Vintage Treasures: Threats… and Other Promises by Vernor Vinge
Threats… and Other Promises (Baen, November 1988). Cover by E. M. Gooch
Vernor Vinge is one of our greatest modern science fiction writers. He’s widely credited with introducing the singularity into modern parlance with his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity.” He’s won the Hugo Award five times, for his novels A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, and Rainbows End, and his novellas “Fast Times at Fairmont High,” and “The Cookie Monster.”
His first short story collection True Names … and Other Dangers appeared in 1987; it was followed quickly by Threats … and Other Promises in 1988. Both were paperback originals from Baen, and both were nominated for the Locus Award for Best Collection. The latter is remember today chiefly for the novella “The Blabber,” the first story in Vinge’s celebrated Zones of Thought universe, setting for much of his most popular fiction. I first learned about it from Alan Brown’s insightful review at Tor.com, here’s the bit that grabbed my attention.
“The Blabber” describes a human colony world settled by emigrants from the American Great Lakes region. Both Earth and this new colony are located in the “Slow Zone,” a region where travel and communications are limited to the speed of light, and superhuman intelligence is impossible. Beneath this region, in the “Unthinking Depths,” even human-level intelligence is impossible… The fringes of the galaxy are the “Beyond,” where the speed of light is no longer a limiting factor, and superhuman beings and intelligences live.
In “The Blabber,” the human colony, located just within the Slow Zone, is visited by a trading expedition from the Beyond, looking to trade advanced technology for cultural artifacts from the humans. The story is a bravura effort, mixing thoughtful scientific extrapolation with wonders that would be right at home in the space opera tales of science fiction’s pulp era. Vinge found a way to escape the bounds of rigid extrapolation, but in a way that was internally consistent. There is a joy and sense of wonder in “The Blabber” that I had not seen in Vinge’s work before. So when I heard that A Fire Upon the Deep would be set in that same universe, I looked forward to it with great anticipation. Anticipation that was rewarded in abundance.
If you’re like me and you like to sample authors with short fiction first, Threats…. and Other Promises is a great place to start. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
“Apartnes” (New Worlds SF, June 1965)
“Conquest by Default” (Analog Science Fiction -> Science Fact, May 1968)
“The Whirligig of Time” (Stellar 1, 1974)
“Gemstone” (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, October 1983)
“Just Peace” by William Rupp and Vernor Vinge (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, December 1971)
“Original Sin” (Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, December 1972)
“The Blabber” (original to this collection)
Vinge’s Zones of Thought series include three of his most famous and popular novels:
1 A Fire Upon the Deep (1992)
2 A Deepness in the Sky (1999)
3 The Children of the Sky (2011)
Threats… and Other Promises was published by Baen Books in November 1988. It is 320 pages, priced at $3.50. The cover is by E. M. Gooch. It has been out of print since 1988, and there is no digital edition.
See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.
“The Blabber” is one of my favorite stories. The Sense of Wonder quotient is off the charts. Vinge hasn’t written a ton of short fiction, but the average quality is very high indeed.