Vernor Vinge : The Peace War/Marooned in Realtime

It seems a little odd that I never read anything of Vinge’s before; several of his books have won or been shortlisted for major SF words, and the second half of this volume — written way back in ’86! — is apparently the first explicit reference to “technological singularity” in the modern sense — a sort of magic moment in which human intelligence is transcended.

The Peace War wasn’t much to my taste. It posits a rather magical technology which a regime exploits to prevent global thermonuclear war, at the cost of halting technological advancement except within its inner circle. (In both of these novels I found the implicit politics intermittently hard to stomach). It has some interesting characters (and a few tiresome stock figures) and an action-oriented plot that might translate well to film. But fundamentally it relies on a gambit I’ve always thought a bit unfair: the reader spends the first chunk of the novel working out what the characters already know about the “magic” technology, and then Vinge changes the rules abruptly.

Marooned in Realtime was more my speed. In it a small group of humans from the near future find themselves in the far distant future, apparently after the rest of humanity is extinct. There are conflicts between factions that want to rekindle human civilization, and some with other objectives. Vinge sets up an intriguing variation on the locked room mystery, again involving extrapolations of his “magic” technological innovation. The primary viewpoint character is a 21st-century ex-police officer struggling to solve the murder, which requires trying to comprehend the motivations and motives of people whose subjective lifespans have been hundreds or even thousands of times longer than his. Vinge doesn’t play completely fair by whodunnit rules, but changes the game in mid-stream less than The Peace War; there are some feints toward some rather hoary resolutions that Vinge thankfully doesn’t follow through on. A curious mix of pessimism and optimism marks Marooned in RealtIme; Vinge suggests that our capacity for self-destruction is likely to stay with us; I found his nearly-empty future Earth distinctly depressing. But the human spirit and survival drive offer a glimmer of hope, if not as steadfastly and rosily as they do in, say, the Star Trek universe. I’m certainly not sorry I read these books.

needs more demons? adequately equipped with demons.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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