Study Guide

Rainbows End Summary

By Vernor Vinge

Rainbows End Summary

Here's the super-short set-up for our two main plots:

1) Robert Gu was a famous poet and jerk; then he got Alzheimer's; then he got a medical treatment that cured him. But now he can't write poetry. However, he's pretty good at computer and engineering issues. That's a win, right? Wrong. He's so frustrated by losing his ability to write poetry that he's still sometimes a jerk. Especially to his family, like his "I just want to help" granddaughter, Miri Gu.

2) Alfred Vaz is a super spy who wants to save the world by creating a mind control technique. (It starts with a disease.) But when other spies get a hint of this, Vaz launches a plan to hide his secret scheme while he pretends to investigate his secret scheme. So he hires a mysterious figure called Rabbit to try to break into the UCSD biotech labs.

Here's how these two plots start to intertwine:

A) Robert Gu goes back to school to learn some basic skills for this heavily computerized world, like how to Google. (Slight exaggeration, but only slight.) In the not-so-smart school, Robert meets Juan Orozco. Juan Orozco gets recruited by Rabbit (through his school teacher). So now Robert is working with Juan, who is working with Rabbit, who is working for Vaz.

B) Robert's kid Bob and Bob's wife Alice work for the military, which might be a problem for Vaz… or an opportunity.

C) Miri wants to help Robert adjust to this brave new world of self-driving cars, etc., even though Robert wouldn't want her help. So Miri starts working with Juan to get Robert re-engaged with the world. She also eventually brings in her grandmother Lena (who hates her ex-husband Robert so much that she faked her own death to get away from him when his Alzheimer's was cured) and another oldster named Xiu Xiang who goes to school with Robert. So, while Robert thinks he's only working with Juan, Juan is secretly working with Miri, Lena, and Xiu.

D) Robert meets a grad student named Sharif who wants to do a paper on him—only this grad student gets a computer virus (basically), so his online persona is sometimes hijacked by Miri and sometimes hijacked by Rabbit. (Imagine if someone not only hacked into your email but could also make phone calls and video chats as you. That's how badly Sharif has been hijacked.) When Rabbit controls Sharif, he becomes "The Mysterious Stranger." He offers Robert a chance to gain his poetic ability back—and all he has to do is plant a mysterious box in the bathroom that Alice uses.

E) Confused yet?

F) Meanwhile, Robert gets involved with a bunch of people who want to preserve the old books at the UCSD library, because the books are being shredded and digitized. Rabbit is talking to these people also, trying to get them to do what he wants, which is break into the biotech labs. So originally they want to break into the biotech lab to ruin the book digitization process; but now several of them have secret motivations. (For instance, Robert wants his poetic ability back.)

G) Also, fans of different media fight over what the library should look like virtually. Some of those fans are being manipulated by Rabbit.

Here's the conclusion:

During the fan fight at the library (G), the people who want to save the books (F) break into the biotech lab, which helps Alfred at first (2); because of the mysterious box that Robert planted in the bathroom (and all because he just wanted to gain his poetic ability back) (1), Alice suffers a breakdown (B); Miri and Juan are trying to help Robert (C) and help to wreck Alfred's plan.

Also, the super-spies try to hurt Rabbit when he turns on them.

So when the book ends: Alfred lost his project, but probably wasn't exposed; Rabbit was hurt but still seems to be around; Alice is getting better; and Robert still can't write poetry, but seems a little happier now that he's dedicated to doing computer stuff instead of poetry.