2006, Books, Fiction

Rainbows End (2006) by Vernor Vinge

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy. And so quality of the dialogue is always a surprise to me when I do. For the first few chapters, I was kind of dying. I really thought about giving up. Vinge’s is dialogue is not great, at times reminding me too much of just about the quality of a writer’s group I belonged to. But, of course, that’s not why anyone is going to read this book. And once I got over it, accepted it, I came to enjoy this novel a lot more.

The most fun aspect of this book is what Vinge got right and what he didn’t. It’s been 16 years and he nails some things – the augmented reality (think Pokemon GO), the crowd-sourcing of data, the importance of technology to more and more of our lives. But he also either guessed wrong, or we still haven’t caught up to him in some areas – wearables, for examples, are still a joke for the moment. It’s fun to think about how prescient he was in some areas and how he might still be in others.

But I do feel like some of what he is suggesting is unclear, partly because of the jargon his characters rely so much on. I am not the most tech-savvy person, but I have some knowledge of how the internet works. And I do sometimes feel as if he is hiding a blurriness of vision behind jargon. Some of the stuff about levels of connection and connectivity feels…unclear to me, partly because of this over-reliance on jargon. That might make sense from the character perspective, but it does feel like he is able to get away with being less clear about how the internet works than just about any other aspect of his future, by being unclear.

But its’ a good story, and it’s a page turner. I particularly appreciate how motley his crew is, and it feels like Vinge was ahead of the curve (at least a little bit) in terms of inclusivity of his cast of characters. Given the page-turning nature of the story, the focus on an Asian-American family, the fact that it won a Hugo, and our ability to tell a story like this with CGI, it’s incredible to me it’s not already a film or mini-series. It feels tailor-made to this era of film.

The ending is a little weird. Characters that were the focus of the story at the very beginning do not get an ending, really, and I don’t know why. Is it because he was planning a sequel? That part feels unfinished. In a better book, I might appreciate its ambiguity.

So I enjoyed the book, more than I thought when I first started reading it. I appreciate his attempts to show a truly possible future, one that is not so far out that it’s basically fantasy. And I did find myself in a rush to get to the climax. The quality of the writing isn’t where I’d like it to be, but I understand there’s usually (almost always) a trade-off in genre novels: ideas and imagination are more important than writing.


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