Vinge published his first short story, "Bookworm, Run!", in 1965 in Analog Science Fiction, then edited by John W. Campbell. He was then a moderately prolific contributor to SF magazines in the 1960s and early 1970s, including adapting two of his stories into a short novel, Grimm's World (1969), and publishing a second novel, The Witling (1975).
Vinge came to prominence in 1981 with his novella "True Names", which is one of the earliest stories to present a fully fleshed-out concept of cyberspace, which would later be central to stories by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and others (and particularly to the cyberpunk genre).
His next two novels, The Peace War (1984) and Marooned in Realtime (1986), concern the impact of a technology which can create impenetrable force fields called "Bobbles" (with other properties which aren't revealed here as they are spoilers for the former book). These books built Vinge's reputation as an author who would explore his scientifictional ideas to their logical conclusions and in novel and particularly inventive ways. He was nominated for the Hugo Award for both books, but in each case lost to novels by William Gibson and Orson Scott Card.
These two novels and "True Names" also emphasized Vinge's interest in the technological singularity. "True Names" takes place in a world on the cusp of the singularity. The Peace War shows a world in which the singularity has been postponed by the Bobbles, while Marooned in Realtime follows a small group of people who have managed to miss the singularity which otherwise encompassed Earth.
Vinge finally won the Hugo Award with his 1992 novel, A Fire Upon the Deep. In it, Vinge postulates that the galaxy is divided up into "zones of thought", in which the further one moves from the center of the galaxy, the higher the level of technology one can achieve. Earth is in "The Slow Zone", in which the speed of light cannot be achieved, but neither can the singularity. Thus Vinge could write a classic space opera despite his belief that the technology required for such stories would push us past the singularity. Fire includes a large number of additional ideas making for an unusually complex and rich universe and story.
A Deepness in the Sky (1999) was a prequel to Fire, following competing groups of humans in The Slow Zone as they struggle over who has the rights to exploit a technologically emerging alien culture. Deepness also won a Hugo Award.
His ex-wife Joan D. Vinge is also an accomplished science fiction author.
Uncollected Short Fiction