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Rainbows End (2007)

Rainbows End (2007)

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3.74 of 5 Votes: 5
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0812536363 (ISBN13: 9780812536362)
tor science fiction

About book Rainbows End (2007)

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far). Rainbows End won the Locus Sci-Fi (as well as the Hugo) in 2007. I first heard about it on the Accelerating Future blog where Vinge is somewhat revered.When I started my Locus quest I made this my second port of call (after Accelerando) because it sounded like my cup of tea. I think I would have enjoyed the book which came second that year ( Glasshouse) more.I wanted to like Rainbows End . I really did try to like it. I thought for the first half of the book that I might just actually end up liking it. But I didn’t. What frustrates me most about Rainbows End is that I’m not even certain why we didn’t gel.The world building is top-notch – plausible and convincing, thoroughly detailed, interesting and original, memorable, etc – all qualities I normally laud.I know it can’t be just because the protagonist is a grating grouch. I’ll admit that I spent most my read hoping he’d fall down an open manhole, but I’ve enjoyed other books with even less likeable leads (Donaldson - Thomas Covenant?).And it’s not that the protagonist was old – I’m not ageist – I love a good silver-haired sleuth! (King - Insomnia?)Could it be that the plot sort of fizzled and drifted into a faux-thriller mystery with a bunny? Maybe.Or that the supporting cast are utterly forgettable? Perhaps.Was it because the story lacks anything close to a true emotional hook? Could be.None of these factors on their own would be enough to put me off a book, but all of them together stopped me from enjoying the wonderful ideas that kicked this book off. The only reason I can’t outright 1-star the book is that I’m not sure it’s entirely Rainbows End ’s fault. Have you ever had that feeling, when you take an instant dislike to somebody? It’s out of character and you’re probably just having a bad day, but you can’t shake your first impression that this guy is a thoroughbred douche? And you feel bad for being so judgemental, so you end-up being nicer to this douche than you probably should be? Yeah. This is like that.I think my favorite idea here (and it's one that completely irrelevant to the plot) is the notion of fiction inspired augmented reality overlays of real locations. Minus the tech-speak - that means glasses which make all of London look like Ankh-Morpork, or turn Windsor Castle into Hogwarts, etc. So the grouchy old poet - that was an image my mind could run with!I've since read The Snow Queen by Vernor's ex-wife, Joan Vinge. I didn't get along with that either. Ah well... my search for a good sci-fi author beginning with V goes on... now where did I put that Verne omnibus..?After this I read: Anathem

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.

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When I think of 'science fiction', Isaac Asimov comes to mind; perhaps a rather fossilised idea, but because of at least one or two that I had tried to read of Asimov many many years ago, I never delved into scifi much more than that. Seemed too technical. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, on the other hand, I really enjoyed: a portrayal of how the human species becomes adapted to the world that it's in. So Vinge was an out-of-the-blue read that expanded my re-introduction of the scifi genre.The words played like a movie in my head. I wonder when the blockbuster might be made?

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.

I made it about 2/3 of the way through this book before giving up in sheer exhaustion. With a lot of sci-fi books, there's an initial period of exposition and world-building that lasts for a hundred pages or so, and I slogged though, thinking that it would be easier going a little further on. I started to despair around page 200, however, when the complexity of the plot and the technological shenanigans seemed to be increasing geometrically.Around page 235 I realized I didn't have a freaking clue what was going on. Within a few pages the reader is introduced to s'nice and got-a-runs and tweezer bots and xoroshows and megamunches and salsipueds and a Greater Scooch-a-mout and a Lesser Scooch-a-mout and ionipods and a shima-ping and fweks and liba-loos and I GET IT THE FUTURE IS A BEWILDERING FUCKING PLACE AND PLEASE JUST KILL ME.There's a lot of fascinating technological extrapolation here (which is why I give it 3 stars) but I honestly can't recommend this to anyone except hardcore hard sci-fi fans who have a great interest in virtual/augmented reality. Clunky prose combined with a very complex plot and a ridiculous amount of technological jargon make it nigh unreadable.
—Robert Kroese

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