Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge (Books 2021, 17)

The absence of an apostrophe in the title has disturbed me slightly since I heard of this book. I think I concluded that it was meant as a verbal statement: rainbows do end, after all. The fact that the last chapter is entitled, ‘The Missing Apostrophe’ comforts me.

The other Vinge books that I’ve read (which would appear from that to only be one, but that is misleading) are galaxy-spanning space operas. This, in contrast, is very compact in scale, being set almost entirely in San Diego, and on the net. It’s a near-future thriller about medical and technological advances and how things might be for someone who was nearly dead from Alzheimer’s and then was brought back.

It’s pretty good, but 2025, the year in which it is set, feels pretty close now. I guess it didn’t in 2006.


A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (Books 2016, 4)

A rereading, this, but I remembered much less of it than I thought, and enjoyed it even more than I expected to.

All I really remembered in any detail was the dog-like pack-based beings, the Tines. Maybe a vague sense of the rogue superintelligent AI that caused all the problems.

And the “Zones of Thought” themselves, of course. A genius idea, which, in brief summary, is this: the further out from the galactic core you get, the more advanced the technology that is possible. Implicitly that includes biology. It’s never explicitly stated, but it seems likely that deep inside the galaxy, in the “Unthinking Depths,” intelligence is not possible. Further out you get the “Slow Zone”, which is where Earth is.1 Only sub-lightspeed travel is possible here, and machines cannot become intelligent.

But all this changes when you get to the galactic fringes, or the “Beyond,” where FTL and something close to AI are commonplace. And the further up the Beyond you go, the more this is true, until you reach the “Transcend,” where godlike AIs exist.

My memory was that the sections with the Tines were kind of annoying, with a sense of, “I want my space operas to be set in space, with high tech; not on a mediaeval-level world with nothing more advanced than cartwheels."2 But of course the story of the kids stranded on the Tines' World are both fundamental to the overall story, and at least as good as the galaxy-spanning main plot.

This book has gone from new, Hugo- & Nebula-Award winner to SF Masterwork in what feels like a very short time. It was first published in 1991, which is 25 years ago. I suppose that’s enough time to become a classic.3 The accolades are thoroughly deserved, of course.

The SF Masterworks edition has an introduction by Ken McLeod, which is well worth reading, and the whole is highly recommended by me.


  1. Or possibly, was: Earth doesn’t feature in this story. ↩︎

  2. I lost interest in Stephen Baxter’s Origin: Manifold Three largely because of the scenes on the stone-age planet. I see from GoodReads that a lot of other people had trouble with it too. ↩︎

  3. Arguably it was instantly a classic, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. ↩︎