Book Review: The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

John Brunner has written some of the most prescient science fiction I've found. In Shockwave Rider he coined the term 'worm' for a computer program that would distribute itself around a system. He also writes about people using terminals, well, telephone keypads, to re-write their centrally-held personal history across a world-wide information system. Hmm, a world-wide information system, sound like anything you might be reading this through? Also in the same book, ideas around gathering 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 character of, well, the-man-with-no-name, the man of the chameleon identity. A semi-hot-housed preacher / systems analyst / hacker-for-hire, depending on the day and the personality he has adopted. Much of the story takes place as an interrogation between him and Paul Freeman, a later graduate from the same hot house system. This allows arguments over the different ways society could have developed, and who it affects the people living in it. The future Brunner suggests, a 'plug-in society' where having short-term jobs and shallow relationships is seen as the norm and to be encouraged seems to still be just around the corner, especially resonant to me at the time of reading I was contracting, which matches in very well with the plug-in world Brunner envisions.

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 William Gibson and Neal Stephenson get mentioned whenever the internet and science fiction are linked, but Brunner was there, thirty years ago, writing about what's happening now. 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 how things could have been better.

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

You may also like:

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

Review by Paul, 2004