Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Shockwave Rider review *****

I've recently re-read one of my favourite SF novels from the 1970s, John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider, and it has more than lived up to expectations.

Okay, like any book using future technology it gets some things wrong. Its early 21st century tech is mostly too advanced (but then they still use tapes to store information). However, this book absolutely sizzles with ideas, some taken from Alvin Toffler's far effective readable futurology book, Future Shock.

Just one example - the protagonist is in the business of creating digital worms to make changes to the net. At the time (1975), not only was ARPANet, the internet's predecessor very limited, the first actual network worm wouldn't be launched for another 13 years (Brunner originated the term in this novel).

Brunner also creates a stunning dystopian society, where the US government/major corporations (hand in hand) manipulate what could in principle be an exercise in effective distributed democracy - the public Delphi boards used to suggest solutions to problems and predict outcomes - to keep the population in check.

There's far more to it than this, and though the ending wraps things up a little too neatly (I'm afraid the bad guys would almost certainly have won), this remains a brilliant net-based SF novel.

Even better it comes here with two other Brunner novels as a bonus. The Traveller in Black is a short fantasy novel - a little vague for my liking, but still rather nicely explains the disappearance of magic from the world. The Sheep Looks Up generally gets better reviews than Shockwave Rider, and it certainly tries to do something more grandiose, but for me it's not as good a story. Even so, it's another example of Brunner doing something original and showing that science fiction should not be confined to a ghetto.

Brunner is now a largely forgotten author, but he really shouldn't be.

The Shockwave Rider is available in the collection John Brunner SF Gateway Omnibus from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

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