REVIEW: Rainbows End

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Rainbows End – Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End is a book crammed with ideas. Set only fifteen years from now, it has some ideas that might seem inconceivable at first, but when looking at the rate of progress in technology, and the rate at which our society accepts and becomes accustomed to each piece of new technology, it’s really not hard to believe Vinge’s future.

The main focus of the technologies used in the story is augmented reality, and it’s a technology I can definitely get excited about. In this story, the characters all “wear” their computers using a special shirt and contacts. Using gesture based recognition and data overlays on their contact lenses, they text message, google search, and game – the interactions are the same ones we are using with smart phones today, the only thing that’s different is the hardware, so the story is able to stay grounded in reality. Still having a heard time deciphering that? Just check out these modern day examples, or check out the following demo video (warning – this one goes a little overboard):

As kind of a side note/rant, the book never really discusses the price of the wearables and data plans, which is good because that might have been boring, but if things continue on as they do today then there’s a good chance we’ll be paying huge lump sums to carriers for the data plans. Here’s to hoping things change in that area.

Vinge does a decent job of introducing us to the tech through the character Robert Gu, who had just spent the last decade in a coma and learns about the changes in the world as we go along. Kind of a cheap trick to use him as an audience surrogate, but it works.

The actual story starts off by deliberately revealing the main antagonist’s goal and motive, which is a bit surprising. This could have been held off for a reveal later on for suspense purposes, but it adds a nice layer to the story and puts the focus more on the methods with which the antagonist arranges everything, and also on how he is being used himself.

I loved the mystery set up around the character that goes by the moniker of “Rabbit”, and how he interacts with each character to get them to the point that fits into his master plan. I was a little disappointed that Rabbit never got full closure by the end of the book, and it’s left open to interpretation as to who (or what) he is.

Towards the end of the story, there’s a huge chunk dedicated to two factions of book lovers who participate huge LARP game to decide who’s favorite author would get a floor in the library. I found that part a bit harder to get in to, but it fit into the scheme of the rest of the story, and by the end it make sense why it needs to be there.

My biggest complaint is that there are a couple of threads left dangling – hopefully setting the story up for a sequel – and I would have liked a bit more closure with a couple of the characters (okay, Rabbit).

Final Verdict: Pretty Awesome, read Rainbows End if you want a good look at a very near and very possible future.  I just hope Vinge writes a sequel for it, and soon!