Trying to remember the name of a book I read in the late 90's. I think that it was actually one of a series, but I never read more than the one.

One of the main elements of the book is that an AI became more powerful the longer it was operating because it could send problems back to the time it was turned on and use that time to solve the problem.

This was central to the book because the hero(s) were trying to find a "throne" and "mantle". The throne was actually an AI that had been up and running for 100s (maybe 1000s) of years and the mantle was a neural input device.

Edit to Add: There were spheres/orbs associated with the throne (situated above it, I think) that housed the actual computation units for the AI.

There was one more element that I remember, but I'm not 100% sure if it was this book or if I'm mixing things up. But I THINK the book also had the idea that physics was not constant throughout the universe. So, a ship would have multiple drives attached that would work in several physics domains.

  • It's unfortunate, I've read this exact book (AIs that work better the longer they're on because they can send calculations to their past selves, ships needing multiple drives because of different physics zones) but can't remember the name either.
    – JAB
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 18:24

2 Answers 2


Found it

StarShield: Sentinel

The AI run on Temporal Fold Processor which can send problems back through time to solve. TFPs work by using a quantum black hole

The mantle is The Mantle of Kendis-dai- also an alternate title for the book.

The only hope to stem the tide of rebellion was an ancient artifact: the Mantle of Kendis-dai.

the orbs - I could not find text about them, but you can see them in the cover art.

variable physics - According to the Wikipedia article:

The backstory of Starshield involved the concept of "quantum weather", which posits that the physical laws of the Starshield universe are not universal, and can change in certain locations and conditions. In the Starshield universe, there exists a multitude of different regions with loosely fixed borders where the physical laws are completely different.

Other relevant questions here, here, here

Found by trudging through lists of sci-fi books published in the 90's and stumbling on the phrase variable physics. It was the second link in that search.


This sounds like A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, the first of his Zones of Thought novels. The titular "zones" are the different regions where the laws of physics differ. There are artificial (and maybe natural) intelligences that grow in power rapidly, so rapidly that they evolve into something else altogether within a reasonably short span of time.

Per Wikipedia:

The novel is set in various locations in the Milky Way. The galaxy is divided into four concentric volumes called the "Zones of Thought"; it is not clear to the novel's characters whether this is a natural phenomenon or an artificially-produced one, but it seems to roughly correspond with galactic-scale stellar density and a Beyond region is mentioned in the Sculptor Galaxy as well. The Zones reflect fundamental differences in basic physical laws, and one of the main consequences is their effect on intelligence, both biological and artificial. Artificial intelligence and automation is most directly affected, in that advanced hardware and software from the Beyond or the Transcend will work less and less well as a ship "descends" towards the Unthinking Depths. But even biological intelligence is affected to a lesser degree.

And the plot summary:

An expedition from Straumli Realm, an ambitious young human civilization in the high Beyond, investigates a five-billion-year-old data archive in the low Transcend that offers the possibility of unimaginable riches. The expedition's facility, High Lab, is gradually compromised by a dormant superintelligence within the archive later known as the Blight. However, shortly before the Blight's final "flowering", two self-aware entities created similarly to the Blight plot to aid the humans before the Blight can escape.

Recognizing the danger of what they have awakened, the researchers at High Lab attempt to flee in two ships, one carrying all the adults and the second carrying all the children in "coldsleep boxes". Suspicious, the Blight discovers that the first ship contains a data storage device in its cargo manifest; assuming it contains information that could harm it, the Blight destroys the ship. The second ship escapes. The Blight assumes that it is no threat, but later realizes that it is actually carrying away a "countermeasure" against it.

The ship lands on a distant planet with a medieval-level civilization of dog-like creatures, dubbed "Tines", who live in packs as group minds. Upon landing, however, the two surviving adults are ambushed and killed by Tine fanatics known as Flenserists, in whose realm they have landed. The Flenserists capture a young boy named Jefri Olsndot and his wounded sister, Johanna. While Jefri is taken deeper into Flenserist territory, Johanna is rescued by Tine pilgrims who witnessed the ambush and deliver her to a neighboring kingdom ruled by a Tine named Woodcarver. The Flenserists tell Jefri that Johanna had been killed by Woodcarver and exploit him in order to develop advanced technology (such as cannon and radio communication), while Johanna and the knowledge stored in her "dataset" device help Woodcarver rapidly develop in turn.

A distress signal from the sleeper ship eventually reaches "Relay", a major node in the galactic communications network. A benign transcendent entity named "Old One" contacts Relay, seeking information about the Blight and the humans who released it, and reconstitutes a human man named Pham Nuwen from an old wreck to act as its agent, using his doubt of his own memory's veracity to bend him to the Old One's will. Ravna Bergsndot, the only human Relay employee, traces the sleeper ship's signal to the Tines world and persuades her employer to investigate what the human ship took from High Lab, contracting the merchant vessel Out of Band II, owned by two sentient plant Skroderiders, Blueshell and Greenstalk, to transport them.

Before the mission is launched, the Blight attacks Relay and concurrently kills Old One. As Old One dies, it downloads what information it can into Pham to defeat the Blight, and Pham, Ravna and the Skroderiders barely escape Relay's destruction in the Out of Band II.

The Blight expands, taking over races and "rewriting" their people to become its agents, murdering several other Powers, and seizing other archives in the Beyond, looking for what was taken. It finally realizes where the danger truly lies and sends a hastily assembled fleet in pursuit of the Out of Band II.

  • 2
    That might match the last 2 sentences, which may not even be part of the book, but the first part doesn't match the description of either the Blight or the Old One.
    – DavidW
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 1:37
  • "an AI became more powerful the longer it was operating" sure sounds like it matches.
    – Buzz
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 1:39
  • 5
    Well, granted, but that's a standard pattern for AI. Sending problems back in time isn't a match. The "throne" or "mantle" doesn't fit either, and neither does the 100s or 1000s of years timescale.
    – DavidW
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 1:50
  • 1
    No, that's not it - though it looks like something I should read sometime. Gotta love a Vallejo cover art, if nothing else. The idea of send problems back in time and the quest to consult the mantle were very central to the book - at least as I remember it.
    – mhhollomon
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 10:41

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