Saturday, July 21

Rainbows End – Vernor Vinge

Robert Gu, once a world-famous poet, has been mired in the shadowy world of Alzheimer’s for two decades, until new technology reverses his mental and physical decline – Robert looks like he’s twenty. But he returns to a world very different from the one he left – everyone’s connected to the Internet through smart contact lenses, which provide modifiable overlays to everything you see, and wearable computers that are sensitive to minute intentional movements.
When Robert ‘left’, his son was a young man; now Bob’s high up in the military, his daughter-in-law works in intelligence, he has a thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Miri, whose patience helps him re-enter this brave new world, and his long-suffering wife is dead. Struck by his own genius, Robert was never a pleasant man to be with, and his adaptation was never going to be easy. But with the world facing a global catastrophe due to an intricate conspiracy, Robert and Miri may be the most unexpected heroes.

By the way, the title refers to a retirement home, and Robert ponders (midway through the book) on the name, which had been really irritating me - he's not sure if it's faulty grammar, or an acknowledgement of the fading that aging causes.
Virge is a four-time winner of the Hugo Awards. This is the first novel of his I’ve read; I was captured by the premise of a man returning from a long and involuntary absence to an entirely new way of relating to the world around him, a common theme in fiction, from Rip van Winkle to Buck Rodgers. It’s unfortunate that I found this rendition so unengaging. The novel is a cross between cyber-punk and hard SF. I found clarity of plot and depth of characterisation sacrificed for Byzantine intricacy and techno-complexity, and rarely had a firm grip on what was going on. Yet, despite this I did persist, feverishly reading with no clear idea of the universe I was reading about. The narcissism of Robert, both past and present, and the entanglement of family relationship, were well presented, but not explored in as much depth as I’d have liked. I might pick up another of Vinge’s novels, but he won’t be making it to my must-read pile any time soon. - Alex

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