Rainbows End

by Vernor Vinge

Paperback, 2007



Call number




Tor Science Fiction (2007), Mass Market Paperback, 400 pages


In a near-future western civilization that is threatened by corruptive practices within its technologically advanced information networks, a recovered Alzheimer's victim and his family are caught up in a dangerous maelstrom beyond their worst imaginings.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Shrike58
While Vinge is to be complimented for trying to envision what the cusp of the "singularity" (the moment a society disappears down the technological rabbit hole) looks like, I'm not sure that I'm all that thrilled with the result.

Though some folks are skeptical that Vinge's crescendo of technology
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could even take place, my main problem is a little more prosaic; plain old-fashioned characterization. Some of my cohorts simply had a hard time giving this novel a chance if they had to view the proceedings mostly through the eyes of Bob Gu, a poet and holy monster who's been given a second chance at life after almost wasting away from mental illness; to put it politely, he's a real piece of work. This is as compared to the probably too-numerous point-of-view characters who barely make it to the cardboard stage of development. I'm particularly thinking of Bob's granddaugher Miri, who I'm not sure what I was supposed to think of and who is hip-deep at the climax with the grandfather.

On further reflection I have to mark down this novel a little more, again on matters of characterization. When I dwelt further on what the character of Alice Gu was going through, with risky mental programming after risky mental programming, I had to conclude that this is both criminal and stupid. Criminal in that while there are "forlorn hopes," you cannot order a person on the equivalent of an operation which is suicidal again and again; unless said government is criminal. This is stupid in that you're building your operations around an asset that could fail at anytime, and that is just asking for trouble. Maybe Vinge will at some point enlighten us with his thoughts on these matters. It certainly begs the question of whether Alice is suicidal AND desperate; not that we're really given any clues about this in the novel.

Call this book a major missed oppertunity.

Oh yes, just because you have characters exchanging email with each other it doesn't mean I want to read stuff that looks like it came off an old daisy-wheel printer; it's why you have the miracle of italicization.
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LibraryThing member Figgles
Weirdly I was directed to this book by Jason Griffey, inspiring keynote speaker at VALA2012 and it's recap in Perth (VALA is a Library conference) . So what's Librarianship got to do with sci fi? Well the expanding world of networked information is taking my profession into a future that looks more
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and more like science fiction, and this book gives you a great idea of what that future might look like... the power of social media, and message boards amplified with wearable computing and haptics, where you can interrogate millions of minds on the internet with a gesture and see endless overlays on the external world; overlays ranging from fantasy to maintenance information. We navigate this world through the eyes of recovering Alzeheimers patient Bob Gu and with him get caught up in a conspiracy that is being run by ...whom? And yes, digitisation of the world's' knowledge is a real project, the Giesel Library building does exist, so what else from this extraordinary book is coming to pass... Fun and slightly scary.
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LibraryThing member sussabmax
I LOVED this book! I love the idea of wearable computers. When I think about how much more advanced my BlackBerry with an internet connection is, compared to what my life is like just 10 years ago, I get even more psyched about the idea of what that kind of connectivity could do for society. I also
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thought the characerization was very well done. Robert Gu's transformation from a complete jerk to a pretty nice guy was actually pretty believable, which is quite an accomplishment, especially when you consider how really terrible he was at the beginning.
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LibraryThing member AndreasJungherr
Great near future ante-singularity fiction. The book provides the reader with a possible scenario about a time shortly before the singularity. You'll find great visions of the future of information overlays, communication backchannels, wearable computers, the social consequences of regenerative
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medicine, the gaming of reality and a society ruled by superstar economics. So if you are interested in the things to come take this read.
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LibraryThing member Mint.ChocolateOcelot
The concept was good, but the story was too verbose and there was too much inside-lingo to fully get into the book. This is odd, as many cyber/postcyberpunk books have their own set of lingo, but Vinge didn't present it that well.
LibraryThing member boyboffin
worst Vinge novel I've ever read, but still had some good bits, including a (typically) exciting final third of the book. Some neat ideas weren't enough to make up for the unpleasant, and poorly drawn characters though.
LibraryThing member DLMorrese
The odd future described by this book is both depressing and hopeful. It is a world in which humans regularly retreat into virtual reality, often corresponding to their chosen ‘belief circles,’ as an interface to the real world and yet they remain curious, productive and creative. There are
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large ‘Big Brother’ governments but they are mostly benign. There is very little privacy and yet people seem to respect one another’s individuality. There is an ever looming threat that terrorists will use real weapons of mass destruction against civilians but people in general seem to honestly abhor violence. People group themselves into belief circles with complex mythos based on various things from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to something that sounds much like Pokemon but these seem to be viewed more as matters of taste than uncompromising religious “truths” so there remains room for compromise and agreement among their followers.
This juxtaposition of positive and negative extends to the characters. It is told from multiple points of view, primarily that of Robert Gu, once a renowned poet and a complete jerk in his personal life who is being successfully treated for several aging related illnesses including Alzheimer’s. Once he begins to regain his mind, he starts out as the SOB he used to be but he grows into far more empathetic person. The antagonist, Alfred Vaz, is attempting to develop something that sounds very much like mind control but he is doing so in an effort to protect people and create a more peaceful world and he is honestly upset when Gu’s granddaughter is endangered because of events that unfold ultimately from Gu’s efforts to stop him.
The book requires some work on the part of the reader. First of all the virtual reality aspect often makes it difficult to tell what is “real” and what isn’t. It also isn’t a simple good guy versus bad guy adventure tale. The characters are more complex than that and they grow and change through the course of the book. And there are a few loose threads left hanging, most notably who or what is “Rabbit?” But I hesitate to call these flaws. This ambiguity is part of the theme of this book and Vinge’s merging of dystopian and utopian views of the future make this an interesting and thought provoking read.
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LibraryThing member RobertDay
This is a near-future 'wired world' conspiracy theory story with some unusual and clever aspects. Written in 2005-6 and set in 2025, the protagonist, Robert Gu, emerges from the half-world of Alzheimer's via a new biotech cure to find his world, naturally, completely changed. Meanwhile, an
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international group of intelligence operatives are trying to infiltrate a plot to release a bio-engineered nanovirus into the world to influence populations remotely (read: MacGuffin), not knowing that the plot is lead by one of their number. These two plots come together through the protagonist and his family (though be warned, this is definitely not a 'happy families' situation; some of the situations as Gu begins to reinstate his place in the world are reflective of the sort of problems Alzheimer's sufferers experience on their way down that path. It is only reasonable to imagine that if a part-way successful treatment were to be found, restorees might experience similar issues on their way back up).

