Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Librareome, Librarian Militants, Dangerous Knowledge and haptics

Vernor Vinge's RAINBOW'S END has a lot going on. Multiple plot lines initially confuscate the deeper story of how in the near future we are doing battle for books, the real hold in your hand with warp and weight kind versus the plug in and access digitally kind. Interestingly, Vernor doesn't come down in support of either side rather suggesting room for both. However, he does indirectly warn about moving too fast and destroying print resources unnecessarily. As an academic, computer science and mathematician, he is well placed to see the threat to print as libraries are becoming digitized and books warehoused and shelf space converted for computers. On some level, Vernor is mirroring current trends toward de-valuing print as inconvenient and stodgy. When all the world's knowledge is at your fingertips, quite literally in Vinge's haptic interface scenarios, why would we want to encumber ourselves with print? Vinge somewhat cryptically implies that linguistically our ability to communicate will change without the written word. With a former poet as protagonist, we learn to value true creativity and not limit it to the lyrical. There is art in everything.

This simplifies the message. However, there are mixed messages in the novel. The protagonist suffers from the loss of an ability to weave words into poetry but discovers the poetry in networking multiple inputs into a coherent collaborative creation.

Rainbow's End also includes bio-chemical terrorist threats along with the inevitable play for world domination but I read this more as a plot device to move the story along. Vinge includes lots of tech projection of near future possibilties to support the cyberpunk tone I relish. But there is a human story here beyond the genre that makes the novel more:

"...there's something you have to learn as you grow up. Some people make their own problems. And they never stop hurting themselves and messing up the people around them. When that's the case, then you shouldn't keep hurting yourself for them."

Good bibliotherapeutic advice whether on a personal, communal or global scale.