Robert Gu, formerly a star poet, had succumbed to Alzheimer's in the
early 2000’s. However, modern medicine has been able to restore him to
coherent life. He struggles to adjust to life in a world where
everyone's clothes and contacts connect to holograph nodes implanted
everywhere. Learning to “wear” is a struggle for him, although his
granddaughter, who is attending classes at the same school he is, has
learned to do it from childhood and easily accomplishes connectivity
without detection. While he is adjusting to live in the new ecosystem
of connectivity, he is drawn into an international conspiracy
involving biotech, an internet presence known only as “Mr. Rabbit,”
now-aged friends from his days as a professor at UCSD, his
granddaughter and her friends, and his Department of Homeland Security
son and daughter-in-law.
The setting was compelling and fascinating, from the holograph nodes
to the “net boards” like today's forums to the concept of contact lens
overlays that made environments look completely different. It
integrates well with the plot, harkens “back” to today's San Diego,
and lets the reader imagine stories continuing well beyond the plot.
The book switches perspective while always remaining in third person:
at times, its focus is on international magnates, Robert Gu, his
granddaughter Miri, or artificial intelligences. At times, this made
the book confusing, especially as exposition is limited and readers
find out identities only by implications.
This story is an absorbing and unusual political thriller set in a future of ubiquitous augmented reality. A cast of misfits works to stop the ultimate terrorist threat - without really knowing what they are doing - orchestrated by a mastermind of uncertain allegiance known as "Rabbit." A rather convoluted plot, with lots and lots of characters - but I loved seeing the different groups and their stories converge.
Looks like Jeff Bezos enjoyed this book also: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/amazons-jeff-bezos-looks-to-the-future/
The best part of this book (by far) is the world that he created. It's fantastical, but you don't have to take too far of a leap to imagine that this world very possible could be our future. There are computerized contact lenses that "project" images - if you're bored walking down the same old street, you can just use your contacts to make it seem as though you're walking through Hogwarts. It's as if everyone in the world is constantly playing a virtual reality game, and the book examines the battle between an increasingly digitized world and the value of reality (particularly in terms of books - watch out if you're reading this on a kindle because Vernor Vinge is judging you).
Often, though, Vinge creates this world to the detriment of other aspects of the novel. There is definitely a plot; however, it lags in some places and, at times, seems very removed from the action we are actually seeing. There are also a lot of loose ends that don't really get tied up, which makes me wonder if the author might do more with this story.
A lot of passages are also bogged down with technical jargon (which might not be so much of a problem if you've got a firm grasp on that stuff). However, for people like me, with only a basic knowledge of technical terms, some of it was a bit daunting. At points, I found myself wondering if a certain word was real or if it was a made-up futuristic term. I used the dictionary more than once.
Final verdict - definitely worth a read, if only for the setting, because it's absolutely fantastic. You also might have to keep reading despite the protagonist, who is a complete jerk at the beginning. All in all, it's a well-written, very knowledgeable look into what the world will be like in the not-too-distant future.
Not Mr. Vinge's best. Read's like it was written by a mathematician and computer scientist and.. HEY, it was!!
One of the most intense internet futore books I have ever read. Truly unique.
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