The main protagonist is Juan who has to achieve an “offline” school project with Miriam given the restriction that they have to do it without connection to the Internet – a hard task for those always-connected teenagers. In addition, the project has to generate income for the school – Miriam found strange goings-on in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park where FoxWarner corporation setout for an interactive entertainment series. In the night, Juan, Miriam and her grandfather go to the park and find intelligent mice – being a secret labor experiment or artificial, I don’t know. Somehow this will give the highschool an inside scoop of the movie and lead to an A grade.
In the background looms Juan’s suspicious virtual partner Bertie who gave him drugs so that he is able to analyse information much faster and some biological gadgets to be tested in the offline project.
The novella is Juan’s coming-of-age story – he has to get free from Bertie’s influence in several ways: from the drugs and from being used as a “doormat” (in Miriam’s wording).
It won the Hugo Award in 2002 and seems to be a kind of a test-balloon, because Vinge evolved it to the 2007 novel Rainbows End: San Diego in the year 2025, former Alzheimer patient Robert Gu recovering from his illness, his niece Miriam in the highschool Fairmont High, their top-military parents. And all the lovely gadgets which I find to be a very valid near future projection of what we have.
Some might not like the short-story like open-end, others might have difficulty with the geekness of the gadget’s descriptions. But you’ll find no one with a better background for writing this novella than former San Diego computer science professor Vernor Vinge who is really in his element here.
Very convincing and recommended!