Aug 04 2008

Two Books Set in California

Published by at 5:52 am under Books

A few months ago, I read two novels by reasonably well established science fiction writers. Neither story was set far away in space or time. No aliens. No space travel. One was set in a recognizable future San Diego and the other in present day San Francisco. One main character is elderly alzheimer patient and the other a brash teenager.

Rainbow’s End
Vernor Vinge

This is the old man’s story which has an interesting premise: in a future, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease is found which restores memory capability, but doesn’t restore all lost memories and mental capabilities. What happens when you have a recovered old person with some but not all of his memories and mental skills? In this story, they remember what they formerly were capable of doing but can no longer do it. They know what skills that had, but don’t have them to the same extent. So, they are sent back to high school to start to be re-educated and to catch up with the changes that happened while they were suffering Alzheimer’s. Naturally, they don’t fit in with teenagers and form a second caste.

As in much ‘science’ (more accurately: speculative) fiction, all the important characters are essentially geniuses. The recovered Alzheimer’s victim who is the main character was a world renowned poet whose son and daughter in law routinely save the world against various threats (only a side plot). The world in this story is full of computers and sensors that communicate with and for you, tell you where things are located, and what is happening around you or elsewhere it if is likely to interest you. They will even allow you to see the world with a visual overlay of your choosing; medieval European town, forest, etc.

The poet is not very happy in this sort of work, but adapts to an extent and eventually participates in a plot which intends to stop the shredding of library books that are being shredded so that they can be more easily scanned and digitized (clever) and inadvertently saving the world from saving the world from a mind control drug. Nice days work.

Clever writing, good imagining of what such a world might be like, but a pretty silly plot. Readable and sometimes interesting, but I expected more. Vinge is also a mathematician/computer scientist who has identified or at least popularized several important Internet and computing ideas. First, in a story entitled “True Names” the impact of multiple and false names as used electronically. Secondly, the currently much discussed idea of a “Singularity” a time at which machines become more intelligent than humans and take off on their own evolutionary path.

Little Brother
Cory Doctorow

“Little Brother” set in San Francisco is not at all science fiction. Not even very speculative fiction. It is a story for “young adults” (very definitely not me!) set in a very near future San Francisco. Some terrorists blows of the Bay Bridge and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security takes control of the San Francisco with a very heavy hand. The story then tells of a group of teens who are inadvertently caught up in the aftermath of the attack on the bridge, how they are oppressed and eventually triumph.

One teen aged boy in particular it taken away by the DHS and eventually released. The story then tell how he mobilizes other teens to ‘take back’ their city and they do. The story is again pretty straight forward and arbitrary. Its main function if to provide a collection of simple explanations of computer related technologies and how to get around oppressive surveillance and security systems. Of course it is not specific on instructions. Maybe a good book for kids that didn’t take long to read (especially if you skip the side expositions).

I was curious about this book, but clearly am not in its intended audience. Didn’t take much time.

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