peteg's blog - noise - books - 2009 10 16 Brunner StandOnZanzibar

John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar. (1968)

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The fattest Brunner I've yet read, and I doubt he topped these 515 pages. This, not Jagged Orbit, was his first fat book. It is deservedly tagged as his must-read novel.

Brunner must have been on some very good drugs in the late 1960s and I guess those of the earlier 60s had had time to settle in and make his brain their own. One must wonder if these sorts of books furthered the cause of liberated recreational drug use that the author favours, for at this point in history none of his fantasies seem to have come through. Indeed I would expect that the late-in-life Brunner was doing the same stuff as the Brunner who wrote this book.

This book is expansive, being perhaps the most holistic attempt at world building I've read. Apparently this sort of thing is called social science fiction. The author's voice, and sometime deus ex machina, is the sociologist Chad Mulligan, whose "hipcrime dictionary" channels Bierce's Devil's Dictionary, and more broadly runs a line echoing the technoculturalists of the day, Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan in particular. The news flashes, the limited attention spans, the population pressure: as speculation, it is top notch.

Let us not dwell on the plot any longer than the author did.

I find it amusing that all the old-school models of computers were way off, positing some small number of humongous machines with incredible IQs that managed the affairs of the world. I reckon we'll only have general-enough AI for this sort of thing after almost everyone has enough computing power to run private instances, totally changing the dynamics of these speculations.

There's lots of racial commentary here, especially on post-colonialism and within the borders of the U.S. These issues were massive in the late 60s but seem to have been stage-managed into timidity now. The eugenics in this book remains as unappealing now as it probably was then, though I do note that choosing the sex of your offspring is becoming socially acceptable.

Here's another review.