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Rainbows End [Mass Market Paperback]

Vernor Vinge

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Book Description

April 3 2007
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.

Frequently Bought Together

Rainbows End + A Deepness in the Sky + Snow Crash
Price For All Three: CDN$ 32.05

  • A Deepness in the Sky CDN$ 9.89
  • Snow Crash CDN$ 12.27

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction; 1 edition (April 3 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812536363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812536362
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 10.7 x 17 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 358 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #133,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Set in San Diego, Calif., this hard SF novel from Hugo-winner Vinge (A Deepness in the Sky) offers dazzling computer technology but lacks dramatic tension. Circa 2025, people use high-tech contact lenses to interface with computers in their clothes. "Silent messaging" is so automatic that it feels like telepathy. Robert Gu, a talented Chinese-American poet, has missed much of this revolution due to Alzheimer's, but now the wonders of modern medicine have rehabilitated his mind. Installed in remedial classes at the local high school, he tries to adjust to this brave new world, but soon finds himself enmeshed in a somewhat quixotic plot by elderly former University of California–San Diego faculty members to protest the destruction of the university library, now rendered superfluous by the ubiquitous online databanks. Unbeknownst to Robert, he's also a pawn in a dark international conspiracy to perfect a deadly biological weapon. The true nature of the superweapon is never made entirely clear, and too much of the book feels like a textbook introduction to Vinge's near-future world. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In the near future, the European Center for Defense against Disease discovers a diabolical pseudomimivirus. Rather than set off a panic, secret agents of the EU, Japan, and India work clandestinely to uncover a conspiracy seemingly based in a San Diego lab. Former poet Robert Gu, a recovering Alzheimer's patient (one of the lucky few who took to all the treatments), returns to school just as agents Braun, Vaz, and Mitsuri put their wheels in motion. Immensely frustrated by simultaneously living with his son's family and completely reeducating himself, Gu becomes a perfect dupe for the hacker hired by the gang of spooks. Under cover of a library protest, Gu and some old friends get into the lab, trailed by one of Gu's adolescent classmates and his granddaughter. The conspiracy runs deep and has some terrifying implications on account of YGBM (you gotta believe me) technology, regardless of the conspirators' intentions. The near future is less alien here than in some of Vinge's other work, but no less fascinating and well constructed. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  153 reviews
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but not Vinge's best--and not Zones of Thought May 9 2006
By Festivus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am a big fan of Vinge's work, so I looked forward to this book with some excitement. My first impression is that Amazon is incorrect in calling this a Zones Of Thought book, as it does not seem to belong to the same universe of A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In The Sky. While the main characters are interesting, most of the plot seems exist for the sole purpose of exploring computer technology a little more than 20 years from now. Don't get me wrong, the technology and world that Vinge shows in the near future is quite interesting and real, and makes it worth reading the novel just for itself. The story is good, but not great like you can find in some of Vinge's other works. In the last third of the book he launches into a parallel story line that I think detracts from his overall narrative.

A good book, but if you are interested in Vernor Vinge and have not read his stuff, I would steer you toward A Fire Upon The Deep, A Deepness In the Sky, The Peace War, and Marooned in Realtime before you pick up this one.
125 of 156 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed Vinge Fan July 1 2006
By Russell Clothier - Published on Amazon.com
I gave it a shot.

I've never liked cyberpunk William Gibsonesque sci fi, so the jacket description of Rainbow's End didn't sound promising. But come on, I thought, this is Vernor Effin' Vinge! A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep are my all-time favorite sci fi novels: rich, complex, with lots of action and endearing, fully-realized alien cultures. Surely Vinge could find gold in the cyberhills.

Now I'm 200 pages into the book, and I've given up. Try as I might, I can't force myself to care - about the unlikable characters, their indecipherable actions, or the unpleasant world they inhabit. The last 50 pages has dealt with the main (?) character learning to use his virtual reality computer interface web browser contact lenses. Yep, it's that exciting. Around him, mysterious virtual entities do mysterious virtual things. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Who cares? There are interesting ideas, but the world and the characters are dull and off-putting.

