March 03, 2004

The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

shockrider.jpgI picked this off the shelf since it was the book of honor at Potlatch 13.

It's one of those books where it takes a few chapters before you have any idea what's going on. Eventually you get the idea that our hero, Nick Haflinger, is in the process of being interrogated by something like hypnotic regression. So the chapters alternate between things as they happened and expository lumps where he is conversing directly with his interrogator. Mixed in with these are shorter bits that seem meant to give the reader a better idea of what kind of future the book is set in. This approach is especially apt since the book is loosely based on the predictions made by Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their 1970 book Future Shock (Shockwave Rider was published in 1975). I haven't read the Tofflers' book so I can't say how much Brunner took from their work.

I was hoping to have gotten this review written before going to Potlatch, but I didn't manage. Now after having listened in on a handful of panels discussing topics surrounding the book, it's hard to recall what I thought of it before.

Haflinger is a computer prodigy. He is trained by a secret government agency, but he becomes disillusioned with their mission and becomes a fugitive. He successfully evades them for years but eventually they catch up with him and he has to run. Through a series of coincidences he ends up in the town of Precipice, a sort of utopian commune formed in the wake of a huge earthquake in California. From that point the plot twists and turns until a not particularly satisfying climax.

The section set in Precipice reminds me strongly of the section of Atlas Shrugged where there is a utopian enclave with a similar feel.

It was fun to read mostly for all the prediction stuff which all holds up well enough. Some stuff came true, some hasn't yet, some didn't and won't, lots of stuff that happened wasn't predicted. The fun part is in seeing what fits into the categories.

There was one little editorial blunder that threw me for a loop. It's not important at all, but since it keeps running around in my head I'll put it down here. The girl in the book, Kate, has a pet cougar, Bagheera, who's been partially uplifted (genetically engineered to be sentient). At one point Kate and Nick are headed to Kate's house and they know that Bagheera won't be there. Kate says "it'll feel strange to go in and not have Bagheera come to rub against my ankles." Ankles are what house cats rub around. I'd think a full-grown cougar would be rubbing a bit higher up, like hips. Knees at least.

Posted by jeffy at March 3, 2004 08:51 PM
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