Reviews: Brunner, John

For an ugly week

The Jagged Orbit — John Brunner

1969’s The Jagged Orbit is the second novel in John Brunner’s dystopian quartet. This is not my favourite of the four books, but (when I chose it) it seemed thematically appropriate for this ugly week. Where Stand on Zanzibar was about the consequences of population growth, The Sheep Look Up about unchecked pollution, and The Shockwave Rider about Future Shock, The Jagged Orbit concerns itself with racial divisions, paranoia, and violence dialed up to eleven.

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In the heart of the Nebula

The Crucible of Time — John Brunner

John Brunner’s 1983 The Crucible of Time is a fine example of science fiction inspired by the science of the time. As Brunner explains in his foreword

It is becoming more and more widely accepted that Ice Ages coincide with the passage of the Solar System through the spiral arms of our galaxy. It therefore occurred to me to wonder what would become of a species that had evolved intelligence just before their planet’s transit of a gas cloud far denser than the one in Orion which the Earth has recently—in cosmic terms—traversed.

I will leave it to my commentariat to discuss to what degree the above represents current scientific consensus. The basic idea, that an inhabited world has the misfortune to traverse a region like this,


is certainly enough of a hook from which to hang an SF novel.

In this case, a highly episodic novel. Really, more a collection of linked novellas.


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Did someone say “UN Telepath”

The Whole Man — John Brunner

Having recently reviewed one novel about UN telepaths, I am tempted to review an earlier book on the same theme: John Brunner’s 1964 The Whole Man. Written a generation before Emerald Eyes, it takes a much more optimistic view of mind-probing United Nation functionaries.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is that whereas Carl Castanaveras was the servant of the UN’s militarized police force, Gerald Howson is employed by the World Heath Organization.

Eventually.


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Christ, what an imagination I’ve got

Stand on Zanzibar — John Brunner

1968’s Stand on Zanzibar is the first of a thematically connected series of dystopian novels, each wrestling with a different significant issue of the day (the day being the 1960s and 1970s). It is arguably John Brunner’s finest work.

Brunner takes us to a 2010 where Earth is home to so many people—seven billion!—that if we all stood shoulder to shoulder in one location, we would cover the island of Zanzibar. There’s no sign of a Malthusian collapse on the horizon, but the unthinkable overcrowding has had consequences, ranging from draconian eugenic laws to outbreaks of violence. Conventional sexual mores have broken down and society has become saturated with frivolous, pandering, Murdochian mass media.

Two roommates, Donald Hogan and Norman House, are drawn into seemingly unrelated events on the opposite sides of the Earth.



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One of Yesterday’s More Interesting Tomorrows

The Shockwave Rider — John Brunner

John Brunner is perhaps best remembered for a quartet of novels: 1968’s Stand on Zanzibar, 1969’s The Jagged Orbit, 1972’s The Sheep Look Up, and 1975’s The Shockwave Rider. I have been known to call them the Morose Quartet. There’s an unsourced claim on Wikipedia that they are called The Club of Rome Quartet. I prefer my title.

Rather like the Pohl and Kornbluth garbageman [1] novels of the 1950s, each of Brunner’s four dystopias wrestles with a different Big Issue that society faced in the 1960s and 1970s (and arguably still faces). Stand on Zanzibar looked at a world crammed to the gunwales with Seven! Billion! People!, The Jagged Orbit looked at an America where racial hatred, paranoia, and violence provide an unparalleled opportunity for gun salesmen; The Sheep Look Up was concerned with pollution-driven ecological collapse. The final novel, the one I am going to review today, was 1975’s The Shockwave Rider, whose central concern was something pundit Alvin Toffler called Future Shock: the disorienting experience of being flooded with more information than one can possibly process.

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