Study Guide

Alfred Vaz in Rainbows End

By Vernor Vinge

Alfred Vaz

Schemer Dreamer

All Alfred Vaz needs is a white cat to stroke and a volcano lair and he'd be a Bond villain. Oh, sure he has good intentions: he's only developing mind control technology in order to save the world from bad people with super weapons… the idea that he might be a bad person with a super weapon never seems to occur to him.

As Vaz notes, people are developing great new technologies all the time, but some of those technologies can be used for, you know, blowing up the world. And that sort of technology is easier and cheaper now:

There were a dozen research trends that could ultimately put world-killer weapons into the hands of anyone having a bad hair day. (1.86)

So maybe it's not such a bad idea to invest in mind control?

Before we judge Alfred Vaz, let's lay out the facts about him. Alfred Vaz is an important intelligence agent in India's External Intelligence Agency and he's so secret that not many people know about him (1.1). Every other spy has a Twitter account, we guess? Though he's now got a desk job (in his secret office), he was once a field agent (17.55). And all this time, he's subtly guided Günberk Braun and Keiko Mitsuri:

In a sense, he had guided them into their intel careers, though neither they nor their organizations suspected the fact. (17.1)

We never learn what Vaz means by that "In a sense"—did he forward their files to someone at their intelligence agencies? Did he give them birthday gifts of secret cameras so they could play at being spies? We never know, but we do know this: Alfred is very good at what he does, so good that he can fool other spies and spy agencies. And he almost gets away with his big scheme.

As he says when discussing his mind control project, "For the first time in history, the world would be under adult supervision" (1.88)—by which, he means "my supervision"—after all, no one in any of the intelligence agencies is in on this secret.

So how bad is he, anyway? Vaz has some good intentions (preventing bad people from blowing up with world) but he has some questionable means (making himself the most powerful person in the world). We could compare him to Bob Gu, who sometimes has to kill and destroy to make the world safe. Is Vaz worse than Bob Gu? Is he the villain of the book?

We're not so sure. If Vinge wrote this book without any POV moment from Vaz, we might just think "Oh, he's a crazy dude who wants to control the world." But since we get his POV, we get to hear his opinions and feelings about things.

So when, at the end, he leaves Robert and Miri in the lab to die, we get to see that he's unhappy about this situation:

He looked angrily away from the viewpoint. Damn me. He had accomplished nothing this night except destroy good people. (32.82)

Here Alfred is thinking about two people who have totally messed up his plans and he's not stroking his white cat or twirling his waxed moustache—he's regretting that he can't do anything about it.

Except, of course, he could. He could call the police or someone and save the Gus, but it would probably expose him. So even though we get to see Alfred's thoughts and know he's not a total monster, we also see that he's more interested in helping himself than in helping other people.

So maybe he's not the best guy to give mind control technology to? Check out "Tone" for one final thought on this.