65 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Tim F. Martin
- Published on Amazon.com
_Rainbows End_ by Vernor Vinge is an excellent science fiction novel by in my opinion one of the best novelists in the genre. This story is in the same setting as his earlier novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High" which he finished in August 2001 and first published in _The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge_. The central character of the novella, a young student at a San Diego high school (really a middle school), Juan Orozco, makes a reappearance in this novel, though as one of several important characters, not the chief protagonist.
The setting of the novel (and the short story for that matter) is San Diego in the year 2025, which the reader discovers is a world in which the internet connects people and places in ways not possible today. Miniaturization has advanced to such a degree that most people, all the time, have operating computers on them, embedded and weaved into otherwise normally looking clothing called wearables (if someone has on clothing with a computer in it with the capacity to go online he or she is said to be "wearing") and are able to interact with these computers and the internet via special contact lenses. When people first start mastering wearables and their associated contacts they often have to type in the air with their fingers on a phantom keyboard, made visible to the user thanks to their contacts, but as a user becomes more proficient they become able to access computer resources by much more subtle gestures, including particular facial and eye movements.
Most areas of the civilized world allow people to maintain a connection to the internet at all times via a vast array of devices embedded in buildings, on the ground, even flying through the air (though areas called deadzones exist, where either thanks to a paucity of devices or a total lack of devices either only a much reduced connection is possible or no connection of any kind can be made; these areas might be found in parts of buildings not normally visited by the public or even those who work there - such as in sewers - or in wilderness areas such as might be found in national parks).
Thanks to their wearables, contacts, and the network nodes that are readily accessible with no effort at all, most people are not only always online but always using some aspect of the internet. Access to online information and computational power is available in seconds. There is no need for cell phones, as one can connect with virtually anyone in the world in seconds. Anyone can interact and collaborate with anyone else on a shared project no matter how distant they are, whether it is a school science project or a business venture. Anyone can virtually attend a play, a sporting event, or just visit with friends, quite visible to those wearing and even able to interact with the real environment to varying degrees depending upon the user's skill and local available resources.
Perhaps even more interesting, one can choose to see one's surroundings in an online, artificial format, one created by others. Utility workers for instance can choose a viewpoint that to their eyes reveals all underground cables and pipes with words floating in the air above these structures conveying valuable information. Many buildings - though not generally private homes - can be seen through, revealing the inhabitants within.
Even more startling, entire fantasy landscapes can be seen instead of the real environment. Cities, chambers of commerce, entertainment businesses, and groups of private individuals called belief circles can construct simple or very elaborate virtual realities which overlay the real environment, visible through a user's contacts. Many different realities co-exist, the user needing only to choose the one he or she wants to view. These realities can be just better looking versions of the real world, such as a city with nicer looking buildings, better views, fuller and healthier trees, etc. or completely fantastic realms based on the works of say Tolkien, Pratchett, or even Pokemon-esque settings, the user seeing instead of a person's two story home a castle, instead of a police helicopter a dragon, etc. The fact that no one drives anymore - cars are all automatic and computer controlled - makes this a great deal safer than it may sound.
Well, enough about the setting. The story is a very good one, involving what are at first two seemingly unconnected plot threads. The first thread we are introduced to involves the security agencies of Europe and Asia, whose alert monitoring of the world's communications, mass media, advertising, and sports events discover two rather unusual anomalies, perhaps unconnected, perhaps not. Though the two events are seemingly innocuous (whether taken together or separately), the vast resources of computer power and analysts that are brought to bear on these events suggest to security personnel that someone is very subtly testing a new weapons system, perhaps a YGBM weapon (YGBM stands for You-Gotta-Believe-Me, jargon for mind control weapons). In a world nervous after decades of fighting terrorists and leery of increasingly easily available weapons of mass destruction, an investigation is quickly and quietly launched.
The other thread focuses on the life of Robert Gu, a noted poet from the late 20th and early 21st centuries who nearly succumbed to Alzheimer's but thanks to modern technology has been saved and even made seemingly younger, getting a whole new lease on life. Having to reenroll in high school (along with his granddaughter, Miri, and Juan Orozco) to learn how to live and work in today's society (along with other much older students, trying to reconnect with a world quite different from that which they were born in), Robert, Miri, Juan, Miri's parents (Bob and Alice) and others somehow manage to become involved in the covert action to find the YGBM weapon.
The two plot threads connected very well together and made for a great story. I would love to see more novels or short stories in this setting.