This is the third Vernor Vinge book I've read, and it had some things in common with the first two: A Deepness in the Sky
and A Fire Upon the Deep
. For starters: all 3 books won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. In addition: the all feature protagonists that aren't very easy to love (for me, at least) but who transition believably into somewhat realistic heroes by the end. They also feature lots of innovative science fiction ideas that are integral to the plot and generally dark universes.
But there are some differences too, and for me they are all negative for Rainbows End. Both A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep involved richly imagined alien cultures and a huge, sweeping background for the action (those two novels share a common setting). Rainbows End, by contrast, is a near-future sci-fi book set entirely on earth. There are lots of interesting ideas, but near-future sci-fi is a pretty crowded field these days, and none of them really stood out to me.
Deepness in the Sky and Fire Upon the Deep are also long books that--at times--feel long. Rainbows End, on the other hand, was just an average book that felt long. The climaxes of Deepness in the Sky and Fire Upon the Deep were richly rewarding and action-packed. I really didn't know what was going to happen (at least not all of it) and I felt like the stakes were incredibly high. In Rainbows End I knew more or less exactly what was going to happen and the only surprises were when things failed to happen: the most important plot-arcs in the book were left tangling. A super-villain tries to take out the world... and escapes unscathed. No one even really knows who he is. Nothing has changed. A man embarks on an odyssey of self reinvention and finds his estranged wife and tries to rekindle a relationship, but it's all confined to an inconclusive epitaph.
In short: there are a lot of ideas in Rainbows End, but none of them are new. There's rejuvenating health treatment. Done. Someone is more-or-less brought back to life from a past era. Been there. Modern technology separates the young generations from the old, and traditionally valuable skills are worthless. Seen that. Computers are ultra-portable, wearable, and you can use them to augment reality. :Yawn: It's true that Vinge adds a little bit to each of these old standards, but never in a groundbreaking or interesting way: either for the technology or the story.
At the end of the day Vinge still contributes some of his best talent--which is his ability to imbue characters in fantastic settings with genuine humanity--and that made the book readable. It's not a bad book. It's just not a very good one either.