Rainbows End

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Rainbows End  
First edition cover
First edition cover
Author Vernor Vinge
Cover artist Stephan Martinière
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Tor Books
Publication date 16 May 2006
Media type print (hardcover & paperback)
Pages 368 pp. (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-312-85684-9 (first edition, hardback)

Rainbows End is a 2006 science fiction novel by Vernor Vinge. It was awarded the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The book is set in San Diego in 2025, in a variation of the fictional world Vinge explored in his 2002 Hugo-winning novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High" and 2004's "Synthetic Serendipity". Vinge has tentative plans for a sequel, picking up some of the loose threads left at the end of the novel.

The many technological advances depicted in the novel suggest that the world is undergoing ever-increasing change, perhaps destined for a technological singularity, a recurring subject in Vinge's writing (both fiction and non-fiction).

"Your hack was noticed. Back when I was young, you could have got a patent off it. Nowadays—"
"Nowadays, it should be worth a decent grade in a high-school class."


[edit] Plot summary

The novel introduces us to Robert Gu, a man slowly recovering from Alzheimer's disease thanks to advances in medical technology. As his faculties return, Robert (who always has been slightly technophobic) must adapt to a very different world, where almost every object is networked and mediated-reality technology is commonplace. Robert, formerly a world-renowned poet but with a notoriously mean-spirited personality, must also learn how to change and how to rebuild relationships with his estranged family. At the same time, Robert and his granddaughter Miri are drawn into a complex plot involving a traitorous intelligence officer, an intellect of frightening (and possibly superhuman) competence hiding behind an avatar of an anthropomorphic rabbit, and ominous new mind control technology with profound implications.

As in Vinge's other work, the concept of security in such an increasingly digital/virtual world is a major theme of the novel. It examines the implications of rapid technological change that empowers both the disgruntled individuals who would threaten to disrupt society and those that would seek to stop them, and the implications for the age-old "who watches the watchers" issue. Although 9/11 is only mentioned once, having been supplanted in the minds of the characters by more recent history, its overall impact is unmistakable; Bob Gu muses offhandedly, "Chicago was more than a decade past. There hadn't been a successful nuclear attack on the U.S. or any of the treaty organization countries in more than five years."

[edit] Belief Circles and Augmented Reality

In the novel augmented reality is dominant, with humans interacting with virtual overlays of reality almost all of the time. This is accomplished by wearing smart clothing and contact lenses that can overlay and replace what the eye would normally see with computer graphics. In addition, haptic feedback is possible by overlaying graphics onto a physical machine such as a robot. This augmentation of reality is used for a variety of purposes:

  • Commercial (large gaming areas sell gaming environments mixed with haptics)
  • Functional (maintenance workers, for example, have access to a blueprint or schematic of practically any location or object in their responsibility area)
  • Communication (characters in the novel use live video chat and can send "silent messages", an action known as "sming", through their Heads-up Displays built into the contact lenses)
  • Medical (doctors have access to a patient's vital signs)

There are characters who choose not to "wear" these virtual overlays, instead using laptops, considered relics in the novel. A user's skill in managing and producing augmented reality manifests itself in the details of the augmentation. For example, a character might project himself into a different room, but the shadows cast by this apparition, or the collision between the character and the furniture in the room might give away the apparition.

There are many realities to choose from in the novel; however, the largest and more robust of them are built by large user bases in the manner of a wiki or Second Life. The confederation of users that contribute to the virtual world is called a belief circle. Several belief circles are presented in the novel, including worlds based on authors such as H. P. Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, and the fictional Jerzy Hacek. Also mentioned are worlds based on the artwork of M.C. Escher, and fictional entertainment companies such as SpielbergRowling (presumably a manager of the merged fictional universes of Steven Spielberg and JK Rowling). The Egan Soccer set piece can also be seen as a type of subscribed Belief Circle.

[edit] Trivia

  • Rather than the traditional book dedication to a person or group of people, Vinge dedicates the novel: "To the Internet-based cognitive tools that are changing our lives — Wikipedia, Google, and the others of their kind, now and in the future"
  • In "Fast Times", Miri Gu's father and grandfather were called Bill and William. In Rainbows End, they are changed to Bob and Robert, perhaps so that Miri's parents have the names of the cryptographic personalities, Alice and Bob. Eve is also present.
  • Vinge makes several references to works of other science fiction authors, such as Robert watching kids playing virtual "Egan Soccer", similar to Quantum Soccer from Greg Egan's short story "Border Guards".
    • Vinge makes a passing reference to his own 1992 novel, A Fire Upon the Deep: "Who heard of Tines anymore, or the Zones of Thought?"
    • Vinge also refers to "True Names": "That is science fiction! There was even a movie—"

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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