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Book Review: Rainbows End by Rudy Rucker

Accepted submission by cafebabe at 2018-10-09 20:50:46
Digital Liberty

I previously reviewed Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy [] and Postsingular [] and found that Rudy Rucker []'s best work comes after ideas had the most time to percolate. Postsingular was a relative dud, although still far superior to Neal Stephenson's REAMDE []. In contrast, Rainbows End [] is highly recommended. Indeed, it is essential reading for anyone concerned about the progression of software from desktop, web and mobile to augmented reality []. The book has a shockingly similar game to Pokémon Go [] in addition to a plausible mix of tech mergers and new entrants in a near-future universe where smartphones have given way to wearable augmented reality.

Many books, comics and films have covered the purgatory of high school and some have covered the special purgatory of going back to high school (for a re-union or as a student). The film: 21 Jump Street [] is a particularly silly example of the sub-genre. Rainbows End covers a world leading humanities [] academic who spends years in the fugue of dementia [], responds almost perfectly to medical advances and is enrolled in high school to complete his therapy. While he looks almost perfectly like a 17 year old, his contemporaries remain in decline or have bounced back with far more random results.

Although he has physically recovered, he has lost his razor-sharp insight and biting wit []. Like other patients, he finds talents in unrelated areas. His computer fluency, which was sufficient to publish in academic journals, is now 20 years out of date. During this period, laptops have become as thin as paper and also horrendously obsolete. Although the paper-thin laptops can be configured as a variety of legacy desktop environments and legacy web browsers, rendering data from the (almost) ubiquitous wireless network is less successful than accessing the current World Wide Web without images [] or JavaScript. However, this is only one slice of purgatory.

Almost everyone and everything from the protagonist's granddaughter to classmates to the high school syllabus pressures him into getting his own augmented reality client. It is worse than the current pressure to join social networks []. Understandably, many curmudgeons [] never take the leap. Obviously, narrative would greatly suffer if our protagonist wasn't one of the bold few. But, whoa, what a world which awaits! It is easier to flip through augmented reality overlays than to change channel in IRC []. He also gets acquainted with instant messaging [], tele-presence [] and the innards of network jitter []. He stays in contact with faculty and, from this, some of the action is set around UCSD []'s Geisel Library []. However, the protagonist has fractious relations with family, is failing classes in a downmarket charter school [], is socially awkward and makes zero progress on a personal cornerstone of academic publication. Old friends suspect that he's lost his spark. Meanwhile, new talents are frustrated by digital certificate chains [], "secure" management engines [], DRM and no user servicable parts (with particular reference to vehicles) []. "Computer says no." [] is enough to test anyone's sanity.

The protagonist endures art classes which are mostly editing and sequencing augmented reality effects; shop classes which use a patronising wifi [], DRM, augmented reality, servo [] construction set [] (a plausible successor to Lego Mindstorms []); and "Search And Analysis", trite MBA [] classes for the effective use of search engines, analytics [], forums and crowd-sourcing. Meanwhile, there are sub-plots involving a library digitization project, a biological threat and a hacker portrayed as a white rabbit. The white rabbit is a cheeky, winsome character more like Bugs Bunny [] or Roger Rabbit [] than Lewis Carroll []'s nervous White Rabbit []. It is not new for an author to have a theme about literacy heritage. (Or lack thereof.) Ray Bradbury []'s Fahrenheit 451 [] covers book burning [] in the most literal and alarming form. Rudy Rucker covers subtle matters. For example, when the physical becomes virtual, the loss (or reduced use) of alphabetical index reduces serendipity []. It also covers the matter of gifting public collections to billionaires; ostensibly in the name of progress.

Many of the characters perform double duty and this creates a soap opera bubble of reality. It feels like an author being clever with an overly constrained plot. Before the midpoint of the book, it is quite apparent that the loose ends of the plot get resolved far too tidily. Nevertheless, it is highly enjoyable and has technical merit while doing more with less. Rudy Rucker's Ware Tetralogy takes the mythical imipolex plastic [] of Thomas Pynchon []'s book: Gravity's Rainbow [] (written in similar style to the Illuminatus trilogy []) and infuses it with general purpose artificial intelligence []. Postsingular has nanobot [] gray goo [] and parallel universes []. Rainbows End is more alarming because no such leaps are required.

Rainbows End by Rudy Rucker is widely available in print.

After reading Rainbows End, I had a peculiar dream where a widespread implementation of augmented reality used a three dimensional version of CSS []. This provided bounding boxes [] for trigger [] events [] written in JavaScript []. I explained this to a friend who physically recoiled at the concept - and only partly in jest. Historically, interactive VRML [] was implemented with Java []. Since then, CSS [], JavaScript [] and SSL [] have become increasingly ubiquitous. Even Google Glass [] apps used a perverse HTTP [] interface rather than the more logical choice of extending the Android [] API []. (implements Runnable [] extends Wearable?) The missing piece (Augmented Reality CSS), which I perceived so vividly, could supercede almost every piece of software except main-frame [] and game-frame [] back-ends. Obviously, this would create one big cloudy mess [] of business and leisure applications implemented with terabytes [] of JavaScript to form a modal concensus reality. From that foundation, magic occurs [].

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