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This SF novel has a very rich and complicated plot, but I remember very little of it. I read it about 20 years ago, probably in a paperback.

What I do remember is that it takes place on a planet with a very elliptical orbit, which means it spends a very long time completely frozen, and only thaws for a short time at periodic returns near perihelia. The native inhabitants, who look like huge spiders, spend long periods in cryogenic sleep and are only active during a short time per cycle (still several years by human reckoning). They are divided into "countries" who fight vicious wars each time they emerge from their cryogenic sleep.

Sometime before the next "thaw" a human expedition arrives. They have an energy source large enough not to need cryogenics even when the planet itself is deep frozen, at least long enough to wait for the "spiders" to wake up in order to interact with them.

I don't remember at all what happens next.

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2 Answers 2

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This is Vernor Vinge's 1999 novel A Deepness in the Sky, one of the works in his Zones of Thought universe. This is indeed a novel of rich world-building and plot complexity.

Salient points from the novel matching your memories:

  • What I do remember is that it takes place on a planet with a very elliptical orbit, which means it spends a very long time completely frozen, and only thaws for a short time at periodic returns near perihelia. The planet of the spiders is indeed frozen most of the time (a few Terran centuries), and thaws only for a few decades. However, this is due to the dynamics of it's so-called "On-Off" star, which is usually quiescent, but punctuated by regular bursts of stellar fusion.

  • The native inhabitants, who look like huge spiders The is very accurate recall of the story.

  • [The native inhabitants] spend long periods in cryogenic sleep and are only active during a short time per cycle (still several years by human reckoning). This is also very accurate recall of the story.

  • They are divided into "countries" who fight vicious wars each time they emerge from their cryogenic sleep. Not sure I recall "each time", but the spiders' history, civilization at time of human contact, and biology conspire to make the dangers of inter-species violence expected in many forms. There is an opposing 'nation' to that of the central PoV spider character.

  • Sometime before the next "thaw" a human expedition arrives. Yes. Members of two human civilizations, the Qeng Ho (a society defined by a parapetetic mercantile lifestyle journeying between planet-bound civilizations over the course of millennia), and the Emergents (a society fueled by a really novel form of intellectual labor exploitation), arrive at nearly the same time, and the interactions between the three forms the nucleus driving the story's plot.

  • They have an energy source large enough not to need cryogenics even when the planet itself is deep frozen, at least long enough to wait for the "spiders" to wake up in order to interact with them. Sort of. The technological development permitting spiders to remain active and awake during the freeze occurs during the story, and is facilitated by communication between humans and spiders.

Paperback cover to Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky

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    A star that goes on and off, not an elliptical orbit ! Yes, that makes sense. Two human parties, why not, that explains the "rich and complicated plot" I had forgotten... From what I read in Wikipedia, this does enough fit my memories despite some differences due to the long time elpased. Congratulations for findinfg so fast !
    – Alfred
    May 15 at 1:40
  • @Alfred The novel was, like so many of the late Mr Vinge's works, a tale that gripped my imagination. I have reread it a few times, and think about it frequently.
    – Lexible
    May 15 at 1:46
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    Yes, indeed, you first gave the link, and then edited the post with details. You win !
    – Alfred
    May 15 at 1:48
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    +1 for @Lexible
    – Andrew
    May 15 at 1:53
  • @Alfred Although the other short stories and novels in the Zones of Thought do not return to the spiders' world (that I recall), they are all worth a read. :)
    – Lexible
    May 15 at 1:57
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This is Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky - the spiders hibernate because their sun goes out for about two hundred years out of every 250 years, and the early part of the book features a Spider scientist figuring out how to wake during the cold to win the war against his nation's enemy.

Two groups of humans arrive while the Spiders are asleep and wait (and fight each other) until the sun comes back iron and the Spiders wake up.

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    Well found, and you took time to type the similarities. Lexible just gave a link, and was faster by 2 minutes. Harsh decision, which one to accept...
    – Alfred
    May 15 at 1:44
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    @Alfred Kindly note that I was editing my answer with loads of details! :) (But +1 for Andrew :)
    – Lexible
    May 15 at 1:46

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