Aug. 29 to
Sept. 2, 2002
Writer - Ver-noir Vinge
From the first, I suspected that there was noir in Vernor. A dark, insidious intellect, lurking beneath the suntan. Of course the smiling, mild-mannered mathematician I met in the mid-1960s seemed of sunny disposition, beaming at me from behind his glasses. But the eyes had a cool distance - which admittedly one sees often in mathematicians.
I met Vernor when we both were working on doctorates at the University of California at San Diego. Odd, I thought, that two beginning SF writers should turn up at the same small grad school. (Yet UCSD has since also produced Ph.D.s David Brin and Stan Robinson, with Greg Bear and Ray Feist lurking about the campus as well. I rather wonder why.) So we talked SF, found that we were similar in many views, despite the fact that Vernor seemed to be more an Analog sort and I was more F&SF. Hard SF, sure, though with some differences of tone.
Yet he lacked the fanatic-artist glaze that one might expect a mathematician writer to have. For most of the profession, a mathematician is a machine for converting caffeine into theorems. We didn't see the cool analytical distance in him fully until True Names, his 1981 groundbreaking depiction of cyberspace - the very first, long before the movies 'Tron' and 'Blade Runner' (1982) and cyberpunk (1984). Prescient in its view that even virtual worlds will be fields for power games, it told us that Vernor could look dispassionately at even the most gee-whiz ideas.
He proved this again with the Real-time sequence. Then he went one better with A Fire Upon the Deep, winning a Hugo and restoring the prestige of space opera (a term I've never liked; too demeaning).
Vernor is dangerously acute wielding an idea, and he has a lot of them. What would people really do if a stasis field let them travel forward to the future unblemished by age? How much of a Big Deal will we wily humans be on the galactic stage, really?
He's on the Hugo ballot again this year, and his deadly penetrating gaze will probably bring him still more rafts of readers. Maybe it does indeed take a mathematician to think through such ideas as the Singularity - the boundary between Us and a Them so techno-godlike as to defy definition - with grace and craft.
Whatever he does next, hold on tight to your assumptions. They're liable to be blown away.
- Gregory Benford
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