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Rainbows End

Rainbows End

Overview
Rainbows End is a 2006 science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 novel by Vernor Vinge
Vernor Vinge
Vernor Steffen Vinge is a retired San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics, computer scientist, and science fiction author. He is best known for his Hugo Award-winning novels and novellas A Fire Upon the Deep , A Deepness in the Sky , Rainbows End , Fast Times at Fairmont High ...

. It was awarded the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Novel
Hugo Award for Best Novel
The Hugo Awards are given every year by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was once officially...

. The book is set in San Diego, California, in 2025, in a variation of the fictional world Vinge explored in his 2002 Hugo-winning novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High
The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge
The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge is a collection of science fiction short stories by Vernor Vinge. The stories were first published from 1966 to 2001, and the book contains all of Vinge's published short stories from that period except "True Names" and "Grimm's Story".-Bookworm, Run!:Also...

" and 2004's "Synthetic Serendipity". Vinge has tentative plans for a sequel, picking up some of the loose threads left at the end of the novel.

The many technological advances depicted in the novel suggest that the world is undergoing ever-increasing change, perhaps destined for a technological singularity
Technological singularity
Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such an intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as...

, a recurring subject in Vinge's writing (both fiction and non-fiction).

The novel introduces us to Robert Gu, a man slowly recovering from Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease also known in medical literature as Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death...

 thanks to advances in medical technology.
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Encyclopedia
Rainbows End is a 2006 science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 novel by Vernor Vinge
Vernor Vinge
Vernor Steffen Vinge is a retired San Diego State University Professor of Mathematics, computer scientist, and science fiction author. He is best known for his Hugo Award-winning novels and novellas A Fire Upon the Deep , A Deepness in the Sky , Rainbows End , Fast Times at Fairmont High ...

. It was awarded the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Novel
Hugo Award for Best Novel
The Hugo Awards are given every year by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was once officially...

. The book is set in San Diego, California, in 2025, in a variation of the fictional world Vinge explored in his 2002 Hugo-winning novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High
The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge
The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge is a collection of science fiction short stories by Vernor Vinge. The stories were first published from 1966 to 2001, and the book contains all of Vinge's published short stories from that period except "True Names" and "Grimm's Story".-Bookworm, Run!:Also...

" and 2004's "Synthetic Serendipity". Vinge has tentative plans for a sequel, picking up some of the loose threads left at the end of the novel.

The many technological advances depicted in the novel suggest that the world is undergoing ever-increasing change, perhaps destined for a technological singularity
Technological singularity
Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such an intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as...

, a recurring subject in Vinge's writing (both fiction and non-fiction).

Plot summary


The novel introduces us to Robert Gu, a man slowly recovering from Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease also known in medical literature as Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death...

 thanks to advances in medical technology. As his faculties return, Robert (who always has been slightly technophobic
Technophobia
Technophobia is the fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers. tech·no·pho·bi·a n. Fear of or aversion to technology, especially computers and high technology. -Related forms: tech'no·phobe' n., tech'no·pho'bic adj."— "tech·no·pho·bi·a - Show Spelled...

) must adapt to a very different world, where almost every object is networked and mediated-reality technology is commonplace. Robert, formerly a world-renowned poet but with a notoriously mean-spirited personality, must also learn how to change and how to rebuild relationships with his estranged family. At the same time, Robert and his granddaughter Miri are drawn into a complex plot involving a traitorous intelligence officer, an intellect of frightening (and possibly superhuman
Superhuman
Superhuman can mean an improved human, for example, by genetic modification, cybernetic implants, or as what humans might evolve into, in the near or distant future...

) competence hiding behind an avatar
Avatar (computing)
In computing, an avatar is the graphical representation of the user or the user's alter ego or character. It may take either a three-dimensional form, as in games or virtual worlds, or a two-dimensional form as an icon in Internet forums and other online communities. It can also refer to a text...

 of an anthropomorphic rabbit
White Rabbit
The White Rabbit works for the Red Queen, but is also a secret member of the Underland Underground Resistance, and was sent by the Hatter to search for Alice...

, and ominous new mind control
Mind control
Mind control refers to a process in which a group or individual "systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator, often to the detriment of the person being manipulated"...

 technology with profound implications.

Augmented reality


In the novel, augmented reality
Augmented reality
Augmented reality is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is...

 is dominant, with humans interacting with virtual overlays of reality almost all of the time. This is accomplished by wearing smart clothing and contact lenses that can overlay and replace what the eye would normally see with computer graphics, using advanced virtual retinal display
Virtual retinal display
A virtual retinal display , also known as a retinal scan display or retinal projector , is a display technology that draws a raster display directly onto the retina of the eye. The user sees what appears to be a conventional display floating in space in front of them...

