I just read A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Despite the ridiculous title, this book is really amazing. I churned through the 600 pages, forgoing much-needed sleep in my storylust. Vinge is something of a futurist who has written a somewhat over-the-top paper about computers becoming more intelligent than humans in less than 30 years. Anyway, there are themes in the book that run along those lines. In the book, the galaxy is divided into zones: the Slow Zone, the Beyond, and the Transcend. In the Slow Zone, high technology does not function – faster-than-light travel cannot occur, near-sentient computer applications don’t work, certain devices fail quickly. In the Beyond, these things work and their efficiency increases as one nears the Transcend. The Transcend is a place where races or being that have “transcended” live. Transcendents are beings that have achieved a level of intelligence far greater than anything in the Beyond.
A large part of the book takes place on a pre-tech world inhabited by group-mind creatures. Instead of having one consciousness per individual, it is a group of individuals that make up a single consciousness. Vinge comes up with a lot of interesting ideas about this. There are other non-human races that Vinge describes and they are generally pretty interesting. The characters are cool, though this is scifi so don’t expect any huge depth in that department. Anyway, the book is full of really neat stuff, and the story is fast-paced and exciting.