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Sunday, November 18, 2012
Reading List: Rainbows End
- Vinge, Vernor.
New York: Tor Books, 2006.
As I have remarked upon several occasions, I read very little contemporary
science fiction, apart from works by authors I trust to deliver thoughtful
and entertaining yarns. This novel is an excellent example of why.
Vernor Vinge is a former professor of mathematics, a pioneer in envisioning
the advent and consequences of a
and serial winner of the most prestigious awards for science
fiction. This book won the 2007
for best novel.
And therein lies my problem with much of present-day science fiction.
The fans (the Hugo is awarded based on a vote of members of the
World Science Fiction Society) loved it, but I consider it entirely
devoid of merit. Now authors, or at least those who view their
profession as a business, are well advised to write what the
audience wants to read, and evidently this work met that criterion,
but it didn't work for me—in fact, I found it tedious slogging
to the end, hoping it would get better or that some brilliant
plot twist would redeem all the ennui of getting there. Nope: didn't
Interestingly, while this book won the Hugo, it wasn't even nominated for
which is chosen by professional writers, not the fans. I guess the writers
are closer to my stick-in-the-mud preferences than the more edgy fans.
This is a story set in a 21st century society on the threshold of a technological
singularity. Robert Gu, a celebrated poet felled by Alzheimer's disease, has
been cured by exponentially advancing medical technology, but now he finds
himself in a world radically different from the one in which his cognition faded
out. He has to reconcile himself with his extended and complicated family,
many of whom he treated horridly, and confront the fact that while his
recovery from dementia has been complete, he seems to have lost the talent
of looking at the world from an oblique angle that made his poetry compelling.
Further, in a world of ubiquitous computing, haptic interfaces, augmented
reality, and forms of social interaction that seemingly come and go from moment
to moment, he is but a baby among the plugged-in children with whom he shares
a classroom as he attempts to come up to speed.
Then, a whole bunch of stuff happens which is completely absurd,
involving a mischievous rabbit which may be an autonomous artificial
intelligence, a library building that pulls up its columns and walks,
shadowy intelligence agencies, a technology which might be the key to
large-scale mind control, battles between people committed to
world-views which might be likened to an apocalyptic yet trivial
conflict between My Little Pony and SpongeBob, and a “Homeland
Security” agency willing to use tactical nukes on its own
homeland. (Well, I suppose, the last isn't so far fetched….)
My citation of the title above is correct—I did not omit an
The final chapter of the novel is titled “The Missing Apostrophe”.
Think about it: you can read it either way.
Finally, it ends. And so, thankfully, does this review.
I have no problem with augmented reality and the emergence of artificial intelligence.
Daemon (August 2010)
Freedom™ (January 2011)
limn a future far more engaging and immeasurably less silly than
that of the present work. Nor does a zany view of the singularity
put me off in the least: Charles Stross's
Singularity Sky (February 2011)
is such a masterpiece
of the genre that I was reproached by some readers for having
committed the sin of spoilers because I couldn't restrain myself
from citing some of its many delights. This can be done well, but in
my opinion it isn't here.