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Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Vernor Vinge

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,471903,765 (3.55)81
Title:Rainbows End
Authors:Vernor Vinge
Info:Tor Science Fiction (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages

Work details

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (2006)

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Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
A science fiction novel more about what technology might be like than about people, so not really my thing. The technology ideas were pretty interesting, though not mind blowing. ( )
  JanetNoRules | Sep 17, 2018 |
Well, this was great scifi. It was focussed on a not very likeable, but very real character, and a completely informationally connected world. I enjoyed that it focussed so much on where and how information flowed, and the implications of VR. Lots of fun! ( )
  _rixx_ | Aug 30, 2018 |
This is a near-future 'wired world' conspiracy theory story with some unusual and clever aspects. Written in 2005-6 and set in 2025, the protagonist, Robert Gu, emerges from the half-world of Alzheimer's via a new biotech cure to find his world, naturally, completely changed. Meanwhile, an international group of intelligence operatives are trying to infiltrate a plot to release a bio-engineered nanovirus into the world to influence populations remotely (read: MacGuffin), not knowing that the plot is lead by one of their number. These two plots come together through the protagonist and his family (though be warned, this is definitely not a 'happy families' situation; some of the situations as Gu begins to reinstate his place in the world are reflective of the sort of problems Alzheimer's sufferers experience on their way down that path. It is only reasonable to imagine that if a part-way successful treatment were to be found, restorees might experience similar issues on their way back up).

From where I'm sitting, just over half-way between the writing and the events of the novel, there are many aspects of this book which look remarkably prescient. Technology has jumped the smartphone stage and gone directly to wearable tech. Everywhere is wired; (nearly) everything is visible. There is a lot of augmented reality and automatous and semi-automatous tech; in one scene, a character walks across a busy freeway in the dark, and the automatous cars automatically avoid him, parting to miss him as though he were moving through water. Robert Gu is sent back to school to learn how to use the tech, alongside other Alzheimer's recoverees and high school kids. The clash of cultures can be quite creative at times, and in showing us this Vinge has some effective scenes.

Some of Vinge's takes on technology are worth noting. He has spotted that there is a blank spot in the Internet's coverage of things. There's a period in Web coverage of events between, roughly, 1948 and 1998, where subjects that aren't immediately "sexy" haven't been picked up. I'd spotted this myself - I'm trying to research a British writer of novels and later books on engineering between the 1950s and the late 1970s, and it is almost impossible to find anything out about him. His books went out of print; he stopped writing before web publishing became A Thing; his publishers have ceased to exist and the company that inherited their backlists have no records from that time because they were all "dead" accounts and so there was no need to input them to current systems. The key events, especially in "hot" subjects, have all been recorded, but a minor Dark Age now exists for those forty years. Vinge has spotted this; it forms the basis of his characters' opposition to a plan to destructively digitise all the world's books.

This group of counter-plotters, who are manipulated by the AI employed by the intelligence agents, are all Alzheimer's recoverees, but the process is far from perfect, with a success rate of 50% at best, and with an effectiveness drop-off that can be quite steep. Robert Gu is one of the rare cases where recovery is better than 90%. Obviously, the treatment cannot restore any recollection of the years when the illness ruled the patient's life; our protagonist was an acclaimed writer and poet, and he spends a lot of the book worrying over whether he can get his ability with words back.

Ironically, the book name-checks Terry Pratchett as still being writing in 2025; publication pre-dated the announcement of Pratchett's own early-onset Alzheimer's by a year.

Yet at the same time, all technology has to be approved by the Department of Homeland Security and (theoretically at least) the State has total surveillance in the name of "freedom" and "security". The intelligence operatives manage to avoid this; ordinary citizens cannot.

Vinge's own writing is a bit hit-and-miss; the process by which Robert Gu emerges from the fog of dementia is quite effective, and throughout the novel the occasional turn of phrase made me smile. Yet there were sections which I found to be hard work. Given that Robert Gu is supposed to be a poet, this ratcheted the irony up another couple of notches.

Overall, then, a creditable attempt to depict some of the issues of the wired world which works quite well on a technical level, but sometimes has surprising faults in the artistic department. ( )
  RobertDay | Aug 10, 2018 |
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 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vinge, Vernorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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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