Stand on Zanzibar

A little while back, Irene Gallo posted about the cover design for Tor’s new reissue of Stand on Zanzibar. I’d never read any Brunner and I was intrigued, as Tor’s previous reissues have been pretty solid recommendations. I was able to pick up a reasonably priced used copy, so I decided to give it a spin.

Written in the late 60s, but set in 2010, Brunner’s novel of the overcrowded future follows two men: a corporate climber by the name of Norman House and his roommate, Donald Hogan, an academic idler. Sketched into a world with a population of over seven billion, Brunner’s future has more than a few similarities with our own. Media has saturated and overloaded everyday life and cities are stressed to the breaking point.

Interestingly, though he wasn’t able to predict  directions of our technological progress, there is an uncanny accuracy to his description of the economic state that we are in. Brunner uses the aptly named Chad Mulligan, a sociologist, to opine on the perverse state of humanity in this time. I found myself rather affected by a number of his observations, but somehow this seems appropriate for a novel that is less about technology and gadgets, but more about how people behave within a society of stress.

Brunner doesn’t waste much time, but drops the reader directly into a dense novel filled with unusual lingo and strangely evolved social mores. But again, though he is often off the mark in his predictions, it is easy to see how things might have gone down those roads and how the technological turns that we have made might be impossible to predict.

This it first class 60s futurism. Much of the novel’s shock value may have worn off since it was written, but it is still full of thought provoking set pieces and surprisingly sympathetic characters. This was a novel ahead of it’s time and it is still worth reading today. Do yourself a favor and pick up this classic and give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

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