ToDAY third MAY twenty-TEN come aGAIN
May 2, 2010 10:59 PM   Subscribe

"For toDAY third of MAY twenty-TEN ManhatTEN reports mild spring-type weather under the Fuller Dome. Ditto on the General Technics Plaza. But Shalmaneser is a Micryogenic (R) computer bathed in liquid helium and it's cold in his vault."

Excerpts from chapter 1 of John Brunner's 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, which uncannily resembles a day's worth of MetaFilter posts:
DITTO: Use it! The mental process involved is exactly analogous to the bandwidth-saving technique employed for your phone. If you've seen the scene you've seen the scene and there's too much information for you to waste time looking it over more than once. Use "ditto". Use it!
The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan

When the strain becomes TOO MUCH it's because Hitrip of California bred it to have less stalk per ounce, more clean-queen leaf. Ask "The Man who's Married to Mary Jane"!

Eric Ellerman is a plant geneticist with three daughters who's scared because his wife has developed a permanent pot belly.

"Last week's State Forest fires on the West Coast that laid low hundreds of square miles of valuable timber destined for plastics, paper and organic chemicals were today officially attributed to sabotage by Forestry Commissioner Wayne C. Charles. As yet it is uncertain to whom the guilt belongs: treacherous so-called partisans among our own, or infiltrating reds."

Poppy Shelton has believed in miracles for years, but now there's one happening right inside her body and the real world is leaning on her dreams.

—Base version of General Technics motto

Henry Butcher is an enthusiastic proselytizer for the panacea he believes in.

Here today and gone tomorrow isn't good enough for us in this modern age.
Here today and gone today is the pidgin we pluck.

Guinevere Steel's real name is Dwiggins, but do you blame her?

HIPCRIME: You committed one when you opened this book. Keep it up. It's our only hope.
The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan

Bennie Noakes sits in front of a set tuned to SCANALYZER orbiting on Triptine and saying over and over, "Christ what an imagination I've got!"

"And to close on, the Dept of Small Consolations. Some troubledome just figured out that if you allow for every codder and shiggy and appleofmyeye a space one foot by two you could stand us all on the six hundred forty square mile surface of the island of Zanzibar. ToDAY third MAY twenty-TEN come aGAIN!"
posted by shii (32 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry if this post is too meta for MetaFilter. I've had that last line stuck in my head for years.
posted by shii at 11:05 PM on May 2, 2010

Christ, what an imagination I've got.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:15 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is a brilliant post, IMHO. Of course, what do I know, I have two editions, one a 1968 paperback in constant danger of self-disassembly. I LOVE THIS BOOK.
posted by mwhybark at 11:24 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seems more up 4chan's alley, albeit with fewer swears, slurs and sinks.

Does Metafilter do raids yet?
posted by codswallop at 11:31 PM on May 2, 2010

I love this book. John Brunner is an underrated genius. I met him once, he was also a real gentleman.


Other Brunner recommendations: "The Whole Man", really one of his best and most compassionate straight SF novels, about a powerful telepath who's also a crippled dwarf with hemophilia; and "The Traveller In Black", one of his few pure fantasy stories, that's a very strange and logical and mysterious story about a person with many names and one nature.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:57 PM on May 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

Awesome post!
posted by nonspecialist at 12:04 AM on May 3, 2010

Brunner captured networked computing rather well in a couple of his books. In one of them there was even a packet-based human transportation network

Basically you enter an individual pod and mail yourself to your destination, where you're automatically routed through the mechanical system by computers. What happens if there's an error where you accidentally get stuck in a loop and forwarded back and forth between nodes? You die and starve to death in your pod. In the book I'm thinking of (the title escapes me) apparently it happened rarely enough that it was a less-than confirmed rumor, but people would tell urban legends about being presented with a supposedly empty pod and find a dessicated mummy inside.
posted by loquacious at 12:42 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another Brunner recommendation: "The Shockwave Rider". Similar story telling style to "Stand on Zanzibar" but done to better effect. It is an example of pre-cyberpunk cyberpunk; complete with a sinister government, greedy corporations, street violence, something like the internet and a population slowly going mad through the increasing rate of technological change.

Also coined the term worm in relation to computers.
posted by antiwiggle at 12:54 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

but people would tell urban legends about being presented with a supposedly empty pod and find a dessicated mummy inside.
Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie...
posted by orthogonality at 1:21 AM on May 3, 2010

I've enjoyed reading Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar many times; but for a more upbeat (yet with tragic moments) Brunner work, try the charming The Crucible of Time, his multi-generational story of the rise of and fall of civilizations as a people advances from superstition to the stars.
posted by orthogonality at 1:37 AM on May 3, 2010

First Brunner I ever read was The Sheep Look Up, and I've been a fan since. I read it again during the Bush presidency, and I swear Brunner must have had a time machine; Bush is Prexy.
posted by flabdablet at 2:23 AM on May 3, 2010

Okay that 6.5ghz PC is pretty cool, but what the rest of this post makes little sense.
posted by delmoi at 3:32 AM on May 3, 2010

Thanks for this post. The first book of Brunner's that I read was "The Sheep Look Up", and it's haunted me ever since. I just started thinking about it the other day, reading coverage of the oil spill... maybe it's time for another rereading?
posted by dubold at 4:43 AM on May 3, 2010

I love Brunner. Some other of his novels you should check out are "The Stone That Never Came Down" and "Jagged Orbit". I love writers who can create seemingly complete and intricately detailed world like he could.

