Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sean's Take: Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge

Hai. I'm Sean. I'm normally really lazy and slack about posting reviews of what I read. I'll try to be better about it in the future (ha).

I originally introduced myself to Vernor Vinge [0] reading his space opera-tastic A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire On the Deep [1]. I found them enjoyable, mainly because his portrayal of computing technology in the far future was slightly better than "punch a few keys and photon torpedoes come out."

Fast forward a few years and I happen upon Rainbow's End, a short(ish) novel based on the universe Vinge started on in "Fast Times at Fairmont High" [2]. Grabbed a hardback from Amazon and got crackin'.

Vinge's characters haven't gotten much better over the years. They're certainly believable given the settings they live in. However, he really does like his asshole antihero protagonists who find themselves in anachronistic situations.

What's so awesome about Rainbow's End, however, is the shear idea density of this volume [3]. Each chapter has Stross-levels of current time-frame extrapolations, but they're significantly better thought out. Each piece seems logically fitted to the frame of the narrative rather than thrown-in.

This is not a book of jet-packs and FTL, however. And it's definitely not XKCD levels of "the future's pretty cool," either. The surveillance state is in full effect -- but, appropriately enough, most people rarely seem to mind [4]. More interestingly, it portrays the online world, not as a separate cyberspace a la Gibson or Stephenson, but multifaceted overlays on the real world. Characters going "off the grid" feel the same dissonance we would get in a location without, say, running water and electricity.

The palpable feel of "being left behind" by the current pace of technology is a consistent theme of the novel. Even those who would be on the forefront of technology today wind up being behind the cutting edge (see the middle-aged hacker who's still using a quaint laptop while everyone else has "smart clothing").

Bottom line: If you enjoy speculation about the near future, this is a must read.

[0] Vernor Vinge
[1] I have a serious soft spot for space opera, anyway. Blame Lucas, Roddenberry & company.
[2] Recommended if you want a quick intro to this work.
[3] *cough*
[4] This gives it an aura of legitimacy/believability to me, sad as that is.


JD said...

I've only read Marooned in Realtime by him, but I really liked it. In fact, I think I made you read it, along with several other people.

Shit. Now I can't think of this other book I read that part of your review reminded me of. Dammit. IGNORE ME I'LL JUST BE TEARING MY EYES OUT.

Sean said...

Yar, I picked up the Peace Wars and Marooned in Realtime as a result of that discussion. Both were enjoyable, but feel dated and kinda preachy (go-go anarcho-capitalism!) at times, though the ideas and extrapolation make for a fun ride.

Rainbow's End feels much more down-to-future-Earth, if that makes any sense.

Lemme know if you figure out what this reminds you of; read RE in the meantime. :-P