Sophia's Reviews > Rainbows End

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
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's review
Feb 25, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: own, sff, 2007
Recommended for: Fans of cyberpunk
Read in August, 2007

I loved Gibson's Neuromancer and I liked Stephenson's Snow Crash , and this is basically the same thing for the current generation except it leans a little more towards the techno-thriller side, like Michael Crichton if he were actually a good writer and knew more about his subject than what he'd just dug up via research. Vinge is a mathematician and computer scientist, so his vision of 2025 rings a helluva lot more true than many others.

The major drawbacks to this book are a lopsided plot (the kind that starts off big and then the author seems to realize they've bitten off more than they can chew) and broadly-drawn characters (though he earns back major points for the fact that only two of them are white, and none of the major characters are). Those are literary complaints; from a SF worldbuilding POV it's entirely satisfactory.

Robert Gu, genius poet, wakes up from a decade of Alzheimer's to find himself restored to the peak of youth in a world gone completely digital. This allows Vinge to explain a lot of things to us via Robert, but because the story is intercut with a number of POVs he also does my favorite kind of speculative writing, forcing the reader to understand everything in context.

The speculation is really rather brilliant. Most people "wear" -- their computers are literally embedded in their clothing and their monitors are contact lenses. This allows them to both compute through body movements instead of keyboards (though a keyboard interface is available for older people) and to view the world exactly as they want...or as various corporations and public entities want. Cameras are everywhere, both for the benefit of the consumer and the government, and everything from forklifts to buildings depend on the link between physical reality and the wireless network to function.

The tech-spec is perfect, but I'm even fonder of the social ramifications. Robert Gu gets stuck in vocational high school to catch up, but he's not the only "retread"; older people who have simply slowed down have to do the same, even those who were brilliant and successful in their earlier career. Children are the masters of technology, and the adults in the book rely on them. Best of all, "belief circles" are fandom all growed up -- they fight for the right to theme public buildings, engage in massive-scale RPG-style interaction, and even create their own characters and storylines (for fractions of pennies which are automatically sent to the copyright-holders, be still my fair-use-loving heart!)

The plot is, as noted, kind of a mess, and the book whimpers to a close, but getting there was fantastic. This also feels like the kind of SF that's normative, not just predictive, and I'd be curious to hear industry takes on some of the tech.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Kris From the SF POV, we don't hold books up to "literary" standards like well constructed plots and insightfully drawn characters?


Sophia I think the word I'm missing after "SF" is probably "worldbuilding."

message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Fair enough! :)

(BTW Looking back on my comment I realize it comes off more gruffly than I actually felt.)

Sophia Oh, don't worry -- I'm glad you got me to clarify. I guess I see some extra, ineffable elements in a SF book in addition to the foundations of plot and character, which is probably true for lots of genre books (mysteries, crime, etc.) and explains why we'll read books that aren't great technically but have a catchy hook that keeps us reading.

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