peteg's blog - noise - books - 2009 07 22 Brunner TheShockwaveRider

John Brunner: The Shockwave Rider.

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Finally got to one of Mark's recommendations after finding it at the secondhand bookshop on Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn that Bernie took me to. It is definitely the best of the Brunners I've read thus far.

This is one of those big ideas author hobby horse scifi operas, where some things are spelt out in excessive detail and some details are skimmed right over. (Think libertarianism and Heinlein.) I can't really take utopianism seriously, except perhaps real utopias: who's to say the new powerbrokers will be any better than the old ones? — but this is merely aspirationalism on the part of the author, not worth analysing further, and I'm not going to get sucked into strawman work...

The book's big claim to fame is the first appearance of the (tape)worm meme. The idea of programs self-propagating through computer networks surely did not originate here, though just what such a device might achieve is quite well explored. His actual proposal is probably closer to a botnet now, something that could only be removed by dismantling the network.

I'll bite a bit on the idea that there should be no privacy on the network: his focus is on institutions, which mostly produce information that could ideally be made freely available. Moverover Brunner seems to understand that all transactions will be tracked but misses the implication that corporations (and not just government) will abuse that info, and it may be the cross-referencing that ultimately causes the most pain. Really, how is it workable to have zero privacy for government decisions and reasonable privacy for individuals? — but I said I wouldn't get sucked in.

The plot gets a bit implausible at the discontinuity from recorded memories to real-time action, and I found Kate to be little more than a geek fantasy, the wise woman who understands, her intuition perfect and forward to boot. Shame about the scrawniness. Precipice is too perfect a settlement to be stable, and he never mentioned who's collecting the garbage.

The Delphi Pools are cute, albeit coarsely sketched. Here Brunner slips past the obvious moral concerns (that some things are broadly thought too icky to bet on) and instead presents them as a means for the government to adjust the well-being indices of the population, a conundrum for any more immediate democracy. Full points for exploring this feedback loop, but how about the myriad others?

For more, you can read someone's brain dump full of spoilers on Wikipedia. Here's another review that takes it apart a bit more.

First of the cyberpunk novels? Perhaps, perhaps not, I dunno, but worthwhile in any case.