Robert Gu was a world famous and brilliant poet. And a very nasty person. Then he got Alzheimer's, and the world went away. Now it's 2025, and there's a cure, so the world comes back. But it's a very different world, and Robert finds that he's a different person: no poet, maybe not so nasty, and suffering severe culture shock as even the dumbest kids can access and manipulate the world in ways he can barely imagine. On top of all that, he finds himself being drawn into a movement to save UCSD library from the digitising shredders, which itself is only a cover for something far more sinister.
Vinge paints a tremendous sense of place, with the kids and their wearable computers running rings round the "retreads": oldsters who got left behind for one reason or another now trying to catch up. It's an exhilarating, terrifying, almost incomprehensible world, and not very far from our own. The differences might seem to have happened implausibly soon, but a lot can happen in 20 years: 1986 seems like another planet; so does this 2025. In a world where any information, from simple data, to the results of complex calculations, can be had for the asking, the new skill is knowing which questions to ask, and being able to combine results from diverse specialities. There are new problems, too, and many of the characters are trying to avert The Next Bad Thing, which might just be the one to wipe out humanity. But sometimes the prevention is worse that the disease.
Great stuff, with mind-blowing extrapolations on almost every page. And the Singularity isn't even here yet!
Meet the Tines, the Skroderiders, Twirlip of the Mists, hexapodia as the key insight, the Unthinking Depths, The Slow Zone, The Transcend, and everything else!