Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

June 2, 2006 at 12:00 am | Posted in 3 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | 2 Comments

I feel a little bad giving this book only three stars. Vinge has become a much better writer since he became famous (within the genre, at least) for Fire Upon the Deep. Unfortunately, where his previous two books were hugely fun space opera romps, Rainbows End is a decent but occasionally plodding story with an overcomplicated plot and undercomplicated characters. Vinge has never been a master of characterization, but in his Zones of Thought books that wasn’t a big problem since the plot and world were so engaging. In Rainbows End, Vinge is more interested in touring his ideas about the future than making sure the story functions properly, so the plot never really adds up to anything half as impressive as Vinge is capable of. Meanwhile, the tour itself seems woefully incomplete. For someone who has always thought big in his fiction, Vinge is strangely parochial here, confining almost all the narrative to San Diego State University and the nearby community. Those familiar with Vinge’s biography will know that he taught there for many years, and indeed this is the only real reason for its extremely prominent presence in the book.

Nevertheless, there are surprisingly few near-future science fiction novels these days so Rainbows End will likely be fairly influential, and in truth it does have a few moments of real poetry (the aside about the title, for example) and humor (the PDF). If you are interested in what life will look like with ubiquitous computing, you could do a lot worse. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t more.


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  1. I felt the same way–that he could have done better with the plot and characters. His ideas on near future technology were interesting enough that they got me through the story.

  2. Another comment: I often tell people about this book, and the concept of “wearing”. It’s a cool idea.

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