I really have to stop reading BoingBoing. About twice a month, they mention a book that catches my attention that I feel like I have to read. As it is, I already own too many books than I’ll be able to finish in my lifetime. The last thing I need is one more source to add to that list!
Luckily, this one was worth it, even if it was pretty much the only book I read in October. It’s dense, and sometimes hard to follow, but it has a sense of importance surrounding it. The book is set in a future where electronic communication is so much the norm that the network is coded into peoples’ clothes. Need to search Google? Shrug your shoulder to bring up the proper interface. Need to enter a search term? Type your fingers in the air, or gesture in such a way to use a saved search term. Want to follow someone and see what they’re up to? Well, it’s all on the public network.
In a way, it’s very frightening, but I think that’s exactly how Vinge wants us to feel. Already, communications and the Internet have decreased our privacy, and the author just takes the situation to a logical progression where everything is digitized and instantaneous. Is it satire? Is it social commentary? Is it scathting? It’s hard to say, because the tone of the entire novel seems very neutral. I think it addresses important issues, though, so no matter the intentions of the author, the point comes across.
The novel could have been clunky, but Vinge makes the protagonist an aging poet who recovers from Alzheimer’s thanks to the progress made in medicine. Revived with his mind and his youth, he’s a man cast off from a distant past (our current future), and he learns the nuances of this new society for us. That he’s also desperate enough to make a shady deal in an effort to regain his poetic voice makes him more than just a device, too; he’s a full-blown character with a significant role in the story.
I’ll admit that there were some parts of this story that I didn’t understand. It took me a while to get used to the SMing (silent messaging) narrative, and I lost track of a few of the characters because there were pockets of the story where there were large numbers of people talking. But the story kept me engrossed, and I felt like I had to finish the book. Even though it took me a long time to read it, I never felt like giving up on it.
If you’re fascinated by technology and like social commentary science fiction, read this book. You need to.