The Peace War
The Peace War is next up in my ongoing quest to read The Complete Vernor Vinge in Random Order. In this case, I saw the book at the library and figured that to be as good a reason as any to pick it up. I was a bit surprised however, discovering this book to be more or less absent his two favorite playgrounds: The Zones of Thought universe and The Singularity (capitalized because to Vinge it is a specific thing, not just any singularity). Instead, the novel is a fairly straightforward Overthrow the Evil Government tale. And that, I promise, is the last unnecessary capitalization I will use in this post.
The basis of the story is an invention called the bobble, which covers an area in some sort of impenetrable field. The exact nature of the bobbles is slowly revealed as the story progresses, but the effects are obvious from the start: hostile targets instantaneously enveloped by a perfectly reflective bubble. Vinge follows the discovery of bobbles, the pencil pushers who take over the world with them, and the rogue scientists and engineers that fight against the bobbling world government. There is also frequent use of the best word ever to come from SF: “embobbled.”
The world is interesting, a slightly skewed take on both post-apocalyptic tropes and anti-science regimes. The bobbles are initially deployed in the name of peace, removing anything hostile or belligerent. As is inevitable though, power soon abandons its idealism and shifts its focus to maintaining itself. The world is superficially idyllic, what with the lack of armies, bombs, terrorists, and whatnot, but the anti-science bent of the rulers means that humanity has regressed to confused, low technological base. Some engineering is allowed, but nothing that might result in threatening; bio-tech is anathema. Plagues periodically sweep through population centers and things like tuberculosis are once again deadly terrors.
Indeed, the world building is probably the best part of the book. The plot is fairly predictable (SPOILER ALERT: The good guys wiin!), though the hows and whats are creative even as the whys follow a standard path to resolution. The characters won’t be winning any prizes, but they do the trick. As might be expected of this sort of Hard SF, scientists and engineers are on a pedestal despite sinister developments at the beginning. That said, it wasn’t really the scientists that performed acts of villainy so much as the middle managers. Fair enough – in these post-Cold War, ethnically sensitive times, the one villain I’m sure we can all agree on is middle management.
The Peace War is not the most essential Vinge. He didn’t phone it in by any measure, but it lacks a bit of the sparkle that one sees in A Fire Upon the Deep or Rainbows End. Still, it’s entertaining and worth the relatively short time it takes to read. Recommended for completists, but newcomers should start with one of his more important novels.
Rating: Thierry Henry playing in MLS. One should never turn down a chance to see a master at work, but this is not his most memorable work.