From where I'm sitting, just over half-way between the writing and the events of the novel, there are many aspects of this book which look remarkably prescient. Technology has jumped the smartphone stage and gone directly to wearable tech. Everywhere is wired; (nearly) everything is visible. There is a lot of augemtned reality and automatous and semi-automatous tech; in one scene, a character walks across a busy freeway in the dark, and the automatous cars automatically avoid him, parting to miss him as though he were moving through water. Robert Gu is sent back to school to learn how to use the tech, alongside other Alzheimer's recoverees and high school kids. The clash of cultures can be quite creative at times, and in showing us this Vinge has some effective scenes.

Some of Vinge's takes on technology are worth noting. He has spotted that there is a blank spot in the Internet's coverage of things. There's a period in Web coverage of events between, roughly, 1948 and 1998, where subjects that aren't immediately "sexy" haven't been picked up. I'd spotted this myself - I'm trying to research a British writer of novels and later books on engineering between the 1950s and the late 1970s, and it is almost impossible to find anything out about him. His books went out of print; he stopped writing before web publishing became A Thing; his publishers have ceased to exist and the company that inherited their backlists have no records from that time because they were all "dead" accounts and so there was no need to input them to current systems. The key events, especially in "hot" subjects, have all been recorded, but a minor Dark Age now exists for those forty years. Vinge has spotted this; it forms the basis of his characters' opposition to a plan to destructively digitise all the world's books.

This group of counter-plotters, who are manipulated by the AI employed by the intelligence agents, are all Alzheimer's recoverees, but the process is far from perfect, with a success rate of 50% at best, and with an effectiveness drop-off that can be quite steep. Robert Gu is one of the rare cases where recovery is better than 90%. Obviously, the treatment cannot restore any recollection of the years when the illness ruled the patient's life; our protagonist was an acclaimed writer and poet, and he spends a lot of the book worrying over whether he can get his ability with words back.

Ironically, the book name-checks Terry Pratchett as still being writing in 2025; publication pre-dated the announcement of Pratchett's own early-onset Alzheimer's by a year.

