Study Guide

Xiu Xiang in Rainbows End

By Vernor Vinge

Xiu Xiang

Old Engineer with New Tech

If you need something built to break something else, call Xiu Xiang. Like Robert, Xiu Xiang is an old person who has been given new life by medical technology. She used to be almost Nobel quality, with PhDs in physics and electrical engineering.

But when we first see her, she's clearly fallen behind (5.13) and is—gasp!—trying to keep up with a viewpaper instead of wearable computers (4.121). In fact, when Juan first looks at Xiu for his secret affiliance project, he thinks she might be useful more for her contacts than for her skills.

Compared to Robert, Xiu has a slightly easier time: she may be lost in the new computerized world, but at least she doesn't have his bitterness over losing her talent in some other area. Xiu was always a techie and still is… only she needs to work hard to get used to the new tech.

She even points out to Juan that she developed one of the Secure Hardware Environments that is the foundation for much of their computer tech (5.3). She may complain about not understanding the toys, but with a little help from Juan, she's starting to assemble things in shop class—like the transport tray that Robert turns into a cutter to destroy a car (5.7, 8.100).

So whereas Robert's growth is from jerky poet to less-jerky techie, Xiu's transformation is from (a) person in the past who helped build the system to (b) person in the present who is somewhat interested in breaking the system down. As she says, she started with hands-on experience, but:

"Nowadays, our access to real things is muffled by layers of automated bureaucracy—and I guess my own SHE is partly to blame." (13.71)

It makes sense, then, that when Tommie Parker (the hacker) first sees Xiu, he remembers "some very distasteful turn-of-the-century papers in Secure Computing" (29.50). But it's important that his first view of her is when she's standing in the way of a cop car, playing "block the tanks at Tiananmen Square." She's all hands-on.