by Vernor Vinge
I thought A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky were fascinating books: Vinge is able to write quite convincingly about non-humanoid aliens, not just as ideas, but as characters. In the Realtime books, bobble technology had me hooked. I searched for his earlier books Tatja Grimm’s World and The Witling in used bookstores, and wasn’t disappointed when I finally found them. Vinge is one of my favorite science fiction authors, so I was ready to love this book.
I tried, but I couldn’t love it. It didn’t (despite early signs that it might) pull off the expansive drama of the Deep books. I didn’t find Epiphany-level technology nearly as entrancing as bobbles. Even worse, by the end I felt as though there were enough truck-sized plot holes either Vinge was planning for a sequel or just stopped caring.
It is harder to create believable, absorbing near-future realities than it is to invent distant worlds in the far future. I think so, since you’ve got to get past the uncanny alley effect, not to mention the risk of seeming more obviously wrong. So the benefit of that doubt carried me through hundreds of pages. That, and knowing Vinge is a great science fiction writer, noted computer scientist, and worth listening to when it comes to where technology is headed. In other words, I finished the book, but didn’t find any magic in it. It isn’t that I disagreed with the likely “heavenly minefield” of soon-to-be modern medicine, or couldn’t believe in ubiquitous connectivity, wearable computers, and reality-as-mashup. The great reach and grand foolishness of both intelligence services and the entertainment industry also weren’t difficult to swallow. The real surprise was that, despite my best efforts, I just didn’t care. Not even with the the whole kid/grandkid angle. Nope.
It pains me to say so, but I don’t recommend Rainbow’s End. If you are a Vinge fan and a completist, you are going to read it anyway. If you are obsessed with possible near-future visions of the internet, it is worth reading. But if you’ve simply heard about Vinge and wonder what the fuss is all about, read another one of his book. Pick anything, just don’t start here.