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Fast Times at Fairmont High
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Book Discussions > Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge

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This is the place to discuss our chosen February, 2014, Science Fiction Novella:


Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge Fast Times at Fairmont High by Vernor Vinge

Winner of the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Novella.

It's currently available in The Hard SF Renaissance anthology or The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge.


message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments Will read this today/ tomorrow and then join in the discussions. I have dipped into A fire upon a Deep but not really read any Vinge before.

I am struggling getting into gear with reading at the moment after some health stuff so short novellas are ideal for me at the moment.


Andreas | 677 comments I read this yesterday on my long intercontinental flight. I'm not far away from the setting in San Diego which brings an additional flavour to the story :)

The novella is main protagonist's Juan's coming-of-age story - he has to get free from Bertie's influence in several ways: from the drugs and from being used as a "doormat" (in Miriam's wording).

It won the Hugo Award in 2002 and seems to be a kind of a test-balloon, because Vinge evolved it to the 2007 novel Rainbows End: San Diego in the year 2025, former Alzheimer patient Robert Gu recovering from his illness, his niece Miriam in the highschool Fairmont High, their top-military parents. And all the lovely gadgets which I find to be a very valid near future projection of what we have.

Some might not like the short-story like open-end, others might have difficulty with the geekness of the gadget's descriptions. But you'll find no one with a better background for writing this novella than former San Diego computer science professor Vernor Vinge who is really in his element here.

Very convincing and recommended!

I read the novella in the huge anthology The Hard SF Renaissance which includes excellent introductions and great works from the 90s - for example the excellent Beggars in Spain (My Review)

Full review here!


message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments I like your comments Andreas - there is certainly plenty to discuss with this book. I am about half way through it at the moment.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Andreas wrote: "I read this yesterday on my long intercontinental flight...."

Welcome to our time zone. Going to Sea World?

A few of my own thoughts on Vernor Vinge, the author. He's certainly one of the more influential science fiction writers, if not as prolific as others. I first encountered him with True Names (1980), originally published as one of those Ace Doubles. It's the seminal story of "cyberspace", popularized the term, and ushered in the cyberpunk subgenre. For those in the pre-WWW computer biz, it was very "wow". (It's also conspicuously not included in The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge.)

His other "like, wow" book is A Fire Upon the Deep (1993), which creates a universe divided into "zones of thought" based on proximity to the Galactic Center, approaching the Singularity far out. It also has an fascinating alien race, the Tines, who have collective distributed intelligence (the more members of the pack, the smarter the pack is.) (It also uses intergalactic communication in the format of the then cutting-edge UseNet message groups, which seemed incredibly cool at the time, at least at @parties, but now looks dated. So it goes.)

Anyway, Vinge has been on the cutting edge of cyberspace, cyberpunk, and Singularity sci-fi for a couple of decades. He also writes nonfiction on the same subject.

I guess I should add Rainbows End to my to-read list.


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 12, 2014 09:34AM) (new)

The Technological World of Fairmont (whenever)

Vinge's cyberpunk is most notable for envisioning the near- to mid-future. A good part of the story is establishing a futuristic technological environment.

Reading "Fast Times at Fairmont High" today, this novella is at an interesting technological midway checkpoint. The story was written in 2001, a dozen years ago, and although I don't think it specified a precise date, based on the "[Grandfather] had been an illegal back in the 1980s," somewhere in the 2020s wouldn't be a bad estimate for a 15-year-old. (Did anyone catch a specific date?)

So reading it now, we're halfway to the future it predicted?

In some areas, Vinge hasn't done badly. "Wearable computing" is starting to emerge from the laboratories. Augmented reality, most popularly embodied today as Google Glass, is just getting started.

In "Fast Times at Fairmont High", augmented reality is becoming the new reality. Buildings, interior and exterior, book however their owners decide to define them in cyberspace, although it's still possible for people to switch off the augmentation and see the squalid reality of buildings,... or people. (And also some interesting tidbits of access control, such as only family can make the walls of a home seem transparent.) You can even give the VR a touch if you have gaming attachments.

Vinge seems pretty much on track with this prediction. (Whether Google Glass will actually become popular is still an open question, but Vinge has another decade to go.)

IR and UV vision seem pretty natural additions.

All this is predicated on ubiquitous wireless Internet access. In 2001 Wi-Fi access for laptops, was relatively new; Vinge has simply extrapolated higher speed and popularity. In Fairmont, there are still areas where wireless Internet isn't available, such as the park the story visits. (Apparently the park itself, and the reason the story visits it, is to provide a peaceful, isolated, non-augmented and undisturbed natural environment. There seem to be very cheap, throwaway Wi-Fi extenders available, though they aren't allowed in the park because they inevitably become litter... the plastic water bottles of cyberspace.)

I'll give Vinge 75% on this. Wireless access (through telephones) is a bit more widespread than he imagined with his short-range Wi-Fi, but there are still plenty of wilderness areas — at least out here — where even telephones don't reach.

Vinge doesn't seem to have imagined the current plethora of publicly accessible Wi-Fi access, though. Everyone seems to carry their own private local Wi-Fi around. (Leaving, for example, 247 loose disposable access nodes on the lawn of Fairmont High after an in-person assembly.)

People can attend classes (and apparently go to work) "virtually", sending only a VR avatar while remaining home (or elsewhere).

And I really like the MREBs (Meal Ready-to-Eat with Battery) for quick, hot snack. :) As with the disposable wireless access nodes, the future doesn't seem very concerned about toxic waste.

Vinge's cyber future is encouragingly optimistic, a stark contrast to the cyberpunk dystopia more popular with Stephenson and Gibson. The latter always seem to create a bleak future of decay, shortages, poverty, crime and general ugliness. "Fast Times at Fairmont High" suggests a prosperous world of relative plenty — at least in San Diego.

Andreas, are going to scout out Torrey Pines Park for us while you're there? Look for mice.


message 7: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Rowe (benwickens) | 429 comments Although it is fun to hold sf books up on their "predictions" I do not really feel that's what SF does. It is not trying to predict THE future but rather projecting A future.

I seem to be going very much through a soft sf/ weird phase at the moment rather than the hard SF of this work so I didnt find it grabbed me in the heart as much as some other stuff I read and I wasnt as interested as i sometimes am in the head stuff going on.

I liked it enough though that I will check out more by Vinge although will probably wait until I am in a more receptive mood.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Ben wrote: "Although it is fun to hold sf books up on their "predictions" I do not really feel that's what SF does. It is not trying to predict THE future but rather projecting A future...."

I don't disagree with that, though as you say it is fun to do the comparison. Especially within a sub-class of sci-fi I think of as extrapolative: imagining the next few decades without any huge new events (no aliens or time travel or zombie plagues :) Other examples are many of the stories by Nancy Kress in the biotech field and Charles Stross in cyber developments, where authors look at possible ("a future") developments in new technologies and there social consequences.


Andreas | 677 comments G33z3r wrote: "Andreas, are going to scout out Torrey Pines Park for us while you're there? Look for mice. "

Sorry, I didn't make it :)
I'm already back in good old and cold Germany.
But yesterday, I was in some huge $1 book shop in Long Beach. You have to understand that there is no such beast in Germany at all. I went in to deprive them of their complete SF&F shelves. But alas, there was only one large rack - our genre doesn't seem to be that popular. I got away with only four hardcovers.
But you can't imagine my luck: I grabbed the hardcover The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge!

And his introduction to our monthly novella is as follows:
"[It] is intended as a fairly conservative look at our near future. I hope to build it out to novel length eventually."

Exactly: That would be Rainbows End.


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