Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge, is definitely going to join the short list of books that freaked me out when I read them, along with The Stand and 1984. Rainbows End is a novel set in the not-too-distant future and, while I don’t buy how all the technology has developed–in this world, the Internet and multimedia technology are ubiquitous and most people spend most of their day plugged in–I don’t think Vinge is all that far off.
As I read this, I felt that that plot was less interesting than seeing this alternate future play out. The plot involves an odd assortment of characters trying to thwart the development of mind-control technology. The puppet master characters, who were pulling all the strings, did their job in such a way that it was hard to see how everything was going to come together or even what was going on.
But what really interested me was the plot elements that involved the Geisel Library at the University of California at San Diego. Having been employed at libraries for many years, I’ve seen the growing demand for digital materials, for journals to go online, for old books to get scanned and posted online, and so on. In Vinge’s future, the digitization projects have gone farther. But the way that books are digitized here causes the destruction of the books themselves. That was a disturbing chapter for me, given that I geek out at book exhibits and tear up at the sight of book burnings.
I can envision a world where the libraries are totally online, but I don’t know if me and the other book lovers could ever give up our tangible texts.