May 3, 2010 seemed impossibly far in the future when I read Zanzibar for the first time in the mid seventies. Sad that Brunner didn't make it himself.
posted by octothorpe at 5:12 AM on May 3, 2010

An alarming thing to find on the front page of Metafilter....
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:37 AM on May 3, 2010

He wrote some awesome short stories in addition to the incredible novels; one of my all-time favorites is "When Gabriel Blows his Horn", about the trouble which arises from using a mysteriously-acquired trumpet in a jazz club that used to be a church basement. It's in a collection titled "The Book of John Brunner" which also includes some pretty good filk songs.
posted by nonane at 5:44 AM on May 3, 2010

This is a great post. I'm impressed that you carried this date in your head so long. Brunner was brilliant, prescient, a terrific writer, and I'm envious of lupus-yonderboy for having met him. I'm slowly amassing all his books, even some pretty lightweight sf potboilers. There's always a gem in them, some intelligent commentary. The best of his work is noted above, His grasp of the future was uncanny. Thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on May 3, 2010


I can't help but agree. Read all Brunner. From his grasp of how society uses inventions, to his grasp of the subtlties of race relations, and a possible guide to modern material science, the man was just so far ahead.

Stand on Zannzibar was the first science fiction book I attempted to read. I was all of 7. I came back to it 30 years later and was blown away by the massively realized world shown thru dozens of viewpoints. I've burned through 2 paperbacks and buy a copy whenever I see one. It's that good.

Thanks for the post
posted by djrock3k at 7:36 AM on May 3, 2010

Looks good. Thanks for the detailed post! I just ordered Stand through ILL.
posted by codacorolla at 8:00 AM on May 3, 2010

Wow. Great post. At first I was perplexed, then saw the combination of Shalmaneser and "it's cold in his vault" and knew exactly what this was, though I haven't read the book in years. Brunner really was speculative fiction at it's finest. Endlessly topical, terrifyingly probable. Clearly he was a product of his times, with Zanzibar echoing the fear brought about by The Population Bomb.

I've only read four of his books, Zanzibar, Sheep Look Up, Shockwave Rider, and Jagged Orbit, and I recommend them all, especially the first two, to anyone who is looking to get into science fiction. The prose might be a little dated, but there's nothing outmoded about the ideas, many of which we're living with today, but desperately trying to ignore.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:36 AM on May 3, 2010

Is Stand On Zanzibar out of print? Amazon seems to have no new copies, and the used editions are surprisingly expensive.
posted by grobstein at 9:15 AM on May 3, 2010

My first e-mail handle ever was shalmaneser. Actually, it was shalmanaeser, because some fucker had beat me to it. Stand on Zanzibar is a phenomenal book. I'm also happy that someone took up John Dos Passos' literary inventions and ran with them.
posted by Kattullus at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, a new science-fiction pleasure! Thanks, shii.

On a tangential note, Iain M. Banks' Excession, which features numerous antagonistic conversations between hyper-intelligent computerized spaceship pilots, also bears disturbing similarities to Metafilter, although at the comment rather than the post level.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:08 AM on May 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

Okay that 6.5ghz PC is pretty cool, but what the rest of this post makes little sense.

Read more books, then, because a lot of us aren't having any trouble following the theme. It's about Brunner's speculative fiction through the lens of our current history, and how much is startlingly no longer fiction.

It's funny, the 6.5 ghz PC was the only link I personally had a problem with because I saw that last year. It's dated technology as far as I'm concerned, and no more than an interesting tech stunt when it was new. Cray supercomputers were being liquid-cooled by liquid nitrogen almost two decades ago. It's interesting that supercomputers have more or less gone the other way towards huge clusters of air-cooled commodity chips instead of custom chips and wiring that had to be cryo-cooled.
posted by loquacious at 12:05 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Shockwave Rider is definitely worth a read.

Also, when I was a young SF fan, I enjoyed Castaways' World (a.k.a. Polymath) and Listen! The Stars! (a.k.a. The Stardroppers). (Each of those was half of an Ace Double.)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:40 PM on May 3, 2010

loquacious: “What happens if there's an error where you accidentally get stuck in a loop and forwarded back and forth between nodes? You die and starve to death in your pod.

"Time to live" suddenly seems a lot more ominously named. (Was that phrase in use when the book was written, I wonder? It seems too obvious to not mention, if it was.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:44 PM on May 3, 2010

Now that this date has passed, you can start chanting
on Tuesday, two twenty-two, two-thousand-twenty-two..
on Tuesday, two twenty-two, two-thousand-twenty-two..
on Tuesday, two twenty-two, two-thousand-twenty-two..
Over and over in the back of your mind.

For no particular reason.

(You're welcome).
posted by gregor-e at 4:22 PM on May 3, 2010

I know how fantastically egotistical it is to believe I was the only one who read that dog-eared copy of Zanzibar, purchased from a used bookshop over a sweltering summer with the grandparents to stave off the kind of boredom particular to tweens marooned in Kentucky in July... but this thread makes me feel like the least alone person in the helium-cooled internets.

To this day the cadence he captured in that opening paragraph snared me instantly and resurrected that moment perfectly.

Thanks, shii.
posted by abulafa at 5:08 PM on May 3, 2010

Stand On Zanzibar was cyberpunk before lesser lights came along to claim it.
posted by SPrintF at 9:21 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great book, great post. That line popped into my head yesterday as well. Easy to remember as it was my wife's 30th birthday.

Later, man could still stand on Zanzibar, but some of them would be up to their ankles in water. (I forget the exact line ...)
posted by WPW at 4:01 AM on May 4, 2010

The Hipcrime Vocab is essential!

also the squares of the city -- cosma shalizi sez: "Perhaps the best novel ever written about urban planning" :P
posted by kliuless at 5:27 AM on May 6, 2010

WPW: "I forget the exact line"
Meanwhile, back at the planet Earth, it would no longer be possible to stand everyone on the island of Zanzibar without some of them being over ankles in the sea.
Love Brunner. "The Totally Rich" is a great short story.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:28 AM on May 10, 2010

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