Vernor Vinge, the greatest SF writer, 1944-2024

I have received the sad news of the passing of the world's greatest science fiction writer, Vernor Vinge, who was also my friend and onetime collaborator. (And, I need to point out, it's pronounced Vin-gee.)

I don't bestow that title lightly. Certainly with 3 Hugo awards for best novel he was one of the most decorated. Heinlein with 4 is far in the past. Two others have more, and some might argue others spun better prose, but when it comes to what I think great real SF should do, Vernor was the top in my book. When it come to exploring world-shaking ideas none were his equal. Here is more about what makes great SF and why Vernor was the leader.

His stories explored radical political theories and introduced us to a concept that's become a household word, "the singularity" -- a term that he coined. Many concepts of VR and cyberspace were unveiled in "True Names" and much thinking on networks and superhuman intelligence was born in A Fire Upon the Deep. The list goes on and on. Shortly after A Fire Upon the Deep came out I worked with Vernor to produce and publish a hypertext e-book of it which included all his author's notes while he was writing it, a rare chance to see inside the writer's mind.

His last novel award was for Rainbow's End which was seminal in thinking on wearable technology and augmented reality, so much so that the leaders of the Google Glass project distributed it to team members. I brought Vernor up to Google and meet them, as well as get a ride in the self-driving car. (Such cars had also featured in Rainbow's End.) All were very excited to meet the man who had inspired them.

During that visit to Google, I did an interview with him on camera for an appreciative crowd of Google employees. In it, I asked him about themes in many of his great stories and novels.

I was also chair for computing at an institution called Singularity University. It had been named that by Ray Kurzweil, who had published a book The Singularity is Near but the name and concepts were introduced by Vernor in his essay, "The Coming Technological Singularity." There, he talked about the potential and risk of an intelligence explosion, but used the term singularity (which is a discontinuity in mathematics) to refer to a metaphorical discontinuity in understanding, because we pre-singularity beings don't have the mental tools to even understand the issues of beings who are much better at thinking than we are.

Indeed, it was only fair that he get to give a talk to the students at Singularity U. who were thrilled at the chance. I could not get him to come every year, unfortunately, but there is a video of that talk.

Both of these are long videos, so perhaps you will add them to your YouTube watchlist to peruse later.

Vernor won't see any singularity that comes, he was born late enough to predict it but too soon to reach it, unless he went into the entirely fictional time-stopping "bobbles" he used for his novels about it. Some have wondered if in the future, an AI might be able to recreate a mind with enough of their writings and video and other data. This is one man they'll definitely want to work on. We'll see if they get the mischief in his smile.


Condolences on the passing of your friend Vernor, Brad. One of my favorite SF authors. You're lucky to have known him.

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