Yet at the same time, all technology has to be approved by the Department of Homeland Security and (theoretically at least) the State has total surveillance in the name of "freedom" and "security". The intelligence operatives manage to avoid this; ordinary citizens cannot.

Vinge's own writing is a bit hit-and-miss; the process by which Robert Gu emerges from the fog of dementia is quite effective, and throughout the novel the occasional turn of phrase made me smile. Yet there were sections which I found to be hard work. Given that Robert Gu is supposed to be a poet, this ratcheted the irony up another couple of notches.

Overall, then, a creditable attempt to depict some of the issues of the wired world which works quite well on a technical level, but sometimes has surprising faults in the artistic department.
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LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This book was the winner of the Hugo award in 2007. I read it entirely online during down time at work. As such, I read it in bits and spurts with long breaks in between. There were lots of different plot lines running throughout this book, but they weren't too difficult to keep track of. Set in
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the not-to-distant future, I thought the original premise for the story, the invention of "You Gotta Believe Me" technology (mind control, more or less) was very interesting, and was a little disappointed when there was little to no follow up on this. The most important story line in the world of the story was not the most important story line in the novel. But it was fun to follow some of the less important story lines more closely and look at the technology that the average person would have available to them. I enjoyed seeing what the author thought could be medical breakthroughs of the near future (a cure for Alzheimers!) and what he thought might remain incurable. Over all it was a fun and interesting story, but the end was unsatisfying for me because all the ends were left loose. I like endings where not everything is tied up neatly and some things are left to the imagination, but I think this one went too far. Nothing was wrapped up at the end. I enjoyed this, but I wouldn't have voted for it for the Hugo.
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LibraryThing member libraryofus
(Alistair) If anyone else had written it, I'd call it a brilliant work. Unfortunately, Vinge wrote it, and so I am left thinking that while it's still good, his near-future SF doesn't give him the same scope for exercising his talent that, say, [[A Fire Upon the Deep]] did.
LibraryThing member conformer
An infuriating book. According to his bio, Vinge has made a name for himself from crafting stories around speculative technology, and Rainbows End is so self-absorbed with slick, paper-thin, micro-gadgetry that large parts of the book read like an O'Reilly reference manual. This is annoying enough,
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but this level of fetishism tends to detract from character development; some of the ancillary players introduced in later chapters are more likable than the protagonist, Robert Gu, who is supposed to be an asshole, but Vinge gives us no real reason to despise him.As for the plot, it sways back and forth between a shadow mind-control conspiracy and endless high school-of-the-future scenes seemingly engineered to widen the generation gap. In Vinge's vision, telecommunication technology is ubiquitous to the point of being worn as clothing, so the "haves" and "have-nots" of old are transformed into power users and newbies.Not too terrible. Lost count of how many time "Google" was name-dropped, tho.
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LibraryThing member clong
In the past with Vinge I’ve often felt that, while his books took a long time to come together, if you stuck it out there was a payoff well worth the investment of effort. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for Rainbows End which I found lackluster on several fronts. I will grant that Vinge gives
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us a creative and interesting if not particularly plausible near future world. But it is a world in which unlikable and unconvincing characters do silly things for unconvincing reasons.

None of the characters in this book worked for me. Robert Wu starts out as one of the least sympathetic protagonists in recent memory; I saw no good reason for the character transformation that accompanied his “rebirth” as a bumbling techno-neophyte. The other Wus, (Miri, Bob, Lena and Alice) were perhaps less dislikable, but no more convincing. Frankly I found none of Rabbit, the intelligence trio, the library fanatics, the fellow high school students, nor the delinquent biolab employees any more plausible. Perhaps it’s easier for me to willingly suspend my disbelief in characters set in the far future or on alien worlds than it is for those occupying a near future Southern California.

But it wasn’t just the characters that left me disappointed in this book. I found many of the basic plot turns just plain silly. The “shop” class made no sense. The library fanatics storyline made no sense. The big belief circle riot was similarly ridiculous. The biolab security holes were not credible. The basic premise of the YGBM threat was too fantastic to resonate in a near future science fiction setting.

