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April 30, 2013 10:08 AM   Subscribe

John Brunner’s The Shockwave Rider

Brunner is perhaps more famous for Stand On Zanzibar
The book, published in 1969, is set in the year 2010, and this allows us to make a point-by-point comparison, and marvel at novelist John Brunner’s uncanny ability to anticipate the shape of the world to come. Indeed, his vision of the year 2010 even includes a popular leader named President Obomi — face it, Nate Silver himself couldn’t have done that back in 1969!
posted by the man of twists and turns (31 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Been a long while since I have read any of Brunner's work, but The Sheep Look Up was my favorite.
posted by dougzilla at 10:17 AM on April 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


I read it a decade or so back. Can't say it's stuck with me like Stand on Zanzibar, which is way too f***ing prescient. Way too many muckers out there.
posted by philip-random at 10:18 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I read all three in a row last year - it was a lot of grimness at once, and definitely left my thoughts with a slight tint of pessimism for a while. One of the little bits from Shockwave Rider that I liked a lot was the job description of "Systems Rationalizer" which I took for my twitter bio.
posted by thedaniel at 10:41 AM on April 30, 2013


Now you need to read The Jagged Orbit as well, the fourth in that quartet of near future books.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidently, the review here is by Jo Walton and you can do worse than read all the reviews she has done for Tor.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:45 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Shockwave Rider got some things very wrong, but boy did it get some things very right. Although instead of the 'ten nines', we've got tumblr and postsecret, I guess.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:47 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


(1) Random acts of violence by crazy individuals, often taking place at schools, plague society in Stand on Zanzibar.

(2) The other major source of instability and violence comes from terrorists, who are now a major threat to U.S. interests, and even manage to attack buildings within the United States.


First of all, these don't sound like two separate predictions to me. But more importantly, these things were common well before 1969. "Anarchists" running around shooting people, even people going crazy and shooting up schools.

Just because the past is down the memoryhole doesn't mean a novelist from that era is good at predicting.

(7) Although some people still get married, many in the younger generation now prefer short-term hookups without long-term commitment.

This is like those horoscope predictions. EVERYBODY in EVERY TIME always thinks the current crop of youngsters is too sexual and not committed enough.
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse - thanks for the tip! I grabbed it for my Kindle, and look forward to being dragged into despair during my next flight.
posted by thedaniel at 11:04 AM on April 30, 2013


> > (7) Although some people still get married, many in the younger generation now prefer short-term hookups without long-term commitment.

> EVERYBODY in EVERY TIME always thinks the current crop of youngsters is too sexual and not committed enough.

No, I think this really has dramatically changed.

My sister's been with her partner for, what, fifteen years? They have two kids together - but they aren't married, and no one seems to care at all.

Having kids and not getting married carried a massive social stigma in 1963 - now it's just not an issue.

I'm a big fan of John Brunner and I'm surprised that the Shockwave Rider doesn't hold up - I haven't read it in five years or so but I've read pretty well everything he wrote several times (in common with a lot of other writers).

I think I mentioned on a previous John Brunner thread, but I met him once - he was the guest of honor at Ottawa's first SF convention, Maplecon. At the time he was greying, slight, walked with a cane (from a WWII wound) - words like "distinguished" instantly came to mind. I said no more than a few words to him after his talk, but overall he was gracious and civilized - a real gentleman.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:17 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having kids and not getting married carried a massive social stigma in 1963 - now it's just not an issue.

The prediction said nothing about having kids. In fact, it says the exact opposite: short-term hookups and no long-term commitment.
posted by DU at 11:31 AM on April 30, 2013


Just this past weekend, my mind was wandering while waiting for a wedding to start, and I began composing an AskMe question in my head to the effect of "Are there any pre-internet era sci-fi novels or stories that predict internet like technology?"

spooky.
posted by billyfleetwood at 11:33 AM on April 30, 2013


And of course inspired Royal Trux (SLYT)
posted by halliburtron at 11:44 AM on April 30, 2013


May I suggest The Age of the Pussyfoot by Frederik Pohl which predicted smartphones, sort of.
posted by overleaf at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a big fan of John Brunner
...posted by lupus_yonderboy


Well, yes.

I've got a decent sampling of Brunner, both the large and small stuff. I should plough through some of the unread early stuff, like The Super Barbarians and The World Swappers.
posted by zamboni at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2013


My sister's been with her partner for, what, fifteen years? They have two kids together - but they aren't married, and no one seems to care at all.

Having kids and not getting married carried a massive social stigma in 1963 - now it's just not an issue.
Actually, go a century further into the past and you'll find that for most of the working classes this was also the norm, with marriage largely reserved for the middle and upper classes.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Sheep Look Up still scares me.
posted by dubold at 11:56 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


DU: First of all, these don't sound like two separate predictions to me. But more importantly, these things were common well before 1969. "Anarchists" running around shooting people, even people going crazy and shooting up schools.
The thing is, we accept it as common because it happens so much more often now. I wrote an essay about Brunner a few years back, and reposted it in the Newton thread because "muckers" were mentioned. In it I wrote, While there are events that could be considered 'terrorist attacks' stretching back into antiquity, most of what we know as terrorism hadn't even happened yet. Munich wasn't until 1972. The first terrorist suicide bomb wasn't detonated until 1981. My recollection is that people in Brunner's Zanzibar world view terrorist attacks, even after a particularly horrific incident involving mono-molecular wire, much like the weather, i.e. something beyond their control. They are much more frightened of "muckers" than they are of terrorism.

