Book Review: The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

John Brunner has written some of the most prescient science fiction I've found. InShockwave Rider he coined the term 'worm' for a computer program that woulddistribute itself around a system. He also writes about people using terminals,well, telephone keypads, to re-write their centrally-held personal history across aworld-wide information system. Hmm, a world-wide information system, sound likeanything you might be reading this through? Also in the same book, ideas aroundgathering together huge amounts of data and extrapolating trends from it (datamining, rather popular at the time of writing this.)

All of these ideas are in the background to the main story of the developing characterof, well, the-man-with-no-name, the man of the chameleon identity. A semi-hot-housedpreacher / systems analyst / hacker-for-hire, depending on the day and the personalityhe has adopted. Much of the story takes place as an interrogation between him andPaul Freeman, a later graduate from the same hot house system. This allowsarguments over the different ways society could have developed, and who it affectsthe people living in it. The future Brunner suggests, a 'plug-in society' where havingshort-term jobs and shallow relationships is seen as the norm and to be encouragedseems to still be just around the corner, especially resonant to me at the time ofreading I was contracting, which matches in very well with the plug-in world Brunnerenvisions.

Shockwave Rider is interesting, although I think Stand on Zanzibar was a better read,and has lot of interesting ideas and predictions in it as well. Authors like WilliamGibson and Neal Stephenson get mentioned whenever the internet and science fictionare linked, but Brunner was there, thirty years ago, writing about what's happeningnow. He's not right about everything, thank goodness, but he is right about a hell ofa lot, and most of his stories are not about how good things are, they're about howthings could have been better.

Title: The Shockwave Rider
Author: John Brunner
Publisher: Del Rey
ISBN: 0-345-32431-5
Published Date: 1975
Pages: 280

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Golem100 by Alfred Bester
Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer
Neuromancer by William Gibson

Review by Paul, 2004