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Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Vernor Vinge

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2,341902,687 (3.55)63
Title:Rainbows End
Authors:Vernor Vinge
Info:Tor Books (2007), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
Tags:Main, Fiction

Work details

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (2006)

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Showing 1-5 of 86 (next | show all)
Meh. This novel has virtues and flaws that are typical of Vinge.

Chief among the flaws is that there are too many characters. They’re hard to keep track of. Also, Vinge indulges in a fascination with technology to the extent that the plot is overshadowed. Yes, this is a standard hazard with science fiction, but for precisely that reason a professional SF writer should be on guard for it. These first two problems create a third: the pacing suffers.

The virtues I’ll get to later, but other things first.

The setting. In the future, everything is wired. You can see in the dark because the world is littered with cameras that are beaming out IR and UV and routing what they see to your wearable computer, which routes the info to your computerized contact lenses. You can see through walls in the same way. You can walk heedlessly into traffic on a busy superhighway with no danger, because every car is computer-controlled, and they, with superhuman speed, alter their paths around you. You can dance in realtime with people on the other side of the planet. Etc.

This is all very cool... if one doesn’t think about the Orwellian aspects: the government knows everything you’re doing all the time. Indeed, it’s illegal to have any IT that lacks a Department of Homeland Security monitoring/ controlling chip.

Biotech and nanotech are also very advanced, which takes us to...

The plot. As the book opens, someone - no one knows who - has invented biotechnology that lets them manipulate other people’s beliefs and behavior, as in, “We’ll rearrange their neural structures to make them believe anything we tell them.” That ain’t good.

A union of intelligence agencies in Europe and Asia traces this tech to a lab at the University of California’s San Diego campus. They want to infiltrate the lab to learn who developed this tech and, more importantly, destroy it. However, to avoid conflict - this is espionage by foreign powers on US soil - they plan to work through a cutout.

The cutout is Rabbit, a virtual presence who takes the form of, well, guess. They don’t know who Rabbit really is; they don’t even know if it’s a person, a business organization, a government actor, a consortium of several such entities, or what. All they know is that “he” has a good record of past computer thefts, pranks, etc., and he’s never been caught.

Rabbit doesn’t really know what he’s helping them to acquire, and two of the three intelligence operatives don’t either - they’re all being manipulated by the third one. The third one, a director of a European intelligence operation, wants to acquire the new tech instead of destroy it.

There is a separate set of people who live near the U. Cal. San Diego campus who are manipulated into acting as the on-scene hands of the infiltration operation. This set of people is too large to conveniently describe. They all have different desires, and are promised different things by the espionage consortium, to elicit their cooperation. This is where Vinge’s lack of self-discipline with the number of characters really hurts. I’ll spare you.

After a lot of slow development that makes it a chore to read, everything comes to a head one night on the U. Cal. San Diego campus. The espionage group executes a raid on the biolab. The group has arranged for a riot to occur that night to distract campus security and cause general chaos to provide cover for the raid.

The riot takes the form of a clash between two groups of fiction fans contending (mostly non-violently) over the fate of the campus library. The library’s fate is uncertain because all its printed material is being transferred to digital formats; there is conflict over what to do with the ’brary after the transition is complete.

There is a cool scene during the riot, in which the active stabilization hydraulics that are used to earthquake-proof the library are taken over by some hacker. They use it to make the library get up and walk. This is absurd, obviously, but it’s a cool image. Here is a photo of the UCSD campus library, described accurately by Vinge, and yeah, it would be cool to see that thing striding around, looking like an alien explorer-bot freestylin’ around on Earth until the Mother Ship lands to take it back.

In the end the attempt to acquire the bad biotech is defeated and the tech is mostly destroyed. A little of it is preserved inside the brains of lab mice, some of whom escape into the wild during the riot, but as far as we know that never leads anywhere. (20 years later: “I feel compelled to provide cheese to random mice. Why am I doing this?”)

The novel does have some virtues, to wit:
• A few cool scenes like the library walking.
• The rioting fictional groups, Skootchies and Hacekians. They take their costumes from various works of fiction, mostly in the form of fanciful beasts, warriors, aliens, monsters, etc.
• Rabbit is an amusing character, who perhaps should have been given more "screen time," but... at the end we are still unaware of what it actually is! I think this is because the two most interesting possibilities, AI and ETs, have been used by Vinge before. In True Names, he first hinted that a mysterious hacker was an alien, before revealing that it was actually (human-created) AI. So there's an interesting pair of possibilities, both of which Vinge had already used, and he didn’t want to repeat himself. So what does he do? He refuses to solve the riddle! Gah! Vinge!

