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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but not Vinge's best--and not Zones of Thought
I am a big fan of Vinge's work, so I looked forward to this book with some excitement. My first impression is that Amazon is incorrect in calling this a Zones Of Thought book, as it does not seem to belong to the same universe of A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In The Sky. While the main characters are interesting, most of the plot seems exist for the sole purpose of...
Published on May 9, 2006 by Festivus

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126 of 157 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed Vinge Fan
I gave it a shot.

I've never liked cyberpunk William Gibsonesque sci fi, so the jacket description of Rainbow's End didn't sound promising. But come on, I thought, this is Vernor Effin' Vinge! A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep are my all-time favorite sci fi novels: rich, complex, with lots of action and endearing, fully-realized alien cultures...
Published on July 1, 2006 by Russell Clothier


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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but not Vinge's best--and not Zones of Thought, May 9, 2006
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I am a big fan of Vinge's work, so I looked forward to this book with some excitement. My first impression is that Amazon is incorrect in calling this a Zones Of Thought book, as it does not seem to belong to the same universe of A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness In The Sky. While the main characters are interesting, most of the plot seems exist for the sole purpose of exploring computer technology a little more than 20 years from now. Don't get me wrong, the technology and world that Vinge shows in the near future is quite interesting and real, and makes it worth reading the novel just for itself. The story is good, but not great like you can find in some of Vinge's other works. In the last third of the book he launches into a parallel story line that I think detracts from his overall narrative.

A good book, but if you are interested in Vernor Vinge and have not read his stuff, I would steer you toward A Fire Upon The Deep, A Deepness In the Sky, The Peace War, and Marooned in Realtime before you pick up this one.
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126 of 157 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed Vinge Fan, July 1, 2006
By 
Russell Clothier (Kansas City, MO USA) - See all my reviews
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I gave it a shot.

I've never liked cyberpunk William Gibsonesque sci fi, so the jacket description of Rainbow's End didn't sound promising. But come on, I thought, this is Vernor Effin' Vinge! A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep are my all-time favorite sci fi novels: rich, complex, with lots of action and endearing, fully-realized alien cultures. Surely Vinge could find gold in the cyberhills.

Now I'm 200 pages into the book, and I've given up. Try as I might, I can't force myself to care - about the unlikable characters, their indecipherable actions, or the unpleasant world they inhabit. The last 50 pages has dealt with the main (?) character learning to use his virtual reality computer interface web browser contact lenses. Yep, it's that exciting. Around him, mysterious virtual entities do mysterious virtual things. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Who cares? There are interesting ideas, but the world and the characters are dull and off-putting.

Of the hundreds of sci-fi novels I've read, only three have provoked such apathy that I could not bring myself to finish them. That one of them was written by my hero, Vernor Vinge, is a deep disappointment.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perplexingly tedious, August 8, 2010
By 
rjjoyce "rjjoyce" (malvern, pa United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rainbows End (Mass Market Paperback)
It's probably worth more than 1 star (2 maybe), but I'd like to pull the average rating down to warn potential readers. I thought "A Deepness in the Sky" and "A Fire Upon the Deep" were marvelous. Great plots, interesting aliens, a good build-up of tension. It's hard to believe that "Rainbows End" is by the same author. I've nothing against Vinge trying something new, but this is just so darn BAD.

Vinge has developed a vision of our technological near-future that is reasonably interesting. People wear contacts lenses and their clothes receive and transmit information, controlled by body motions, in such a way that they can project skins onto their environment, interact with distant people as if in the same room, send their virtual avatar elsewhere, and so on. This technology has become ubiquitous in people's lives, so experiencing reality "in the raw," without virtual overlays, has become a novelty.

That's kind of interesting, I guess, and not implausible as a near-future scenario. But that's it. That's all Vinge has. The need for sympathetic characters, or an engaging story, or any kind of dramatic tension, seems to have been forgotten. Some readers seem to have gotten excited about the imaginary-but-plausible technology conjured by Vinge, but, speaking for myself, (A) exciting technology doesn't suffice for a good book, and (B) it wasn't THAT exciting. One character in the book still uses a LAPTOP (gasp!), and we are clumsily reminded endlessly of how hopelessly old-fashioned this will be in the future. (What's the point? Are we supposed to laugh at ourselves for being such lame laptop users? Be amazed at the outrageous prophesy that one day laptops will be old hat?)

