Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Shockwave Rider

John Brunner The Shockwave Rider (1975)

Having enjoyed The Stone That Never Came Down many years ago and a couple of his earlier, pulpier novellas more recently, I've been generally well-disposed towards John Brunner; and having almost certainly seen The Shockwave Rider described as important somewhere or other there was just no way I could leave this copy sat upon the shelf in the store. The Shockwave Rider has the reputation of being a sort of proto-cyberpunk novel, which turns out to be something of an understatement as its protagonist, Nick Haflinger, flees the sort of oppressive, corporate society foreseen by Marshall McLuhan, changing identity over and over by means of the computer virus with which he's infected the net. Of course there were numerous, even earlier predictions of the worldwide web and our increased reliance on computers, Murray Leinster's A Logic Named Joe of 1946 being just one astonishingly prescient example, and electronic data networks were already happening when this was written; but nevertheless, for 1975, The Shockwave Rider is still pretty astounding in terms of how much it predicted and what it got right.

Even so, the second time I read Brunner's The Stone That Never Came Down I found it a little didactic, and the same is true of this one: big and admittedly wonderful ideas and some great, rounded storytelling that becomes a lecture by the time our lad arrives in Precipice, a perfect society where everyone behaves themselves and everything is wonderful contrasted with the corporate hell from which Haflinger has fled. Precipice is a utopia in the Sir Thomas More vein and is unfortunately about as engaging, and to be honest the last hundred or so pages felt like being stuck in an SWP meeting - a simile I should probably clarify by explaining that I have experienced the SWP essentially as a cult which borrows socialist trappings without demonstrating any real connection to or understanding of the causes it purports to champion. In short, The Shockwave Rider started well but soon became so worthy that I found it difficult to either care or concentrate on what was happening upon the page, and by the end I was pretty much lain back, thinking of Texas, and waiting for it to be over; which is a shame for a book that kicks off in such fine form.

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