Of the hundreds of sci-fi novels I've read, only three have provoked such apathy that I could not bring myself to finish them. That one of them was written by my hero, Vernor Vinge, is a deep disappointment.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perplexingly tedious Aug. 8 2010
By rjjoyce - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's probably worth more than 1 star (2 maybe), but I'd like to pull the average rating down to warn potential readers. I thought "A Deepness in the Sky" and "A Fire Upon the Deep" were marvelous. Great plots, interesting aliens, a good build-up of tension. It's hard to believe that "Rainbows End" is by the same author. I've nothing against Vinge trying something new, but this is just so darn BAD.

Vinge has developed a vision of our technological near-future that is reasonably interesting. People wear contacts lenses and their clothes receive and transmit information, controlled by body motions, in such a way that they can project skins onto their environment, interact with distant people as if in the same room, send their virtual avatar elsewhere, and so on. This technology has become ubiquitous in people's lives, so experiencing reality "in the raw," without virtual overlays, has become a novelty.

That's kind of interesting, I guess, and not implausible as a near-future scenario. But that's it. That's all Vinge has. The need for sympathetic characters, or an engaging story, or any kind of dramatic tension, seems to have been forgotten. Some readers seem to have gotten excited about the imaginary-but-plausible technology conjured by Vinge, but, speaking for myself, (A) exciting technology doesn't suffice for a good book, and (B) it wasn't THAT exciting. One character in the book still uses a LAPTOP (gasp!), and we are clumsily reminded endlessly of how hopelessly old-fashioned this will be in the future. (What's the point? Are we supposed to laugh at ourselves for being such lame laptop users? Be amazed at the outrageous prophesy that one day laptops will be old hat?)

This is how bad it was: I waded through it, stoically determined, until I was about 20 pages from the end. And then it just sat there gathering dust beside my bed and I actually FORGOT that I hadn't finished it. I started another book. Three or four days went by, and with a sinking heart I MADE myself finish Rainbows End (because that's the kind of person I am). And, no, it didn't redeem itself in the last 20 pages. And this won a Hugo Award?! Sheesh.
65 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story and prediction of the future of the internet May 25 2006
By 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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good. Not great. May 12 2006
By Jonathan A. Turner - Published on Amazon.com
The more you're interested in gee-whiz new technology for its own sake, the more you'll like _Rainbows End_. If you're hoping for a rip-roaring brain-expanding gripping adventure a la _A Deepness in the Sky_, you may find it less rewarding. Vinge is a first-rank writer, but here he gets a little too caught up with the gosh-wow aspects of his subject--to the detriment of his story.

Vinge, of course, is very well known for his notion of the "Technological Singularity": the hypothesis that soon technological change will be so overwhelming that we can't even imagine what will come next. _Rainbow's End_ is a brave attempt to look twenty years closer towards that cliff. It makes interesting speculation.

It's only partially successful as a tale, though, because:

1) The changes Vinge posits in society and technology are quite extensive, and he has to spend a good deal of time explaining them. He does it well, and his ideas are interesting and plausible, but it's still something of an essay instead of a narrative. The characterization, in particular, is a bit hit-or-miss.

2) I wonder whether Vinge overstates his case for the upcoming "Singularity." (The assumption that change is inevitably, monotonically accelerating is certainly arguable. Have things changed more in, say, the 80 years since 1926 than in the 80 years before that date?) I'm not sure that the Singularity *won't* happen, but I'm not sure that it *will* either. I think I'd have enjoyed the book a little more if I were.

3) Certain details of the story--e.g., the exact nature of Rabbit and of the "YGBM" McGuffin--are treated rather sketchily. Some readers will be annoyed by this; others won't care.

Still, this is a very good book. It's a likely Hugo nominee. It's interesting, it's plausible, it's exciting. The menacing aspects of all that gosh-wow new tech are shown in an understated but very effective fashion. (People in the book refer to "Chicago" the way we say "9/11". Nice touch.) The villain is an interesting character; you may even find yourself sympathizing with his point of view.

I don't think it's Vinge's best work. In twenty years, though, I might change my mind.

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