I’ve written an organization report for each MLB team, including a list of that team’s top ten prospects; you can find them on the full index of all thirty clubs. The Rays’ piece is free; the rest are Insider.
Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Novel, beating out four books I don’t know by authors I’d never heard of (although one of them, Peter Watts’ Blindsight, also received high critical praise). In a world ripped straight out of the fiction of William Gibson, a plot to undermine humanity in the name of saving it ends up foiled by an 11-year-old girl and a virtual entity known only as the Rabbit. It’s a book so in love with its setting that the plot is unfortunately drowned in a sea of irrelevant details.
In 2025, everything and everyone is connected, constantly online and accessible via wearable technology, coding via hand gestures, with their movements and actions easily tracked by the government (okay, that last part might be closer to truth than I’d like to admit). A global intelligence investigation has uncovered a plot to make humans more suggestible via coded transmissions within ordinary broadcasts like commercials – a sort of ‘mind virus’ – that was in fact developed by one of the people supposed to be leading the investigation. He hires the Rabbit to unwittingly help him retrieve the technology before it’s discovered, only to find the Rabbit is more feline than leporine when it comes to curiosity and doesn’t stop where his orders end.
Meanwhile, Robert Gu, a once world-renowned poet who was stricken by Alzheimer’s, is miraculously cured not just of that malady but of old age, restored largely to the body of a teenager, but without the one thing he’d most like back – his ability to craft poetry. He’s approached by an earnest graduate student – virtually, as most meetings in this book seem to be – to help with the latter’s thesis, only to have that student’s online persona hijacked by another entity that offers him a Faustian bargain: help with this project (tied into the same investigation into the UCSD bio-research facility where the mind-control experiment lives) and you’ll get your muse back. Gu was a miserable wretch before his dormancy, lashing out with intent to wound at anyone near him, but after doing so once to his granddaughter Miri, the two end up with a tenuous bond that draws Miri into Robert’s endeavor, without his knowledge at first, and gives her a pivotal role in the attempt to stop a global takeover.
Vinge is himself a transhumanist who has written on the inevitability of the merger of man and machine known as the singularity – an idea first encapsulated by Ray Kurzweil in his non-fiction treatise The Singularity Is Near – and here he has created a world where the singularity is quite close, so much so that he can’t stop telling us about it. The story is overburdened with the minutiae of the operations of these net-enabled clothes, with their own lingo (either you’re “wearing” or you’re hopeless), and the same attention to detail turns the climactic passage, a battle waged on the ground as well as over the net from points around the world, into nearly two hundred pages of confusing, slogging prose. We get the conclusion we expect – did you really think Vinge would let the bad guy take over the world with a mindworm? – and a minimum of damage to the protagonists; the only way the resolution could have been more maudlin would have been to have Gu reconcile with the ex-wife who dumped him for his malicious behavior.
I think a big part of the appeal of such books is the predictions inherent in the writing – wearable technology is certainly getting closer, with the mild success of Google Glass, and our access to the Internet is becoming broader, which makes our movements easier for someone like the NSA to track. Vinge doesn’t seem to worry much about the enormous energy requirements of his near-future vision; virtual-reality remains stubbornly separate from real reality, we don’t hold meetings with overseas colleagues via projections or holograms; and the silent instant messaging he has the more sophisticated wearers use seems too much like the Red Herring telepathic-email device called orecchio, which was an April Fool’s hoax.
I’d recommend anyone interested in this particular branch of science fiction to read William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash instead. Both cyberpunk novels deal with the melding of man and machine in a more humanist light, keeping the narrative moving without the juvenile obsession with sci-fi trappings.
Next up: Going old-school with Arthur C. Clark’s Rendezvous with Rama, winner of the Hugo Award in 1974.