler:total extermination of Sjandra Kei, with Ravna helplessly watch aboard the ''Oobii''.]]
** In ''A Deepness in the Sky'' it's [[spoiler:the collision and canceling out of Pham Newen's and Sherkaner's [[BatmanGambit Batman Gambits]], which results in the destruction of Sherkaner's home, and ultimately (?) Sherkaner himself.]]
** In ''Children of the Sky'' it's [[spoiler:when Amdi is tossed, member by member, from Vendacious' airship, in full view of Ravna and Jef. Only several chapters later is it revealed that it wasn't Amdi that was defenestrated, but ''Vendacious.'']]
* DeceptiveDisciple: Flenser was Woodcarver's offspring/creation and most brilliant disciple, until [[EvilutionaryBiologist the nature of his experiments]] was revealed. Some characters [[spoiler: including Flenser!Tyrathect]] even call out Woodcarver for creating such a monster and then just letting him go.
* DownerEnding: If you read both ''A Fire Upon The Deep'' and ''A Deepness in the Sky'', [[spoiler:you realize that at the end of ''A Deepness in the Sky'', Pham Nuwen points his fleet towards the unthinking depths of the galaxy, where (most likely) everyone dies in a futile attempt to learn the wonders of the galaxy -- which happen to lie in the opposite direction. Pham Nuwen gets reassembled thirty thousand years later.]]
* DramaticIrony: The end of ''A Deepness in the Sky''. ''Such'' dramatic irony. [[spoiler:Pham has stumbled onto the secret of the galaxy's construction, except he has it ''backwards''. Oops.]]
* EarthShatteringKaboom: Wars in Beyond are fought with antimatter bombs and relativistic-speed kinetic projectiles, so these do happen.
** "She knew about antimatter bombs and relativistic kinetic energy slugs. From a distance such weapons were bright spots of light, sometimes an orchestrated flickering. Or closer, a world-wrecker would glow incandescent across the curve of a planet, splashing the globe itself like a drop of water, but slow, slow."
* EldritchAbomination: The Straumli Perversion from ''A Fire Upon the Deep''
* EmperorScientist: Woodcarver is a benevolent version, his/her former disciple [[NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast Flenser]] is a malevolent one.
* EnforcedTechnologyLevels: Within the lower Zones.
* EnigmaticEmpoweringEntity: Old One from ''A Fire Upon the Deep''
* EvilutionaryBiologist: Flenser, sort of. The science on his world isn't nearly advanced enough to provide knowledge of genetics, but unique [[HiveMind physiology]] of his [[StarfishAliens race]] and complete lack of anything resembling morals or empathy allowed him to get really, uh, creative with literally constructing his subjects to his specifications.
* FantasticRacism: Both of the main villains in ''The Children of the Sky'' are racist [[spoiler: towards each other's respective races. This, curiously, does not stop them from cooperating.]]
* FateWorseThanDeath: Being controlled by the Blight (see AndIMustScream above).
** Becoming Focused is only better than being turned into the Blight's appendage insofar as you are at least no longer ''capable'' of understanding the horror of your situation.
* FauxAffablyEvil: Tomas Nau and particularly Flenser. In fact, master villains can be distinguished by ability to be charming and polite up to the moment ColdBloodedTorture starts, and maybe even after, while inferior underlings and pretenders have trouble hiding their true nature.
* FightingFromTheInside: A rare villainous example. Flenser struggles to suppress personality traits of [[ShrinkingViolet Tyrathect]] and take complete control over their HiveMind. [[spoiler:He fails without realizing it, but gaining a conscience proves to be not a bad thing after all.]]
* TheFundamentalist: The Honored Pedure.
* GambitPileup: In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', [[spoiler:Sherkaner Underhill and Pham Nuwen accidentally steamroller each other with their simultaneous [[BatmanGambit Batman Gambits]], giving Nau an opening to execute his own {{plan}} and nearly kill them all. He fails, but at the ''possible'' cost of Sherkaner and his wife's life, as well as many of his friends and staffers.]]
* GiantSpider: ''A Deepness in the Sky'' features a whole race of them, and they LOVE humans. (Specifically, they think humans are absolutely adorable. Our big, googly eyes remind them of their own children.)
* GoodIsNotDumb: Woodcarver, Ravna Bergsndot, Sherkaner Underhill... in fact, good damn well should not be dumb to prevail in this universe.
* HaveYouToldAnyoneElse: In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', when [[spoiler:Scriber discovers a weak point in Woodcarver's security and points it out to her intelligence chief -- who turns out to be the double agent who created and makes use of the weak point]].
* HeelFaceTurn: [[spoiler: Flenser!Tyrathect - there was quite a room for doubt about his sincerity, to be honest, but so far it sticks. Similarly, Steel, or at least his remaining part]]. A number of lower-caste Emergents might count, although they weren't really evil (rather than brainwashed and manipulated) to begin with.
* HiddenInPlainSight: Both Zone books.
* HiveMind: A whole species consisting of micro-[[HiveMind Hive Minds]] in ''A Fire Upon the Deep''. The Tropical Choir in ''The Children of the Sky'' is an enormous, but very scatterbrained example.