Rampage killings stretch back into pre-history as well, but they too have seen a dramatic upsurge just in our lifetimes. A few months back I analyzed the data from the Wikipedia article "List of Rampage Killers." Long story short, and with all appropriate caveats and addenda, in the 105 years between 1863 and 1968 there were 39 incidences of "rampage killings", "workplace killings", and "school massacres" in the United States. In the 43 years between 1969 and 2012 there were 89.

Brunner wrote 58 novels between 1951 and 1993. The rest of his oeuvre are fairly typical space opera and science-fiction-fantasy. The so-called "Club of Rome Quartet," with the possible addition of The Squares of the City, represent a departure for Brunner from his usual fare. They stand out as starkly visionary of a time when the food is poison, your electronic record is more important than your physical being, and the graves of the victims of the last rampage massacre haven't settled before new ones need to be dug for the victims of the latest.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:14 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Jagged Orbit" also had someone telecommuting in his underwear and people complaining about spam (but physical -- "satch" for "saturation mailing".)

Stand on Zanzibar and the Sheep Look Up were incredibly influential on me. Great books.
posted by Zed at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2013


If you aren't doing a comparison based on the per-capita rate, then you aren't really showing anything.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:21 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the protagonist, what does "his name is problematic" mean?
posted by Sebmojo at 1:39 PM on April 30, 2013


Speaking of the protagonist, what does "his name is problematic" mean?
Spoiler
I assume Walton is referring to Nickie Halflinger's continually shifting identity.
posted by zamboni at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2013


> The rest of his oeuvre are fairly typical space opera and science-fiction-fantasy.

Not so!

"The Traveller In Black" is a strange and moody fantasy novel that's very much sui generis.

The Whole Man is a classic for many reasons, not the least of which is that the protagonist is differently-abled (as we'd say today). It's also a very intensely emotional book, I really can't recommend it enough.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:20 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and "The Super Barbarians" is more conventional space opera but still a really good read and has some excellent surprises in it...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:42 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I saw "published in 1969" iI thought it referred to "Shockwave Rider", not "Stand on Zanzibar". While able to recall both from their time of publication, I was relieved to see that my advanced age has not affected that particular memory. 1975 was more or less what came to mind before receiving confirmation from TFA.
posted by hwestiii at 2:44 PM on April 30, 2013


There's a whole world of John Brunner stories besides his most famous three (or five) books, and many of them are wonderful. His Catch A Falling Star was the second or third adult book I ever read, and parts of it still haunt the old back brain, influencing everything that I've imagined since.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:46 PM on April 30, 2013


The rest of his oeuvre are fairly typical space opera and science-fiction-fantasy.

The thing about Brunner is that he was a typical pulp writer, sort of got hit by the New Wave late, then wrote the aforementioned quartet of Big Issue Near Future books, which have overshadowed the rest of his oeuvre ever since.

But he has done other stuff that, while not in the same class as those four, still are worth reading on their own merit. The Whole Man was already mentioned, but I also liked The Stone That Never Came Down. There's also the Squares of the City, perhaps the book of his that was most influenced by the experimental side of the New Wave, where you really should get into it cold and discover the formalistic gimmick that ties it together for yourself.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:47 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine: If you aren't doing a comparison based on the per-capita rate, then you aren't really showing anything.
It shows that such events happen more often. The number of incidents per year per capita has trended downward while at the same time the absolute number of incidents per year has trended upward. The per capita rate is irrelevant to the point that people were still grieving about Newtown when Boston occurred, and weren't over Aurora when Newtown occurred, et cetera, ad nauseum. It's the psychological effect of the frequency that I'm concerned about.


lupus_yonderboy: Not so!
I didn't mean to imply that they weren't good, but rather that they weren't of the same caliber as the "Quartet" novels. I actually really like The Super Barbarians, but I didn't feel the need to call my mother after I was done with it, if you follow me.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:50 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have been trying to remember what the title and author of The Shockwave Rider was for about five years, so, thanks!
posted by bq at 3:32 PM on April 30, 2013


I love both these books. My 70s something copy of The shockwave rider is well worn and it was one of the first books I read on my ebook reader.

DU: "This is like those horoscope predictions. EVERYBODY in EVERY TIME always thinks the current crop of youngsters is too sexual and not committed enough."

I don't know about the US but in Canada, even after we legalized same sex marriage, marriage rates are at all time lows (even below the severely depressed rate during the great depression). At 4.4 per 1000 we are about half the very bumpy average rate before things started dropping in the 70s and well off the 1972 rate of 9.2/1000. It's such an obvious trend that provinces have been making serious changes to common-law marriage legislation to modernize them.

I ain't going looking but I really doubt people have stopped boinking.

PS: That is one of the ugliest URLS I have ever seen at the marriage rate link; I wonder if it's supposed to resemble line noise
posted by Mitheral at 5:18 PM on April 30, 2013


> I didn't mean to imply that they weren't good, but rather that they weren't of the same caliber as the "Quartet" novels.

You're probably right - I'm just a big fan. :-D
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:20 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just finished Zanzibar and wow I'd forgotten how powerful a book it is. I can't think of a better example of near future world building, especially one that holds up so well forty years after it was written.
posted by octothorpe at 1:28 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


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