 (VRD) technology. In addition, haptic feedback is possible by overlaying graphics onto a physical machine such as a robot. This augmentation of reality is used for a variety of purposes:
  • Commercial (large gaming areas sell gaming environments mixed with haptics). The Cheapnet, a free entry-level service offered by commercial vendors of gaming solutions, can in principle also be used to coordinate networked augmented reality representations across the globe. However, jitter
    Packet delay variation
    In computer networking, packet delay variation is the difference in end-to-end delay between selected packets in a flow with any lost packets being ignored...

     and latency
    Latency (engineering)
    Latency is a measure of time delay experienced in a system, the precise definition of which depends on the system and the time being measured. Latencies may have different meaning in different contexts.-Packet-switched networks:...

     are considerable problems with this basic network when long distances are involved. In the novel, Robert Gu develops an algorithm that partially compensates for these technical deficiencies, and might ultimately allow the inclusion of haptics.
  • Functional (maintenance workers, for example, have access to a blueprint or schematic
    Schematic
    A schematic diagram represents the elements of a system using abstract, graphic symbols rather than realistic pictures. A schematic usually omits all details that are not relevant to the information the schematic is intended to convey, and may add unrealistic elements that aid comprehension...

     of practically any location or object in their responsibility area)
  • Communication (characters in the novel use live video chat and can send and receive "silent messages", an action known as "sming", through their VRDs). Individuals can be reached through a globally implemented unique personal identifier, the ENUM
    Telephone Number Mapping
    Telephone number mapping is the process of unifying the telephone number system of the public switched telephone network with the Internet addressing and identification name spaces. Telephone numbers are systematically organized in the E.164 standard, while the Internet uses the Domain Name System...

    .
  • Medical (doctors have access to a patient's vital signs)


There are characters who choose not to "wear" these virtual overlays, instead using laptop
Laptop
A laptop, also called a notebook, is a personal computer for mobile use. A laptop integrates most of the typical components of a desktop computer, including a display, a keyboard, a pointing device and speakers into a single unit...

s, considered relics in the novel. A user's skill in managing and producing augmented reality manifests itself in the details of the augmentation. For example, a character might project himself into a different room, but the shadows cast by this apparition, or the collision between the character and the furniture in the room might give away the apparition.

Belief circles


There are many realities to choose from in the novel; however, the largest and more robust of them are built by large user bases in the manner of a wiki
Wiki
A wiki is a website that allows the creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor. Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used collaboratively by multiple users. Examples include...

 or Second Life
Second Life
Second Life is an online virtual world developed by Linden Lab. It was launched on June 23, 2003. A number of free client programs, or Viewers, enable Second Life users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars...

. The confederation of users that contribute to the virtual world is called a belief circle. Several belief circles are presented in the novel, including worlds based on authors such as H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft --often credited as H.P. Lovecraft — was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction....

, Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett
Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE is an English novelist, known for his frequently comical work in the fantasy genre. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld series of comic fantasy novels...

, and the fictional Jerzy Hacek. Also mentioned are worlds based on the artwork of M. C. Escher
M. C. Escher
Maurits Cornelis Escher , usually referred to as M. C. Escher , was a Dutch graphic artist. He is known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints...

, and fictional entertainment companies such as SpielbergRowling (presumably a manager of the merged fictional universes of Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg
Steven Allan Spielberg KBE is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, video game designer, and studio entrepreneur. In a career of more than four decades, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as an...

 and J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling
Joanne "Jo" Rowling, OBE , better known as J. K. Rowling, is the British author of the Harry Potter fantasy series...

). The Egan
Greg Egan
Greg Egan is an Australian science fiction author.Egan published his first work in 1983. He specialises in hard science fiction stories with mathematical and quantum ontology themes, including the nature of consciousness...

 Soccer set piece can also be seen as a type of subscribed Belief Circle.

Themes


As in Vinge's other work, the concept of security in such an increasingly digital/virtual world with ubiquitous computing
Ubiquitous computing
Ubiquitous computing is a post-desktop model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities. In the course of ordinary activities, someone "using" ubiquitous computing engages many computational devices and systems...

 is a major theme of the novel. It examines the implications of rapid technological change that empowers both the disgruntled individuals who would threaten to disrupt society and those that would seek to stop them, and the implications for the age-old "who watches the watchers
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
' is a Latin phrase traditionally attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires , which is literally translated as "Who will guard the guards themselves?" Also sometimes rendered as "Who watches the watchmen?", the phrase has other idiomatic translations and adaptations such as "Who will...

" issue. Although 9/11 is only mentioned once, having been supplanted in the minds of the characters by more recent history, its overall impact is unmistakable; Bob Gu muses offhandedly, "Chicago was more than a decade past. There hadn't been a successful nuclear attack on the U.S. or any of the treaty organization countries in more than five years."

Characters in Rainbows End

  • Robert Gu – former Professor Emeritus of English, Alzheimer's survivor and Fairmont High School pupil
  • Robert Gu, Jr. (Bob) – Robert Gu's son, Lieutenant Colonel and Officer of the Watch in the US Marines
  • Alice Gong Gu – Bob Gu's wife, Colonel and Auditor in the US Marines
  • Miri Gu – Bob and Alice Gu's 13-year-old daughter, Fairmont High School pupil and Robert Gu's co-conspirator
  • Juan Orozco – Fairmont High School pupil (age 14) and Robert Gu's technical advisor
  • Xiu Xiang - former Professor of Computer Science and Fairmont High School pupil
  • Winston Blount - former Dean at UC San Diego, colleague/rival of Robert Gu and Fairmont High School pupil
  • Alfred Vaz – head of India's External Intelligence Agency
  • Günberk Braun – European Union Intelligence Board agent
  • Keiko Mitsuri – Japanese Intelligence agent
  • Mr. Rabbit/Mysterious Stranger – unidentified intellect, appearing as a rabbit to Vaz, Braun and Mitsuri, and as a voice only to Robert Gu

Reception

  • Hugo Award winner, 2007
  • Locus Award winner, 2007
  • John W. Campbell Memorial Award nominee, 2007

External links