Rainbows End - Vernor Vinge
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).


Rainbows End won the Locus Sci-Fi (as well as the Hugo) in 2007. I first heard about it on the Accelerating Future blog where Vinge is somewhat revered.

When I started my Locus quest I made this my second port of call (after Accelerando) because it sounded like my cup of tea. I think I would have enjoyed the book which came second that year (Glasshouse) more.

I wanted to like Rainbows End. I really did try to like it. I thought for the first half of the book that I might just actually end up liking it. But I didn’t.

What frustrates me most about Rainbows End is that I’m not even certain why we didn’t gel.

The world building is top-notch – plausible and convincing, thoroughly detailed, interesting and original, memorable, etc – all qualities I normally laud.

I know it can’t be just because the protagonist is a grating grouch. I’ll admit that I spent most my read hoping he’d fall down an open manhole, but I’ve enjoyed other books with even less likeable leads (Donaldson - Thomas Covenant?).

And it’s not that the protagonist was old – I’m not ageist – I love a good silver-haired sleuth! (King - Insomnia?)

Could it be that the plot sort of fizzled and drifted into a faux-thriller mystery with a bunny? Maybe.

Or that the supporting cast are utterly forgettable? Perhaps.

Was it because the story lacks anything close to a true emotional hook? Could be.

None of these factors on their own would be enough to put me off a book, but all of them together stopped me from enjoying the wonderful ideas that kicked this book off.

The only reason I can’t outright 1-star the book is that I’m not sure it’s entirely Rainbows End’s fault. Have you ever had that feeling, when you take an instant dislike to somebody? It’s out of character and you’re probably just having a bad day, but you can’t shake your first impression that this guy is a thoroughbred douche? And you feel bad for being so judgemental, so you end-up being nicer to this douche than you probably should be? Yeah. This is like that.

I think my favorite idea here (and it's one that completely irrelevant to the plot) is the notion of fiction inspired augmented reality overlays of real locations. Minus the tech-speak - that means glasses which make all of London look like Ankh-Morpork, or turn Windsor Castle into Hogwarts, etc. So the grouchy old poet - that was an image my mind could run with!

I've since read The Snow Queen by Vernor's ex-wife, Joan Vinge. I didn't get along with that either. Ah well... my search for a good sci-fi author beginning with V goes on... now where did I put that Verne omnibus..?