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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

The Shockwave Rider

Copyright 1975 by John Brunner

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point    Superb (5/5)

I first read this in October 1977 and most recently on the 26th July 2014

A computerized, authoritarian and brutal, dystopian future America is spiralling out of control. The citizens have been increasingly desensitized to casual cruelty and now accept it as the new normal.

  • Your child has some adjustment problems at school so send him to Anti-Trauma Inc where he or she will forced endure horrific experiences in the name of re-adjustment. Only Anti-Trauma Inc's false marketing shows any alleged benefit. In reality of course, you've just scarred your kid for life.
  • But what does that matter when you are happy to watch circuses within which children fight alligators?

Your company can move you to another city. Sure, you'll miss your old friends, but they weren't that close. You'll meet new friends who'll be just like the old ones, and of course not very close. Inside yourself you'll feel so lonely you'll be screaming silently for some real emotional contact.

And worse, you don't know what's going on in the world around. The public news services are useless. You know there are secrets that you're not party to. Hardly reassuring. But the government of course knows all about you, and every step you take.

All the while the government strives with no imagination to somehow make things better by doing more of what made it worse in the first place. And all their methods simply disillusion, disempower and disenfranchise their citizen.

You are brutalized, traumatized, isolated. Just a cog in the machine.

It's an America out of control, everyone is tracked and and no one is trusted. But there's hope for a resurgence of freedom.

Perhaps it's time for a change.

And, wow, what a novel! Almost up there with "Stand On Zanzibar". If Brunner had managed to make a more appealing protagonist I might have rated them equally. However Nick Haflinger is a little too clever for his own good, in my view. Almost as clever as me. His girlfriend is a perpetual student, always studying, never doing. But she likes cats. She'd love today's internet

This novel is notable also for the first mention of a computer virus in SF (Brunner called it a tapeworm).

Amazing that in this novel "The Shockwave Rider" back in 1975 he envisages a world wide, well at least US-wide computer network powered by big computers in various places and connected to by terminals just about everywhere. When I started this review (back in 2001) it sounded a little old-fashioned as mainframe computing was clearly on its last legs. But now with tablets instead of terminals and the cloud and orchestrated VMs as the new mainframe, it's turns out to be pretty prescient.

Review timeline. So how can the review be so inconsequential when so much time has been put into it?)

[2001] I made some initial notes for this review

[2007, coming back to this after a mere 6 years] it's time to finish it. Threw myself into it for 10 minutes

[2014] Yes! valiantly completed in this year of our Lord 2014. But actually, I'm rather glad i waited. This book is more relevant, more prophetic now than it was 14 years, even 7 years ago. Back then we knew things were a bit of a mess, but the worldwide web was opening up so many possibilities. Yes, there were computer viruses and security issues. Oh and we didn't use video phones. Or really much in the way of electric cars.But now we have Skype. We have Tesla. Unfortunately we've also had extraordinary rendition and we live in the post-Snowden era. Now we know all those stories about government prying, spying and often showing astonishing incompetence were true.

[2021] Post Trump era and the novel remains relevant and immensely exciting. Review tidied up and published!

Loaded on the 1st February 2021.
Cover of The Shockwave Rider