In the end, essentially nothing in this fictional world has changed. People have some fun memories of creative rioting and a walking library, but otherwise everything is pretty much as it was before.

This defies one of the principal desiderata of the novel as a literary form: that a situation and/or a character change so that in the end, the world, or at least the protagonist’s personal world, is different. Even in the “save the world from blowing up” genre, it should not be that the only thing that happens is that the world is in peril but then is saved. The hero/heroine should have learned something, or achieved something personal, along the way. Or the world should be at a new equilibrium, as in, “Double-Oh-Seven, the world has now had three narrowly-averted disasters involving ketchup, guitar strings, and snowboards, and this last one was the worst of all. This has caused us to establish a multinational Ketchup, Guitar String, and Snowboard Task Force, such that this peril will never threaten the world again! We’re safe!” In other words, the planet is in a new, better situation compared to the start of the novel.

So at the end of Rainbows End, we’re right where we started. Yeah, we saw some cool implications of a thoroughly-wired world along the way, but... that’s not really enough. ( )
  TFleet | Jul 9, 2017 |
Totally foreshadows Pokemon Go! Also: what, no sequel? ( )
  Jon_Hansen | Apr 2, 2017 |
April 2016 - rereading it again.

I've read a few other books by Vernor Vinge, and I didn't care for them. But this book is one that I read over and over again.
And I learn something new each time. For example, I recently noticed the presence of characters named Alice, Bob and Eve. These names are also used in articles about quantum cryptology, where the scientist sets up a hypothetical situation where Alice sends a message to Bob and Eve tries to intercept it. It won't be much longer, though, before this story set in the near future becomes outdated. I'll probably keep rereading it anyway, because the characters appeal to me so much. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
I admittedly haven't read much Vernor Vinge, but I know some of his books have won several Hugo Awards, including this one. But whenever I read him, I just don't enjoy his books. Admittedly, Vinge is an idea guy. He comes up with big ideas, world building stuff that can fascinate and allow the reader to explore new concepts and realms of being. But not in this book. In this book, the setting is just a few years in our future here on Earth and it's not a big concept world he creates. It's a little too plausible. A former "great" and famous poet from our current era (now) pretty much dies of Alzheimer's and is revived by his family roughly 10-15 years in the future. He has no clue what is and has happened. He discovers the world has changed and everyone uses wearable computers and are jacked into a worldwide network (Internet) and there is no demand for any type of former skills the elderly had. Indeed, the only careers I can recall people having in this book are kids and old people going to vocational tech high schools and normally aged adults joining the military. There's not much else. There are people who are about to be former librarians, because all of the books in the world's libraries are being destroyed because they're all being digitized. So, Robert Gu, the protagonist, is sent back to this votech high school to learn some skills that will translate into a real world job, one where information is the only source of monetary income and where data exchange is the only thing that most of that future's young people care about.

One of the early things we learn about in the book is there is some secret plot to create a subliminal virus in a tv medium so it can take over the world and it is being brought about and handled by one person, one of the "good" guys, or so people are led to believe. There's also a super powerful AI named "Rabbit," who we never learn much about, but who plays a major role in the book. Speaking of never learning much about, that applies to most of the characters besides Gu, and we don't necessarily learn enough about him to care enough about what happens to him in this book. He turns from former world class poet into a data junkie with the help of a loser teenager who is always looking for a type of big score and they make an odd pair. And they collaborate on high school projects, but we never really see how. In fact, we're never really shown how much of this futuristic, yet oh so possibly real, tech is literally used. However, back to what I was saying. Gu's family is sick of him living with them, so they urge him to learn enough at high school to enable him to get a job (seriously? what type? doing what? he's taking shop!), so he can move out. Great family. Completely dysfunctional. We never learn very much about any of the characters. They're flat, they're not very important, most of the interesting ones don't even make enough appearances to allow us to get to know them. Characterization is a problem, then, in this book. So, too, the plot. I tried getting into it, but it just didn't resonate with me. This super secret horrible plot to take over the world, this international crisis, is being constructed at UC San Diego and yet, I didn't ever really get the idea that it was seriously that big of a deal. A subliminal virus? Oh wow, what a freaking nightmare! Worse than a nuclear bomb, clearly. Dear God, what will we do if it is released into the world? Oh man, who gives a shit? I just don't care. And that's a major point. In the end, what does the reader truly care about this book? Because to me, it was just not very interesting. I couldn't relate to the characters, I thought the plot was damn stupid, I thought the technology, while moderately interesting, was close enough to today's reality so that it didn't really stretch my imagination enough to actually call it sci fi. It's simply current reality, sped up by a decade. Big deal. And seniors who were successful CEOs, professors, career big shots returning to a vocational high school to learn new skills so that they can get a job in this futuristic society? That simply strikes me as stupid.

