I am in awe of Vernor Vinge; to me, he’s a science fiction icon. I was riveted by A Fire Upon the Deep, which is still my favorite Vernor Vinge novel. A Deepness in the Sky was compelling also, as was The Peace War, although I read that quite a while ago and I don’t remember the details. Vernor Vinge has won four Hugos and was a computer science professor at San Diego State University (here’s a link to his paper on his anticipated technological singularity). His novels are often considered “hard” science fiction (based upon plausible science) and require the reader to have a decent attention span and an attention to detail. His plots are often filled with byzantine intrigue and mind-blowing aliens.
But enough about the author. Let’s talk about Rainbows End (here’s a link to an interview about that novel). Initially, I was worried about a Vernor Vinge book that was near-future. The book jacket reads “A Novel With One Foot in the Future.” Vinge excels at alien mindsets, but would he do just as well with no aliens, when the environment might be right around the corner in the next decade? I read the prologue and I was hooked.
The main character is Robert Gu, who is recovering from Alzheimer’s disease (in this future, they can cure it). Now Robert is seriously out of date with respect to everyday technology. He doesn’t even know how to use wearable interfaces, so he’s sent to remedial classes. Unfortunately, Robert is a curmudgeon and isn’t even the tiniest bit likable. He alienates his son and his daughter-in-law (both in the U.S. military), his granddaughter, his previous wife (who doesn’t even want Robert to know she’s still alive), his classmates, his partner for his school project — you name someone, Robert’s pissed them off. Robert, however, thinks he’s capable enough to participate in a conspiracy involving the saving of a nearby library, but he’s really just becoming a pawn for “the Rabbit” and other shadowy characters. Yup, the conspiracies thicken and twist… just what I love. I was riveted again.
Even though I’d recommend this book to any and all, I do have a complaint with the ending. It didn’t feel satisfying enough and at first, I couldn’t put my finger upon the rankling issue. There were plenty of concluding character arcs but for some reason, I was particularly bothered about what happens to the two young protagonists (Robert’s granddaughter and his project partner) at the end. Oh, well. These are Vinge’s characters, and he can do what he wants with them. I can only hope that he intends to write a sequel…