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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner » User review

The Prelude to Cyberpunk

  • Nov 22, 2011
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If there is one 20th century science fiction novel everyone should read it is The Shockwave Rider.

I violated that rule for years.  Two other books by Brunner, The Jagged Orbit and Stand on Zanzibar, came out before The Shockwave Rider.  I tried both of them and did not finish either of them.  So I gave up on Brunner.  It was a mistake.  Shockwave Rider is a completely different type of story.  It is more focused down on a particular character and does not jump around to different characters in different scenes.  The protagonist, Nick Haflinger, is a hacker.  He could be compared to Julian Assange today.  But of course this is science fiction so within the story no one knows who he is or what he is doing.

But Brunner has created a dystopian future from the perspective of 1975 run by computers.  From our perspective it might seem kind of primitive since everyone is not walking around with smartphones in their pockets but that is not really the point.  How much REAL POWER does a smartphone give the average owner?  So they can play Angry Birds.  They can watch videos.  BIG DEAL!  But what they do helps advertisers spy on them.  So we have computing power without REAL POWER.  But does it have to be that way?  John Brunner has people flooded with information and yet the really important information they cannot find.  They do not know it is out there to be searched for.  Isn't that the reality we have today?  We can't find the information for all of the Bit Shit and Cute Cat Pix.

So naturally our hero is pursued by the government but he is always two steps ahead until the usual fatal mistake.  So he gets strapped naked to a chair with electrodes on his head.  Actually the entire story is told in flashback after his capture.  So how does he escape his James Bond moment?  I am not giving away anything since that is on the cover.  But this book is definitely a must read.  I should have read it 30 years ago.

But now we have way better computers and the society has the potential of turning into Brunner's dystopia if it hasn't already.  Do we need to all become shockwave riders?  The tools are in our hands.  The Internet is there for the taking.  It is not all just garbage.  They are trying to make us dumb cyber-consumers.  I wouldn't let them if I were you.

This book introduces the term worm for invasive computer programs just as Gibson introduced cyperspace.  But this story gives the impression that Brunner knew quite a bit about computers instead of just throwing out tropes like Gibson.  This book blows Neuromancer away.  It may demonstrate that cyberpunk was a wrong turn.

The shockwave title is derived from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock and trends that he projected are incorporated into the story.  A nice bit of didactic science fiction.

Google gives us some curious stats:

+neuromancer +gibson          3,390,000 results (0.51 seconds)

+"future shock" +toffler        165,000 results (0.23 seconds) x20

+"two faces of tomorrow" +hogan 138,000 results (0.49 seconds) x24

+"shockwave rider" +brunner      95,500 results (0.30 seconds) x35

Neuromaner beats out Future Shock and both sci-fi books by a wide margin even though all of them are better books.

Damn, I forgot.  The whole story is on this page:  http://vxheavens.com/lib/mjb01.html
The Prelude to Cyberpunk The Prelude to Cyberpunk The Prelude to Cyberpunk

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November 23, 2011
I updated the John Brunner entry here on Lunch.com. He was very prolific but I've not read much of him. I wanted to make a list, but his output from the 1950s to the 1980s is so tremendous -- maybe if I limit the list to his Hugo winners or something. I remember Stand on Zanzibar when trying to read it years ago. Now that I'm older, I may take another shot. Have you tried the audio books?
November 24, 2011
Actually what I have been doing lately was text to speech and listening to the audio output. I tried Stand on Zanzibar again and still did not finish. It just is not interesting or very entertaining to me. I think I like my sci-fi too serious compared to most people. But Brunner was pretty good with his prediction of 7 billion people in 2010.
November 22, 2011
I have experienced writers where I like some but not all of their stuff. Looks like a winner.
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