On the whole, Vinge, the idea guy who's usually full of major universe shattering ideas, does almost nothing in this book to merit placing it up against his other works and I'm shocked this won the Hugo. I'd love to know what books were his competition that year, because it must have been a lean year for sci fi books. This book could have used some help with the dialogue, with character development, with plot development, with technology development, and perhaps a few others things. As far as I'm concerned, this book was a disappointment to me and I'm giving it two stars (although it probably deserves one) and stating that I simply can't recommend it. ( )
  scottcholstad | Oct 17, 2016 |
The odd future described by this book is both depressing and hopeful. It is a world in which humans regularly retreat into virtual reality, often corresponding to their chosen ‘belief circles,’ as an interface to the real world and yet they remain curious, productive and creative. There are large ‘Big Brother’ governments but they are mostly benign. There is very little privacy and yet people seem to respect one another’s individuality. There is an ever looming threat that terrorists will use real weapons of mass destruction against civilians but people in general seem to honestly abhor violence. People group themselves into belief circles with complex mythos based on various things from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to something that sounds much like Pokemon but these seem to be viewed more as matters of taste than uncompromising religious “truths” so there remains room for compromise and agreement among their followers.
This juxtaposition of positive and negative extends to the characters. It is told from multiple points of view, primarily that of Robert Gu, once a renowned poet and a complete jerk in his personal life who is being successfully treated for several aging related illnesses including Alzheimer’s. Once he begins to regain his mind, he starts out as the SOB he used to be but he grows into far more empathetic person. The antagonist, Alfred Vaz, is attempting to develop something that sounds very much like mind control but he is doing so in an effort to protect people and create a more peaceful world and he is honestly upset when Gu’s granddaughter is endangered because of events that unfold ultimately from Gu’s efforts to stop him.
The book requires some work on the part of the reader. First of all the virtual reality aspect often makes it difficult to tell what is “real” and what isn’t. It also isn’t a simple good guy versus bad guy adventure tale. The characters are more complex than that and they grow and change through the course of the book. And there are a few loose threads left hanging, most notably who or what is “Rabbit?” But I hesitate to call these flaws. This ambiguity is part of the theme of this book and Vinge’s merging of dystopian and utopian views of the future make this an interesting and thought provoking read.
( )
1 vote DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vernor Vingeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Conger, EricNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martiniere, StephanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the Internet-based cognitive tools that are changing our lives--Wikipedia, Google, eBay, and the others of their kind, now and in the future
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The first bit of dumb luck came disguised as a public embarrassment for the European Center for Defense Against Disease.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812536363, Mass Market Paperback)

Four time Hugo Award winner Vernor Vinge has taken readers to the depths of space and into the far future in his bestselling novels A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky. Now, he has written a science-fiction thriller set in a place and time as exciting and strange as any far-future world: San Diego, California, 2025.
Robert Gu is a recovering Alzheimer's patient. The world that he remembers was much as we know it today. Now, as he regains his faculties through a cure developed during the years of his near-fatal decline, he discovers that the world has changed and so has his place in it. He was a world-renowned poet. Now he is seventy-five years old, though by a medical miracle he looks much younger, and he's starting over, for the first time unsure of his poetic gifts. Living with his son's family, he has no choice but to learn how to cope with a new information age in which the virtual and the real are a seamless continuum, layers of reality built on digital views seen by a single person or millions, depending on your choice. But the consensus reality of the digital world is available only if, like his thirteen-year-old granddaughter Miri, you know how to wear your wireless access--through nodes designed into smart clothes--and to see the digital context--through smart contact lenses.
With knowledge comes risk. When Robert begins to re-train at Fairmont High, learning with other older people what is second nature to Miri and other teens at school, he unwittingly becomes part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to use technology as a tool for world domination.
In a world where every computer chip has Homeland Security built-in, this conspiracy is something that baffles even the most sophisticated security analysts, including Robert's son and daughter-in law, two top people in the U.S. military. And even Miri, in her attempts to protect her grandfather, may be entangled in the plot.
As Robert becomes more deeply involved in conspiracy, he is shocked to learn of a radical change planned for the UCSD Geisel Library; all the books there, and worldwide, would cease to physically exist. He and his fellow re-trainees feel compelled to join protests against the change. With forces around the world converging on San Diego, both the conspiracy and the protest climax in a spectacular moment as unique and satisfying as it is unexpected. This is science fiction at its very best, by a master storyteller at his peak.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:33 -0400)

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In a near-future western civilization that is threatened by corruptive practices within its technologically advanced information networks, a recovered Alzheimer's victim and his family are caught up in a dangerous maelstrom beyond their worst imaginings.… (more)

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