28 April 2013

Rainbows End

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
2007 Hugo Award Winner
Read by Eric Conger
Got it from: Own it
14h 46m

After medical treatments make it possible for Alzheimer patients to completely recover, Robert Gu finds himself in a pretty intensive rehab program.  He isn’t the person he used to be, and he doesn’t live in the same world either.  He was a famous poet in a world similar to ours. Now he is no one, learning how to “sming” and how to interface with computers.  It is during his rehab at Fairmont High School, that Robert becomes embroiled in a conspiracy plot to end all conspiracy plots.

Multiple realities
So there is one reality where an author has an uncanny ability to tap into the most salient features of some really complex issues.  In Rainbows End, Vinge reminds us how well he capitalizes on our most deep-rooted fears and our most lofty scientific achievements.  In beginning this book, I had figured Rainbows End for another goldmine of Vinge-y, SF goodness…but I didn’t labor under that delusion for long.

I was excited by the opening computer/chemical warfare plot.  I was reminded of the cyber-attacks on nuclear facilities in Iran going back a couple of years and I thought Vinge might have been preparing to go bigger.  I was strapping myself in for Vinge’s brand of ultra-paranoia.  It harkened to the message boards in A Fire Upon the Deep and man…I ate that stuff up.

In the first chapter, “Mr. Rabbit visits Barcelona” (Sweet title. I loved it), Vinge was poised to capitalize on how compelling and/or dangerous the convergence of several technological advancements could be in a world where anonymous access is taken to just about every extreme, and I was ready to follow him wherever he wanted to go.

Taken separately, individual elements of Vinge’s future were awe inspiring, but the other reality of Rainbows End is that as these elements come together and the story starts to drag on and on, the final product doesn’t seem equal the sum of its parts.

I almost think this is worse than having just written a story that falls flat altogether.  Vinge touches on all the right topics and sets himself up for a home run, while everyone is batting blindfolded.  Instead of just striking out, as authors do sometimes, in Rainbows End, Vinge lets go of the bat and injures some unsuspecting kid in the stands hoping to catch a foul ball.  And I think I might have been that kid, because this one left me confused.

While I admit to exclaiming audibly at the coolness of this or that bit of tech or social construction quite frequently, I didn’t much enjoy the overall story.  Tension? Not so much.  Compelling characters? Nope.  Cool world, but there was never any reason to be in it.

Consistent with my last Vinge experience, Rainbows End incorporates a plethora of themes both scientific and psychological, and fantastically so, but it also lacks a lot. Comparing the two Hugo winners that I’m familiar with, Rainbows End feels like it occupies a specific place and time in a way that A Fire Upon the Deep did not.  I don’t have much interest in re-reading this one, but I am curious how it will hold up to another ten years or so.  I might be wrong; it could be like good wine.

I actually started this review several weeks ago and before I chucked everything I had and started again, I noticed that this audiobook was only fourteen hours.  Not terribly long as far as audiobooks go, but it felt longer than some of the longest I’ve gone through so far.  I guess even though the concepts were interesting, they only had the power to captivate for so long.  Perhaps I’ll enjoy the shorter stories that Rainbows End was based on instead.


Universe 4/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 3/5
Scientific Wonders 4/5
Characters 3/5

Overall 19/25


  1. That's quite sad to hear, as I was also hoping to hear that this book would be more Vinge-y SF goodness. At least I still have A Deepness in the Sky on my list of books to read.

  2. I didn't enjoy this book either. I agree with you that it began great, but the progression of the double cross just left me bored and confused. The plight of Robert also had a lot of potential, but he was so obnoxious. I've spent my life trying to distance myself from toxic people. I didn't want to have to read about one. Sure the technology was cool, and the blur between reality and the virtual was fun at times, but not enough to redeem the characters or the story as a whole.

  3. Ditto for me. I found it very disappointing, especially after "A Fire Upon the Deep" and "Deepness in the Sky." Both are far superior efforts than "Rainbow." I did enjoy the world building and glimpse into what a true technocratic society might look like, and also found particular delight in the blur between reality and the virtual. I agree with Stephen here. The characters were juvenile and certainly evoke no connection. The novel could have been a lot more mature.

    It's not the weakest Hugo winner by a long country mile (that must go to Hominids), but both "Blindsight" and "Eifelheim" were stronger works.


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