This is how bad it was: I waded through it, stoically determined, until I was about 20 pages from the end. And then it just sat there gathering dust beside my bed and I actually FORGOT that I hadn't finished it. I started another book. Three or four days went by, and with a sinking heart I MADE myself finish Rainbows End (because that's the kind of person I am). And, no, it didn't redeem itself in the last 20 pages. And this won a Hugo Award?! Sheesh.
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65 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful story and prediction of the future of the internet, May 25, 2006
By 
Tim F. Martin (Madison, AL United States) - See all my reviews
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_Rainbows End_ by Vernor Vinge is an excellent science fiction novel by in my opinion one of the best novelists in the genre. This story is in the same setting as his earlier novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High" which he finished in August 2001 and first published in _The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge_. The central character of the novella, a young student at a San Diego high school (really a middle school), Juan Orozco, makes a reappearance in this novel, though as one of several important characters, not the chief protagonist.

The setting of the novel (and the short story for that matter) is San Diego in the year 2025, which the reader discovers is a world in which the internet connects people and places in ways not possible today. Miniaturization has advanced to such a degree that most people, all the time, have operating computers on them, embedded and weaved into otherwise normally looking clothing called wearables (if someone has on clothing with a computer in it with the capacity to go online he or she is said to be "wearing") and are able to interact with these computers and the internet via special contact lenses. When people first start mastering wearables and their associated contacts they often have to type in the air with their fingers on a phantom keyboard, made visible to the user thanks to their contacts, but as a user becomes more proficient they become able to access computer resources by much more subtle gestures, including particular facial and eye movements.

Most areas of the civilized world allow people to maintain a connection to the internet at all times via a vast array of devices embedded in buildings, on the ground, even flying through the air (though areas called deadzones exist, where either thanks to a paucity of devices or a total lack of devices either only a much reduced connection is possible or no connection of any kind can be made; these areas might be found in parts of buildings not normally visited by the public or even those who work there - such as in sewers - or in wilderness areas such as might be found in national parks).

Thanks to their wearables, contacts, and the network nodes that are readily accessible with no effort at all, most people are not only always online but always using some aspect of the internet. Access to online information and computational power is available in seconds. There is no need for cell phones, as one can connect with virtually anyone in the world in seconds. Anyone can interact and collaborate with anyone else on a shared project no matter how distant they are, whether it is a school science project or a business venture. Anyone can virtually attend a play, a sporting event, or just visit with friends, quite visible to those wearing and even able to interact with the real environment to varying degrees depending upon the user's skill and local available resources.

Perhaps even more interesting, one can choose to see one's surroundings in an online, artificial format, one created by others. Utility workers for instance can choose a viewpoint that to their eyes reveals all underground cables and pipes with words floating in the air above these structures conveying valuable information. Many buildings - though not generally private homes - can be seen through, revealing the inhabitants within.

Even more startling, entire fantasy landscapes can be seen instead of the real environment. Cities, chambers of commerce, entertainment businesses, and groups of private individuals called belief circles can construct simple or very elaborate virtual realities which overlay the real environment, visible through a user's contacts. Many different realities co-exist, the user needing only to choose the one he or she wants to view. These realities can be just better looking versions of the real world, such as a city with nicer looking buildings, better views, fuller and healthier trees, etc. or completely fantastic realms based on the works of say Tolkien, Pratchett, or even Pokemon-esque settings, the user seeing instead of a person's two story home a castle, instead of a police helicopter a dragon, etc. The fact that no one drives anymore - cars are all automatic and computer controlled - makes this a great deal safer than it may sound.

Well, enough about the setting. The story is a very good one, involving what are at first two seemingly unconnected plot threads. The first thread we are introduced to involves the security agencies of Europe and Asia, whose alert monitoring of the world's communications, mass media, advertising, and sports events discover two rather unusual anomalies, perhaps unconnected, perhaps not. Though the two events are seemingly innocuous (whether taken together or separately), the vast resources of computer power and analysts that are brought to bear on these events suggest to security personnel that someone is very subtly testing a new weapons system, perhaps a YGBM weapon (YGBM stands for You-Gotta-Believe-Me, jargon for mind control weapons). In a world nervous after decades of fighting terrorists and leery of increasingly easily available weapons of mass destruction, an investigation is quickly and quietly launched.

The other thread focuses on the life of Robert Gu, a noted poet from the late 20th and early 21st centuries who nearly succumbed to Alzheimer's but thanks to modern technology has been saved and even made seemingly younger, getting a whole new lease on life. Having to reenroll in high school (along with his granddaughter, Miri, and Juan Orozco) to learn how to live and work in today's society (along with other much older students, trying to reconnect with a world quite different from that which they were born in), Robert, Miri, Juan, Miri's parents (Bob and Alice) and others somehow manage to become involved in the covert action to find the YGBM weapon.

The two plot threads connected very well together and made for a great story. I would love to see more novels or short stories in this setting.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good. Not great., May 12, 2006
By 
Jonathan A. Turner (Nashua, NH United States) - See all my reviews
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The more you're interested in gee-whiz new technology for its own sake, the more you'll like _Rainbows End_. If you're hoping for a rip-roaring brain-expanding gripping adventure a la _A Deepness in the Sky_, you may find it less rewarding. Vinge is a first-rank writer, but here he gets a little too caught up with the gosh-wow aspects of his subject--to the detriment of his story.

