Allan Dyen-Shapiro's Reviews > Rainbows End

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
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Jun 20, 13

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Read in June, 2012

Most genre fiction is character-driven. Uniquely among genres, science-fiction can be idea-driven. This book is. So, that I didn't really empathize or care about any of the characters isn't a valid criticism. Idea-driven science fiction can be brilliant (for example, most Phillip K. Dick, Crash by JG Ballard, etc).

In this book, the main plot is the attempt to investigate a use of media and neurochemicals to operate on learning/memory as a weapon of control. That would have been very cool if it was actually described. It wasn't. For all of the hard science fiction aspects of this book, I was expecting the mechanism to be the final "reveal."

Instead, the "reveal" was that the Indo-European alliance has someone within it developing this technology in secret, keeping the Japanese, Americans, etc in the dark. The politics could have been interesting--a Sino-US war was mentioned several times, but it wasn't developed. Indeed all action in the book was in San Diego aside from a few virtual actions.

The book was largely intrigue, the politicians trying to get control over the biosciences labs in San Diego. The man-on-the-ground may actually have been a sentient artificial intelligences--that aspect of the book was never resolved.

Much of the rest of the hard sci fi aspects were minor variations on tales told by others. The "just in time training" seems a simple variant that certainly goes back to Gibson's Johny Mnemonic and probably all the way to Flowers for Algernon. The mental dysfunction suffered by those who got it is also not new, although the getting stuck on a particular sort of knowledge (one character who blurted out in Chinese, another who could only think in molecular biology) was interesting. Vinge did indeed take the idea of augmented reality further than Gibson did--Gibson anticipated "Google glasses" by ten years but didn't see landscapes as made up of completely altered realities. "Time travel" and the traveler being out of step with the current reality is as old as the second Aliens movie at least; although curing Alzheimer's as a way of getting there did have some novelty.

Bottom line, the book dragged and the ideas were largely derivative. The technical aspects--especially on computer security--were sometimes interesting, but I frankly can't understand why this one was such a huge critical and commercial success.
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Bruce You hit all the points I felt about this novel. I was expecting a little more from a Nebula winner.


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