Vernor Vinge wrote a pair of novels called 'A Fire Upon The Deep?' and 'A Deepness In The Sky?' set in the same universe. Being pig-ignorant about these books, i coined the term Vinges Deep to describe the universe in which they are set (slow zones and all that malarkey). At some point, some kind and knowledgeable soul will write something about it here; we could even just move some of Tanaqui's jottings from Vernor Vinge. Oh, and if there is a more official name for Vinges Deep, don't hesitate to use it. -- TA
The universe of A Fire Upon The Deep? and A Deepness In The Sky? is specifcially designed (by the author, although there are a couple of hints that it may have been designed within the text, too) as a hack for The Singularity.
The Singularity is the idea that there are moments of cultural change that act as cultural gates: Pass through them, and you can't go back. An example might be the progression from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural civilisation (insert Civ reference here). Once you've got agriculture, you can't go back to hunter-gathering without causing large chunks of your population to starve to death. And, the argument goes, it is impossible for hunter-gatherers to understand what agriculture is like; it lies on the other side of The Singularity.
Vinge has written some very convincing (or at least intellectually rigorous) essays based on the idea that we're ramping up to a singularity right now, particularly one based on the rise of Artificial Intelligence. This puts something of a damper on medium and far-future speculation, as you might imagine (although see Charlie Stross' Accelerando series).
Anyway, in AFUTD? and ADITS?, the galaxy is divided into various 'zones of thought'. Different levels of technology are possible in different zones. Working out from the middle, there are the Unthinking Deeps?, where it's difficult even to think; the Slow Zone?, where you can evolve, but not produce advanced tech such as AI or FTL; the Beyond, where such tech is fine and dandy; and the Transcend, where you're free to evolve into a god-like being and spend your time doing whatever it is god-like beings like to do.
Earth is supposedly in the Slow Zone?, near the border with the Beyond.
So, yes, the whole universe is constructed to allow pre- and post-singularity societies to coexist.
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