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Friday, June 08, 2007

cover of Rainbows End

In a future world where most people wear clothes embedded with computers embedded and use contact lens as a display that overlays the real world with all kinds of other visions and interpretations of reality, the elderly-- many, miraculously cured from debilitating diseases-- must struggle to adapt to the new technology; one such is Robert Gu, a former poet who has been brought back from the haze of Alzheimers. At the same time, an Indo-European intelligence consortium has happened on a dangerous experiment with mind-control using engineered diseases and media. The connection between these two different plots comes in the form of the mysterious creature known only as Rabbit, working on behalf of the Indo-Europeans to gain access to a biolab, and making use of a wide range of alliances of others, including Gu, his granddaughter, and others.

At first glance, the spy/intelligence plot and the newly restored elderly trying to make sense of a changed world don't seem like they belong in the same book, but it works-- and this is probably because of the compelling character of Rabbit. He only appears virtually, always in some kind of rabbity avatar-- sometimes an engraved one out of Lewis Carroll, once as Bugs Bunny (which the children clearly don't get). It's hinted (but never definitely said) that Rabbit is probably a newly developed A.I., playful and testing out his abilities. Rabbit himself suggests that his genius and ability to make miracles happen is a matter of making connections, bringing the right people together.

The writing is wonderful-- particularly the description of Robert Gu coming out of the murky, dim haze of Alzheimers. At first he thinks his granddaughter Miri is his little sister Cora, until his mind clears and he remembers his sister is dead. In his life before, Gu was a prize-winning poet-- but not a very nice man. As he recovers, he finds himself fascinated by technology (which he disdained before), and discovers that his gift, the music of poetry, is gone. It was wonderful to watch his development as a character, and his connections with other characters, particularly Miri, and the beloved wife he drove away before (and who he thinks is dead).

One of the other plot-threads that I loved was the Librareome project-- a mass-digitization of library books by shredding them with a device that looks and sounds like a wood-chipper. This is brilliant and hilarious (particularly to me, since we're starting a mass-digitization project at work), and gives Vinge the opportunity to imagine a "virtual library," where the space is decked out in all the latest technologies, with floors dedicated to different belief circles, like that of the Knights Guardian and Librarian Militant.

The title is the name of the nursing home where Robert lived when he was sick, and where his ex-wife now lives. At one point, Robert reflects on the name:

He'd never been able to decide if that spelling was the work of an everyday illiterate or someone who really understood the place.
This is brilliant! How one little bit of punctuation changes meaning. The last chapter before the epilogue is called "The Missing Apostrophe," and this is when Robert finds out that his wife, Lena, is still alive.

I've been meaning to read something by Vernor Vinge for a while because I've been hearing good things about his books. I came across this fairly recent one and saw that it was a Hugo nominee, so I decided to try it out-- and I was not disappointed.

Title:Rainbows End
Author:Vernor Vinge
Date published:2006
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:364
Notes:Hugo nominee, Locus award winner


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