Rainbows End won the 2008 Hugo Award, which is why I decided to pick it up and read it. I am a fan of science fiction, although it is not my favorite genre (that would be fantasy - similar, but not the same). This book is almost in the realm of speculative fiction, as it only takes place a little more than fifteen years in the future, and relies on the world remaining pretty much the same.
The book takes place over the course of several weeks, with most of the action happening in a single night. It is 2025, and our world looks very similar, although there are obvious differences. Technology has continued moving forward in leaps and bounds, paving the way for medical miracles and wearable computer hardware. Most young people have grown up with "wearables" - contact lenses and clothes that allow them to surf the internet and communicate as long as they are in range of the network (which means pretty much anywhere). The world has suffered from some horrendous events, which are mainly unspecified, but seem to be terrorist attacks as well as natural disasters. Two of the characters in the book are high-level Marines, and it is interesting to see how the past affects the way the military does things.
The main character is Robert Gu, a former world-renowned poet who lost much of his life to Alzheimer's. The medical establishment was able to cure him, and now he is making his way back in this strange new world. He lives with his son and daughter-in-law (the Marines), and their daughter Miri. In order to get up to speed with his clever grandaughter he goes to a local school for retraining - he is there with high school students and other elderly people who are trying to learn the same as him. From this point the plot gets rather complicated, and it is difficult to summarize without taking up paragraphs.
I really enjoyed Vinge's look at the future. It is easy to see how our world could become such a virtual place. One of the most entertaining and fascinating pieces of this future is the "belief circles". These are virtual realities created by fans of a particular author or work. An example from the book is the world that Terry Pratchett fans have created, which, if you tune in to their network, makes your world appear to be Discworld. It is very interactive and creative, as fans all over the world contribute to their particular belief circle to make it more fun for everyone. Vinge also does a great job of showing how not everyone is up to speed with all of the new technology. It's very much like today - some people are super internet-savvy, while others barely know how to use a mouse.
This was a great read, and I would recommend it to any science fiction fans, or anyone interested in speculative fiction. I read it for my 999 Challenge, for which I am reading award-winning books. It is also my "V" book for the A-Z Challenge, and Vernor Vinge is a new author for me, so I am counting it for the New Author Challenge as well!