Monday, June 19, 2006

Title:Shockwave Rider
Author: John Brunner
Publisher: Orbit

The arms race is finished. But America is, belatedly, involved in the brain race. Catastrophe has struck, vast swathes of the country came apart. Now government wants the best brains on the planet, to build a better country, better control, and be prepared for the better brains out in the rest of the world. The result is a plug in lifestyle, ultimately flexible and all made possible with wide scale use of super computers. It should be kind of wonderful. It isn’t. Most people will experience some kind of massive breakdown at some point in their life.

Shockwave Rider is the story of one man’s attempts to remain stable, to fight the system. Unfortunately after many years he has been captured – the novel unfolding through a series of flashbacks and interrogations. Which builds a character that was recruited for the brain programme, where he learned how to disappear, how to ride the shockwaves and create new lives to plug into. Though even with these abilities he has been finding the fight increasingly difficult.

Written in the 1970’s John Brunner’s novel was something of a precursor to cyber punk. Computers and telephone technology are widespread, with our central character hacking the system in order to create each of his new identities. The ideas of natural disaster are something the show in the fiction that followed as well with the like of Bruce Sterling (Distraction and Heavy Weather) or Kim Stanley Robinson (Orange County trilogy and Science In The Capital trilogy) – though with what happened in New Orleans last year there seems to be a real parallel with Brunner’s fiction and recent reality.

There is a certain irony with the Shockwave Rider, it is suggested that the main character is the shockwave rider. But for all his ability it doesn’t seem like he is actually coping all that well. Only when he really starts to lose his way does he meet people that might actually make a difference – the people who can really ride out the shockwaves and come out the other side.

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