I haven’t read any of the other 2007 Hugo novel nominees. I can only guess that Hugo voters found the setting of this one so deliciously validating of what they think is cool that they overlooked its serious weaknesses in characterization and plot
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LibraryThing member incandescent
I don't really understand why this book was nominated for the Hugo. It's a pleasant enough read and a first class example of world building - Vinge has clearly been thinking hard about where technology is taking us and he paints a fabulous picture of the world in 2025. Unfortunately he didn't think
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so hard about the plot which took a back seat to descriptions of technology through most of the book and which ended in a rather unsatisfying way. Very similar to the first half of Stross's Accelerando, but less engaging.
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LibraryThing member iftyzaidi
A decent read but no more - certainly the weakest of Vernor Vinge's novels that I have read so far in terms of plot and characters. He does build a well-realized and vividly imagined near-future and the envisioned use of wearable networked computers is solid. But the narrative relies on too many
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contrivances to be truly satisfying.
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LibraryThing member johnemersonsfoot
Far better, in my opinion, than most reviews had led me to believe. It's a very different book from most of Vinge's others, but that doesn't mean worse.
LibraryThing member woakden
I only got about halfway through this. The main character is so unlovable that I'm having trouble wanting to read it. Maybe if I were in a better mood I could deal with this guy better. Planning to try reading it again someday, because the concepts are awesome.
LibraryThing member mrtall
I guess this one's got a decent premise -- near-future counter-terrorism and lots of 'net' speculation -- but I just couldn't get into it. Abandoned it after about a third, and I don't feel I'm missing much. I get worn out by dealing with characters who appear as 'personas', and this one's just
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about nothing else.
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LibraryThing member kewing
The library digitization was amusing and absurd, the wearable networked computers were intriguing but disconcerting, the plot convoluted and sometimes silly, the characters by turn interesting, wooden, and shadowy. An interesting read, but with little depth to nourish.
LibraryThing member Karlstar
Vernor Vinge is one of the best at writing science fiction, and this 'near future' book is no exception. He does an excellent job of capturing a possible future of our current technology, and turning it into a great novel. Better yet, he manages it in one book, rather than a series.
LibraryThing member gloic
Excellent description of probable future virtual interfaces and the growing importance of search & analysis (i.e. Google) skills compared to "classical" intelligence or creativity. A little too slow sometimes, and I'm missing a proper epilogue or ending on the spy part of the story. Where is the
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sequel ?
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LibraryThing member tgraettinger
Was intrigued to read something by Vinge after learning about him through his Long Now Foundation talk (he's the "Singularity" guy). His vision of the future had some interesting components, but the story itself was kind of weak, I thought.
LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
In a world where wearable computers are the norm, where people can overlay virtual worlds on the real and where *sob* books are being scanned and shredded, world-famous poet Robert Gu returns from alzheimer's. He goes back to school and his granddaughter helps him deal with getting up-to-date while
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Robert deals with the gains and losses of his new life, where he looks like he's young, while still having most of his faculties.

There's a lot of virtual reality in this one, and a lot of conspiracies. I did find it interesting but I seem to be drifting further and further from SF for my personal taste, so while this was good it didn't quite catch me. I don't regret reading it, I just didn't get a wow factor from it but then again it might be because of the overhyped status it has in the SF community.

Vernor writes about a world that is quite near to our own and you could imagine that a lot of it would be possible.

Ironies of ironies with a character that had Alzheimer's and a throwaway comment about Pratchett owning most of Scotland from micro-royalty profits.
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LibraryThing member geertwissink
Entertaining, some nice nice concepts worked out about the wearable internet, eternal youth and terrorist treats and the future of how to demonstrate. Vinge blends nowadays ethical questions about the Google book project and projects it in the future.
LibraryThing member fpagan
The computer scientist who originated the idea of a future tech singularity (2030 or 2040, perhaps) offers "a novel with one foot in the future." A lot better than the other fiction books (Rucker, Alpert) I've read most recently. The story centrally involves UC San Diego's Geisel Library. (Where my
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latest two interlibrary-loan books happened to come from. How spooky is that?)
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LibraryThing member tpi
One of the lesser Hugo winning novels I have read.
Is like a travelogue on a future world. Mainly setup, which falls flat, as the paypack after 250 pages of very little happening isn't much. The world as such is fairly interesting, but main protagonists aren't - and I can't make myself to care much
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about them.
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Hugo Award (Nominee — Novel — 2007)
Locus Award (Finalist — Science Fiction Novel — 2007)
Seiun Award (Nominee — 2010)
Prometheus Award (Nominee — Novel — 2007)


Original publication date


Physical description

400 p.; 6.82 inches


0812536363 / 9780812536362
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