* HoistByHisOwnPetard: The villains of the series all get one, despite all being GenreSavvy.
** In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', [[spoiler:the Blight gets hoisted on a ''galactic'' scale by Countermeasure with the help of two Straumers, whose clumsy conspiracy it had written off as beneath its notice. Moreover, this only becomes possible because the Blight decides to murder the Old One just in case, when the latter was about to let it mind its own business. Lord Steel's army is defeated despite its vastly superior weaponry, because he had grown excessively reliant on intelligence from Vendacious, who got caught and was forced to lead Steel into a trap; then he is done in by Flenser!Tyrathect, whom he considered wholly inferior and safe to use, due to containing merely 1/3rd of former Flenser]].
** In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', [[spoiler:Tomas Nau is done in by Qiwi, remembering for one final time her mother's rape and murder]].
** In ''Children of the Sky'', [[spoiler:Vendacious is defenestrated from his own airship by those he tortured and used most mercilessly - Mr. Radio and Amdi]].
* HowDoIShotWeb: Pham in ''A Deepness in the Sky''.
* HumanPopsicle: Used by the Qeng Ho in ''A Deepness in the Sky'', so they can survive the several ''century'' long voyages on their ramscoop ships.
* HumansAreSpecial: Averted. Humans are not special at all. Well, except Pham Nuwen, who is so awesome [[spoiler: that a PhysicalGod who was as above normal sapients, as they are above fish, admitted to not being able to invent a personality like his.]]
** [[spoiler: it wasn't that Old One couldn't have invented Pham, Old One had to ''tone him down'' in order to use him.]]
* HumansThroughAlienEyes: A large part of ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' is dedicated to this. Even though the human refugees ran into probably the most brilliant and scientific-minded Tines on the planet, the latter had serious problems figuring how these "alien creatures" tick.
* InfantImmortality: Averted.
* InsignificantLittleBluePlanet: ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' and to a lesser extent its prequel.
* InternetBackdraft: {{Invoked|Trope}} in ''A Fire Upon the Deep''. On the interstellar equivalent of the Internet, humanity itself becomes a topic that causes backdraft after they get blamed for waking the Great Old One/AI.
* ItsAllAboutMe: The true core of Emergents' ruling caste approach to life, as explained by Tomas Nau, but relentless, single-minded selfishness is probably the most defining trait of Vinge's villains in general.
* KillEmAll: Entire star systems at a time
* LaserGuidedAmnesia: Very guided. In both Zone of Thought books.
* MacrossMissileMassacre: Seems to be the favorite form of combat in Beyond, from handguns that fire seemingly endless amounts of guided missiles, to swarms of jump-capable smart missiles in starship battles.
* ManipulativeBastard: Tomas Nau.
* MindControl: Both Zones of Thought books
* MoralityPet: There were hints in ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' that [[spoiler: Flenser-Tyrathect develops parental feelings towards Amdiranifani by the end]], the sequel confirms it.
* NeverFoundTheBody: [[spoiler: Sherkaner Underhill and his wife]] in ''A Deepness in the Sky''.
* NoodleIncident: Pham Nuwen is a living, unusually bleak example of this trope, after his [[spoiler:failed voyage to the Unthinking Depths.]] In addition, there are many references to his single-handedly ending a civilization-ending pogrom in a matriachal civilization (Strentmannian) with a single warship. Exactly how he accomplishes this is never explained, other then dark innuendo about atrocities committed.
* NukeEm: How the mad governance of Tarelsk tries to deal with Qeng Ho fleet. It fails, but kills billions in the process.
* ObfuscatingStupidity: Pham Nuwen
* OldMaster: Pham Nuwen in ''A Deepness in the Sky''.
* PerfectlyCromulentWord: Sees passing use in ''A Fire Upon the Deep''
* PhysicalGod: Any Power from ''A Fire Upon the Deep''. "Applied Theology" is one of the most important scientific disciplines in the Beyond.
* ProperlyParanoid. In ''A Deepness In The Sky'': [[spoiler:Being worried that aliens are are getting to you through the internet isn't ''usually'' a good sign of mental health.]]
* PuppyDogEyes:
** In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', there is a race of beautiful butterfly-people with huge shining eyes. [[spoiler:They're genocidal fascists.]]
** In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', [[spoiler:this is how humans look to the {{Giant Spider}}s]], and they think it's unspeakably cute. [[spoiler:The humans resemble baby Spiders, who only have two eyes. When they mature, most of their carapace becomes one large visual sensor. Even very hard-bitten, cynical Spiders were hard-pressed to resist that effect.]]
* RagnarokProofing: The Spiders have to learn some of this to progress their civilization on a homeworld orbiting the On-Off star.
* ReallySevenHundredYearsOld
** In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', the effects of relativity, advanced medicine and prosthetics allows people to live hundreds or thousands of years. Pham Nuwen, constantly travelling, is possibly the oldest of the Qeng Ho, living hundreds of years from his perspective and much, much longer from most other reference frames. That, and he shows up in ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' - [[TimeAbyss over thirty thousand years later]].
** ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' plays this straight with humans and many species of aliens (in fact, failure to uphold this trope on a low-tech world becomes a major plot point in the sequel), but inverts with [[PhysicalGod Powers]], which rarely exist for more than ten years, before losing interest in maintaining contact or changing irrecognizably.
** The HiveMind nature of the Tines means that an individual can incorporate new members as old ones die off, maintaining a continuous consciousness for many times the lifespan of an individual. Although it's not given how long a member would live, Woodcarver is over 600 years old and has seen glaciers advance and retreat over his/her lifetime. It eventually extracts a terrible price, though, as the only way to maintain one's identity after enough years is inbreeding within one's own members.
* RenaissanceMan: Woodcarver excels in several form of fine arts and basically invented the scientific approach, revolutionizing much of Tines' culture. On top of that he/she is a competent politician and military leader, and apparently was a BadAss warrior in his/her younger days. Pham Nuwen is a legendary trader, space navigator and politician, is very good at Slow Zone-level programming, and is as BadAss as they come, particularly when not undermined by advanced age.
* RockBeatsLaser: Massively averted in ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', where one civilian with a high-tech sidearm nearly wipes out a whole regiment of troops with medieval weapons and is only killed when natives use a primitive flamethrower.
* SealedEvilInACan: In ''A Fire Upon the Deep'', the Blight/Straumli Perversion is a program inside a multi-billion year old archive, let loose by unwitting archaeologists.
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: Ultimately, despite all the suffering and sacrifices, closer to the idealistic end of the scale.
* SpaceOpera: ''A Fire Upon the Deep'' in particular has a large scale.
* StarfishAliens: At least one species in each book, with extensively thought-out biology and culture. Still weirder beings are hinted at in ''A Fire Upon the Deep''. In a partial subversion of the common use of this trope, despite extreme differences in physical makeup, all encountered races can understand each other and coexist. Only hyperintelligent Powers are truly different, and even they are only hyperintelligent, not truly transcendent and ineffable.
* StayingAlive: [[spoiler: It is unclear whether The Blight retained some self-awareness, even after being submerged into the Slow Zone, or just cooked up complicated programs for its fleet right before that, but said fleet is certainly alive and still intending to nuke the Countermeasure, alongside with the Tines' world, as soon as it gets there.]] Which might be far sooner than anyone's worst predictions.
* SufficientlyAdvancedAlien: Everyone in the Transcend.
* TheSlowPath: In ''A Deepness in the Sky'', Thomas Nau spends no time in hibernation, so he ages faster than everyone else.
* TapOnTheHead: Completely averted in ''The Children of the Sky''. The blow that knocks out [[spoiler: Ravna]] is treated completely realistically, with various debilitating aftereffects until she gets advanced medical treatment.
* TooDumbToLive: [[spoiler: Scriber.]] He dodges this trope at the very beginning, thanks to sheer luck, but it catches up with him the next time he tries to be useful. Played for tragedy, instead of humor [[spoiler: particularly as without his well-intentioned but poorly-thought-out actions all the good guys would have been ultimately doomed. Either time.]]
* TranslationConvention: The spider sections of ''A Deepness in the Sky'' are written by human researchers, using this.
* {{Troll}}: [[spoiler: Flenser-Tyrathect]] apparently channels his residual sadistic impulses by getting a rise out of people. He picks underlings with similar inclinations too.
* {{Unobtanium}}: The cavorite.
* VillainWithGoodPublicity: Tomas Nau, the villain of ''A Deepness in the Sky''.
* TheVirus: The Blight. It can overtake whole civilizations at lightning speed, by infecting and assimilating their computer systems. It also can overtake living beings and turn them into its meat puppets. Normally, this takes High Beyond technology, but in the Low Beyond, it custom-created a race billions of years ago that can be instantly subverted at any distance - [[spoiler: the Skroderiders.]]
* WellIntentionedExtremist: Pham Nuwen, Woodcarver. [[spoiler: Both eventually drop the "extremist" part.]]
* WetwareCPU / TheMadnessPlace: Focus in ''A Deepness in the Sky''.
* WhamLine: Several in the books. A couple examples:
** In ''A Deepness in the Sky'': "It's all messed up now". [[spoiler:When Sherkaner, half-blind and in shock, realizes that he and Pham Newen's GambitPileup have canceled one other out, costing the lives of almost all his assistants, staffers, and family.]]
** In ''Children of the Sky'', [[spoiler:"They're Rider larvae, Jef," revealing Tycoon's "cuttlefish" as Skroderider larvae. Very shortly thereafter, she realizes that ''Greenstalk'' is among the adult Skroderiders in the colony, making it a double WhamLine. Oddly, this changes the ''plot'' not at all, save for one key thing: keeping Ravna and Jef out of Vendacious' claws.]]
* YourApprovalFillsMeWithShame: Pham is one of [[BigBad Tomas Nau's]] role-models.
* ZeroGSpot: The problem of obtaining leverage during zero-g sex is mentioned in ''A Deepness In The Sky''; also, one of the protagonists in ''A Fire Upon The Deep'' thinks that zero-g sex isn't what it's cracked up to be (again largely due to the difficulties of obtaining leverage safely).

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