Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End

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Rainbows End Summary

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Rainbows End by Vernon Vinge is a science fiction novel set in San Diego in 2025. The book tells the story of Robert Gu, a mean, old man and a famous poet whose Alzheimer’s has been cured. As Robert recovers, however, he discovers that he can no longer write poetry and must educate himself on the technologically inclined world. At school, he unwittingly becomes involved in espionage while trying to repair his relationship with his family. Tor Books published the novel in 2006.

The world of 2025 is almost entirely made up of augmented reality. People converse and interact through avatars using smart clothes and special contact lenses.

Having recovered from Alzheimer’s, seventy-five-year-old Robert has no memory of the last ten years. He attempts to reconnect with the world around him and foster his newfound gift for technology by attending Fairmont High School. He lives with his son and daughter-in-law, Bob and Alice, as well as his thirteen-year-old granddaughter, Miri. Alice is a Colonel and Auditor in the US Marines, and Bob is a Lieutenant Colonel and Officer of the Watch.

Meanwhile, Alfred Vaz, the head of India’s External Intelligence Agency, has hired an artificial intelligence called “Rabbit.” Alfred is on a mission to infect the population with a disease that will allow him to control minds. Rabbit, who often appears as either the “Mysterious Stranger” or a rabbit avatar, is tasked with breaking into the UCSD biotech labs.

Via a video game, Rabbit gets a teacher to disguise herself as a dinosaur called “Big Lizard.” The teacher, Ms. Chumlig, asks Robert’s classmate, Juan Orozco, to keep an eye on his older classmates. Not knowing whom Big Lizard is, Juan agrees. His teacher manipulates him into becoming Robert’s composition partner.

Meanwhile, Miri is intent on helping her grandfather, even though he is cold toward her. She enlists the help of her grandmother and Robert’s ex-wife Lena, along with another older woman and classmate Xiu Xiang. Lena helps in secret, as she faked her death when Robert recovered. She despises Robert.

Robert then meets Sharif (as part of Rabbit’s plan), a graduate student who has decided to do his thesis on Robert’s poetry. Sharif’s virtual persona is infected with a virus, allowing Miri and Rabbit to appear as Sharif.

As Sharif, Rabbit tells Robert that he can revive his talent for poetry if he puts a mysterious box in Alice’s bathroom. The box later causes Alice to have a mental breakdown.

Inside the lab, books from the UCSD library are being copied into a digital format and shredded, inciting a group called the “Elder Cabal” to break into the lab to rescue the old books. A fight breaks out in the library over the virtual landscape of the space, and the group, including Robert and another elder named Tommie, sneak into the steam vents.

Miri and Juan go to the library after realizing that someone is manipulating Robert. They run into Alfred who grabs Juan, but Miri escapes, warning the men in the tunnel. Alfred sends a robot, threatening the men to stay put. The group overcomes the robot, but not before it destroys Tommie’s pacemaker.

Rabbit, having been taken off his detail, attempts to steal the mind control technology Alfred is after. Knowing that Credit Suisse powers Rabbit, Alfred decides to shut the company (and, in turn, a small percentage of the European economy) down. Rabbit’s power is reduced considerably, but he still operates.

Meanwhile, Xiu Xiang and Lena have been trying to get into the library but are unable. Xiu Xiang signals the marines that spies have compromised the lab, and Bob and his team head for the library.

Robert and Miri manage to keep Alfred’s experimental lab mice from shipping out as he had planned until Bob’s team destroys the area. After the explosion, Robert is pinned under a cabinet. Robert and Miri are suffering the effects of a mind-altering chemical, and lava from the damaged lab is heading for them. Miri, still confused, lies down next to Robert. He puts his arm in front of her to keep her from harm.

Robert and Alice are in the hospital in the next chapter. Alice is recovering from a mental break, and Robert has a crushed leg and severely burned arm. The government decides not to charge Robert for his part in the conspiracy because they hope that spies will attempt to contact him later.

As the story ends, Robert is kinder to his family. Miri decides to tell him that his ex-wife Lena is alive and he begins trying to contact her. Alice is back in training with the Marines, and Robert is settling into his new skill set. He contemplates what life would be like if he had both his poetic abilities and his new technological abilities.

The novel was well-received, winning the Hugo Award and the Locus award in 2007. It was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award the same year.