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Wishing Rainbows End would End

September 16, 2009

Books Is it wrong to not be enjoying Vernor Vinge’s sci-fi novel, Rainbows End, winner of the 2007 Hugo award? I’m listening to it as an audio book, am about half way through it and finding it hard going.

I can see why it might have gone down well with the Hugo award judges.  It has some very strong ideas about a potential near future where day to day human experience, especially visual experience, is enhanced by wearable gadgetry.  It takes the idea of virtual reality and projects it onto day to day life.  People wear contact lenses packed with tiny electronics which modify perceived reality by overlaying computer-generated views of objects and people.

The system is called “Epiphany”, and users can select between multiple parallel virtual views of the world.  Some of the virtual views are vast and very elaborate.  They are maintained by millions of contributors (forming “belief circles”), who could be enthusiasts or doing it for commercial purposes.  In the story, San Diego recreated as a Terry Pratchett world is so popular that Pratchett’s wealth has skyrocketed and he now owns most of Scotland.

All this is terribly clever and inventive, but it grates.  It has something of a cyberpunk feel about it, the way it glorifies technology for low-lifes mixed with a new attendant vocabulary for the reader to have to decipher on the fly.  It’s like the most irritating bits of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash grinding on and on without respite.

The reader’s voice does not help.  His gruff “old man” voice for the dour, mean-spirited Robert Gu, the main protagonist, particularly gets on my nerves.

I suppose I’ll stick with it.  Only another 7 hours of my life that I won’t get back.

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