A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

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We start with a spaceship escaping from an evil AI. Our point of view characters on the ship are both children who don’t really know what happened, so the mystery of what the AI is and why it’s killing people can last longer. They end up landing on a planet with medieval-level technology. We then shift to the point of view of the aliens, who are truly alien.

To the humans, the aliens look like a pack of dogs, or large rats, with long necks. They’re able to use weapons and build castles despite not having opposable thumbs because a pack of four to six dogs works together as a single individual. One dog can hold a bow in its mouth while another pulls back the arrow, for example. If one of them dies, it can be replaced with another, so in a way, a single individual can live hundreds of years even if the individual wolves that make up the pack don’t live that long. Their name is a combination of the individuals in the pack plus their profession. A highly imaginative and unique alien species I’ve never come across before.

Off planet, there’s a humungous universe filled with countless civilizations and aliens, including one species of intelligent plant that rides around on an automated cart. Humans are a minor race in the wider universe. There are different levels to the universe with low-tech planets occupying The Slowness where faster-than-light travel isn’t possible. In higher levels, more advanced technology is possible. A team is sent to rescue the spaceship including a thousand-year-old human who was resurrected by a god-like being. (Ironically, my tablet started to go slow when the characters entered The Slowness.)

A fun, action-packed adventure with grand worldbuilding, unique characters, and imaginative aliens. Recommended.

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