Vinge, of course, is very well known for his notion of the "Technological Singularity": the hypothesis that soon technological change will be so overwhelming that we can't even imagine what will come next. _Rainbow's End_ is a brave attempt to look twenty years closer towards that cliff. It makes interesting speculation.

It's only partially successful as a tale, though, because:

1) The changes Vinge posits in society and technology are quite extensive, and he has to spend a good deal of time explaining them. He does it well, and his ideas are interesting and plausible, but it's still something of an essay instead of a narrative. The characterization, in particular, is a bit hit-or-miss.

2) I wonder whether Vinge overstates his case for the upcoming "Singularity." (The assumption that change is inevitably, monotonically accelerating is certainly arguable. Have things changed more in, say, the 80 years since 1926 than in the 80 years before that date?) I'm not sure that the Singularity *won't* happen, but I'm not sure that it *will* either. I think I'd have enjoyed the book a little more if I were.

3) Certain details of the story--e.g., the exact nature of Rabbit and of the "YGBM" McGuffin--are treated rather sketchily. Some readers will be annoyed by this; others won't care.

Still, this is a very good book. It's a likely Hugo nominee. It's interesting, it's plausible, it's exciting. The menacing aspects of all that gosh-wow new tech are shown in an understated but very effective fashion. (People in the book refer to "Chicago" the way we say "9/11". Nice touch.) The villain is an interesting character; you may even find yourself sympathizing with his point of view.

I don't think it's Vinge's best work. In twenty years, though, I might change my mind.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to Vinge's usual standards, April 30, 2007
This review is from: Rainbows End (Mass Market Paperback)
Vernor Vinge is absolutely my favorite scifi author. ""True Names", The Peace War", "Marooned in Realtime", "A Fire Upon the Deep", and a "Deepness in the Sky" are absolute masterpieces. When I heard that "Rainbows End" was nominated for the Hugo, I simply assumed that Dr. Vinge had hit yet another one out of the ballpark, and that he would be picking up his third Hugo for best novel in 2006.

And then I read the book.

"Rainbows End" is not a bad book. Vinge does a good job of world building, although many of the concepts had already been already covered in his short stories. The problem is the plot. First, Vinge spends too much time on Robert Gu relative to other, more interesting characters. Second, Vinge leaves a huge number of plot threads dangling. What is the Rabbit, exactly? What happens to Vaz once his scheme collapses? What happens between Robert and his ex-wife? Clearly Vinge intends to write a sequel, but unlike his previous novels, "Rainbows End" reads like part one of a two-part story, with all of the attendant drawbacks.

Another problem I have with the book is Vinge's proposition that by 2025 a sufficiently sophisticated interface will effectively provide below-average kids with the ability to perform programming and engineering feats that would tax the capabilities of modern-day experts. As an engineering professor, I don't really buy it. I deal every day with young men and women who have been raised with computers since they were toddlers. Most of them are simply users of devices and programs they do not and cannot understand. Only a hardcore minority are the true geeks who can create something new, just as in every generation past. While I have no doubt that technology will make some amazing strides by 2025, it won't make geniuses out of people who lack the ability to critically analyze what the software tells them. I am a techno-optimist in the sense that I do believe that the Singularity or some reasonable approximation will be hitting us sooner than we think, but I tend to believe that most people will simply be along for the ride when it happens.

Hopefully we'll see Vernor Vinge return to greatness in his next novel, which I've heard will be another "Zones of Thought" novel. As many others have commented, any author is entitled to an occasional so-so story, and this one is clearly Vinge's.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, but..., June 29, 2006
By 
Aeirould "aeirould" (San Diego, California United States) - See all my reviews
I very much enjoyed the story, the storytelling, and the characters in Rainbows End. That said, I have some issues.

Another reviewer pointed out that the software required for his future vision could not arrive in the next 20 years. I'm not entirely sure I agree with that, but I do agree that 2025 is way too early for some other elements of this future world to exist:

1) No way is it possible that Americans will give up personal, self-driven cars any time in the next 20 years. We are quick to adopt new technology, yes, but also very slow to give up on the old tech. A personal car is sadly a symbol of independence here.

2) While the wearable computer tech probably will be here in the next 20 years (the software issue aside), there is no way it would take over society to that level in only 20 years. The infrastructure needed for the vasty vasty net described here would take longer than that just to get installed.

3) UP/Ex. It was needed for the plot, but it ain't happening. (no further details because they would require spoilers)

Given the other elements of the story, there is no reason it couldn't have been set in 2045. We could still have the Gu the Elder perspective (having "transitioned" directly from our world into this one due to the Alzheimer's thing), he would just be 20 years older before being restored. If he had Bob around 2004 or so, the timeline would work fine for the other character's relative ages.

