Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor (17 Aug 2007)
Set in 2025, the central character is Robert Gu, formerly one of poetry's shining stars, who has been suffering from Alzheimer's for many years but who has now been restored to relative physical and mental health by a new medical treatment. Of course, the world has moved on, and he has long since lost his place. How he finds it again is the subject of this novel.
Firstly, this is relatively unusual in being set in the near future - less than a generation from now, which is a dangerous time for any SF novel. (1984? 2001? And that's just novels with dates.) But it's possibly more unusual in that, at least to start with, there isn't a sympathetic character to be found. Gu himself is a man who achieved his prominence as someone who could use words with a facility denied to others, and he frequently used that ability to cut others to shreds. He still has that ability, even if the constructive side hasn't yet returned. And the other characters all seem to be trying to exploit each other too. The most worrying attempt is in the 'You Gotta Believe Me ' (YGBM) program, which is an entirely too credible research program by which a government or large corporation (there's a difference?) could reliably persuade people to do what it wanted. The hidden machinations of those trying to further or hinder this impinge initially tangentially on our characters, but it later becomes really quite important.
(Note that the lack of an apostrophe in the title is deliberate, and remarked upon in the text.)
In the end, a novel is supposed to be about character growth. In Robert Gu's case, it's regrowth, but it's certainly there, and the other major characters do develop. But you also get Vinge's trademark scintillating invention. By the way, in the hours between buying this and reading it, it had won this year's Hugo - and deservedly.