18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
"What's Up, Doc?" - or, the Virtual on Steroids,
This review is from: Rainbows End (Hardcover)
Ok, I'm a member of the `geek' family - my daily job involves working with computers, both at the programming and the hardware design level. As such, this book should have been great, but I found I was disappointed in it for some rather strange reasons.
First is the world Vinge envisions, where almost everyone is plugged into the net on a constant basis via wearable computers with contact lenses for output display, and the world at large has so many contact points and monitors that you can be almost anywhere and still be totally immersed in virtual reality. My problem with this is that it doesn't go far enough! Computers small enough to weave into your clothes are an almost reality now, along with displays that can be part of normal glasses. So there is no great leap here - and in fact, the interface to the computer, how the person can give it commands, I found to be quite clunky, depending on virtual keyboards or interpretations of various body gestures (which apparently involve a fairly steep learning curve on the user's part to get right). Why not computers embedded in the body, with direct connection to the neural system, or at least allow for voice commands?
Second is the envisioned response to the dangers of having everything wired to the net and the influence generated data can have on people. I found it difficult to believe that in the time span given, a short twenty years from now, that the U.S. would have put in place a military force with the authority to not only monitor all net traffic and dragoon intelligence analysts from any organization at any time it was felt they were needed, but to take action on a moments notice, without recourse to any high civilian authority, up to and including a nuclear strike against any data source seen to be inimical.
Third is the level of software development envisaged. Software has always been the tortoise in speed of improvement, but here Vinge sees it having progressed to where it can compute and display, in real time, a complete visual overlay on the `real' world, and much of its high level programming capable of being done by almost anyone, allowing the user to effectively `live' in whatever fantasy world he desires.
The above objections are from the `geek' side of me, all technical. But what of the artistic side? Here Vinge does much better, wrapping a pretty solid story of intrigue and suspense around this future society. The threat is "YGBM" (You Gotta Believe Me), software so insidious it can make the recipient believe whatever the originator wants him to, the ultimate in mind control. When evidence surfaces that someone has actually perfected a form of this, the search is on for who and where. Most of the search is done by a character known only as `Rabbit', a very enigmatic being with obvious echoes from a certain cartoon character, intertwined with the story of Robert Gu, former world class poet who has been rescued from the ills of Alzheimer's by modern medicine, although along the way he seems to have lost that `genius' touch to writing poetry
The main characters are pretty well fleshed out, where their motivations and actions make good sense, and allow the reader to become emotionally involved with them. There are multiple plot twists and threads, all intertwined in such a fashion as to maintain a pretty high level of suspense. In fact, this book might be called a `Future Thriller' - even down to the `will the heroes save the day with the detonation clock ticking down to its last seconds?' scenario.
A mixed bag. A good, engaging story; people whose reactions to the envisioned world are plausible and realistic; but some odd technical lapses in the envisioned future that hurts its believability.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)