This one change would make everything much, much more believable.

Regardless, if you can suspend your disbelief on the timing of the changes, the story itself is very well told and quite worth the read. There are some interesting issues explored re: superior talent and its relations to self-superiority, the components of the mind that produce talent and what affects them, the value of collaborative thought and many others.

There are some really involved action sequences that will definitely draw you in, such as the events surrounding the Library.

At the heart of it, though, it's a story about dealing with loss, both good and bad, and how that can drive someone to a place they could never imagine going. All other trappings aside, that story makes this a definite should-read.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Vinge constrained by reality is just pretty good, September 3, 2006
By 
Thad Beier (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
I have thoroughly enjoyed Vinge's previous work. In particular, his most recent book prior to this one, A Deepness in the Sky, is a tour-de-force -- every word is vital to a story of epic scope.

In Rainbows End (the odd lack of punctuation is noted in the text, awkwardly) Vinge has devoted all his efforts to a story that is designed to be plausible. There are no interstellar ramjets, no coldsleep boxes, no hyperdrives, no Focus -- it's set so close in the near future that Vinge couldn't legitimately get away with that kind of thing. So, he wrote a speculative book about 20 years from now.

It's an impressive bit of work. As other reviewers have noted, Vinge has a pretty optimistic view of the productivity of software writers in the next 20 years -- the ability of basically every member of the population to effortlessly interact with a world-wide shard virtual reality is, well, it's a stretch. The treatment of the displacement of older people is a nice update on Vonnegut's Player Piano.

The early part of the book, really the first couple of (short) chapers, are in my opinion the best part. In it, he lays out the truly terrifying prospect of what might be called weapons of global destruction available to any small group or even individuals. The rampant technology makes everything possible, even (especially?) things are are not good. The detective work of a team of people desperately trying to prevent The Next Very Bad Thing is quite nicely done.

After that, though, for me, the book sort of bogs down -- waiting for a fairly one-dimensional climax. Which is fine, but less than I expected from Vinge's other work. The number of loose ends left hanging after this climax are enormous -- a huge number of the most important characters just disappear in a way that is very unsatisfying. In particular, the identity of the Rabbit character, I feel, should have been at least hinted at a little more strongly -- although perhaps that's my own laziness talking.

I do feel that the working within the straightjacket of the near-term plausible forced Vinge into a box -- perhaps this is the best story that could have been told with that mandate. I'd love to discuss this book with others who have read it.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Plain Uninteresting, January 26, 2011
By 
Todd Sullivan (Seoul, South Korea) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Rainbows End (Hardcover)
i'm loathe to start reading reviews for a book before i finish it, but for "Rainbows End", i have done just that for one simple reason: i'm midway through the book, disliking it with each page, and i'm wondering should i continue. from the reviews on amazon, i see that it would be pointless to continue wading through this tedious, uninteresting prose.

like many others, i was and am a huge fan of "A Fire Upon the Deep". and like many others, i do not understand how vinge can write one fantastic book, and then write "Rainbows End", which is just so not fantastic. maybe the main character in "Rainbows End" is echoing a lot of what vinge was thinking as he wrote End: can i still make words sing? do i have it anymore?

i'm sorry to say, vinge, that for this book, you definitely lost it. you are your hapless lost poet in this book who has sacrificed great writing for a lot of technological superficial overlay. yeah, it's pretty at times, but it leaves the book overall quite shallow.

you know when i decided to put this book down? when i got to the scene where several characters were walking through a library and they kept running into animated books. for page after page after page. are you kidding me? is this supposed to be a developing of tension in any way, shape, or form? they're walking through a library. literally walking through a library. WHY WOULD I CARE TO READ AN ENTIRE CHAPTER ON THAT??

anyway, this book sucks. and you know what else? the hugo has really nominated some real clunkers in the last years. i was starting to lose all hope for whoever is making such terrible decisions after reading several other recent winners until i read "Windup Girl", which was absolutely awesome. i'm starting to think though that that book was nominated not because the judges have begun to re-recognize what great writing is, but out of pure luck.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First Vinge, March 23, 2007
By 
Paul Pakozdi (Boulder Creek, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Rainbows End (Hardcover)
I read a lot of Science Fiction but this is my first Vinge. Was led to him after he was mentioned in the context of his advocacy of the concept of a technology Singularity.

The novel was very good "Hard Sci Fi" with plausible yet fanciful extrapolation into a near future world. This is hard to do without "inventing" new science but Vinge does it well. The novel describes well what a world of increasingly smart objects might look and feel like and how ordinary people might deal with such a world. Very entertaining.
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Rainbows End
Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (Mass Market Paperback - April 3, 2007)
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