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Gray Matters

3.29  ·  Rating details ·  180 ratings  ·  27 reviews
WWIII has devastated most of the world, but life is still good for the lucky & rich few hundred who had their brains preserved in an automated conservatory. Altho they have no bodies to move around with, they're free to mentally visit any of the other residents, & engage in all the emotional, intellectual & pseudo-sexual congress that they desire.
This is the story of a pr
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published October 15th 1971 by Simon & Schuster (NY) (first published 1971)
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Average rating 3.29  · 
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 ·  180 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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May 20, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who like Iain Banks and/or Daniel Dennett
- Boy, I will not have you reading pornography in my classroom. Is that understood?

- But sir -

- Is that understood?

- But, sir, it's not pornography. It's not. It really isn't!

- I am interested to hear, boy, that accounts of underage girls having sexual intercourse with dogs are not -

- But sir. Sir. You know how you're always telling us not to take things out of context?

- Ah, yes, I have probably said that a few times.

- Well sir, that's just what you're doing now sir. It's not pornographic. It's
S.P. Aruna
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I can't say I'm a sci-fi buff, though in my earlier days I did read Asimov, Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clark, and their contemporaries. But as I was impressed with Falling Angel by this author, I decided to try this book. The gamble paid off.

Gray Matters is superbly written, so well written that it is independent of genre, i.e. you can read it just for the prose. Hjortsberg is certainly a wordsmith, and the pace of the book is brisk enough and the interest generated compelling enough to keep one tu
Nate D
Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: bored cerebromorphs
Recommended to Nate D by: memory tapes
Rapidly sketched with a sardonic economy, this is Hjortberg's satiric-dystopian vision of a world after bodies, when human life is oh so much more sustainably efficient once it's been reduced to vast interior brain banks, wired together in a utilitarian matrix all striving towards a phantom(?) enlightenment. It's fun, crisply realized, switches gears surprisingly as it enters each of its five parts (named for stages of bee life/caste, a useful metaphoric structure here), and one of the several a ...more
Perry Whitford
An interesting take on a possible future human society of the 25th century, by which time the human body is considered superfluous and obsolete.

Physical existence is reduced to the preservation of the brain alone, or Cerebromorphs, stored in rows and stratified floors in a Depository, tended by machines while they work towards personal enlightenment with the assistance of "adjudicators".

The story follows three such inhabitants, all rebellious to the regime in their own way. But as much as they
Nov 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Bron by: Cathy Bryant
Gray matters
Here’s another novel with a set of completely unpleasant characters taking centre stage, and I do use the word “characters” advisedly as most of them are disembodied and some are machines! Gray Matters describes a future where the powers that be have decided enlightenment is the goal of humanity and the best way to achieve this is for everyone to become a “cerebromorph” – that is a brain removed from the body and stored in a tank. One of the main characters rebels, and more by luck t
Sep 18, 2009 rated it liked it
I was fascinated by this book in high school (I suspect the sex scenes had something to do with it), but beyond the prurient aspects the entire concept is one I return to occasionally: endless brains in jars who upon reaching some state of mental/emotional perfection are given new bodies, to live a life upon the surface. Enforced emotional therapy and forced 'cerebrectomy'. Life in virtual reality. ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I only knew Hjortsberg from his hard-boiled occult thriller Falling Angel, later filmed as the cult classic Angel Heart. This book is certainly a departure from that: it's a futuristic tale of brains in jars, struggling to reach enlightenment and then - finally - physical freedom.

It would spoil the narrative to give too much away but the story is an excellent meditation on the sanctity of memory. Surprisingly enjoyable.
Sep 12, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I remembered enjoying the concept of this book -- brains are kept disembodied in jars, being nurtured until such time as the masters of this society decide to reimplant them in perfect bodies for re-entry into the world. I think this is the first time I became fascinated with the idea that our lives are our brains, long before I became a regular reader of cognitive science material.
Angie Malgo
Jan 04, 2020 rated it did not like it
This has not aged well. Interesting ideas, but hasn’t got the timelessness of other sci-fi authors of the time. It won Playboy Fiction of the year, and it showed.
Dec 11, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gave it a three, really a three and a half.

Picked this up in a second hand bookshop looking for a bit of old sci-fi I’d never heard of. Figured I couldn’t go wrong with a brain in a vat story and wasn’t disappointed.

Found the story easy to read, and quite funny. Some really interesting ideas in here, expressed in a very accessible way. The story (or more stories really) moves along nicely as it goes between short passages following the different narratives, and the writing is very solid with goo
Apr 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel this book was more than the sum of its parts - an intriguing idea examined with some solid but unexceptional storytelling. In short, humankind has had their consciousnesses uploaded to electronic storage mechanisms, and there is now a system of teaching and enlightenment intended to improve each person until they become worthy of gaining a new body and reentering the world.

The story follows a few people who are mostly dissatisfied with this system, missing the lives they used to have or s
tom conway
This book happens to be the very first novel that I read cover to cover, I think I was 15 or 16 years old and I remember it was a real page-turner. As I recall it was a departure from anything else that I was browsing in the public library. I remember how I felt when i had read it all, it started me on a lifelong love of books and stories, in short, it was "Brilliant" go read it. ...more
David Alexanderpantz
"It was no surprise to Y41-AK9 when the initial audit after the Awakening showed these amiable philosophers to be farther along the Path to Understanding. He was just an old shark fighter who knew how to survive." ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Original and horrifying.
Tentatively, Convenience
Sep 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
It's often astounding to me when I read a bk that's totally obscure to me & an author that I've never heard of & then I see that there're 5 editions - as is the case here. I have a chamber orchestra called HiTEC & one the Systems that we Manage is called "Brain-In-A-Vat" - so everytime I run across a brain-in-a-vat image or whatnot I'm especially interested. This novel is the 'ultimate' brain-in-a-vat novel since it centers around a future in wch EVERYONE (at least so it seems at 1st) is a brain ...more
Tim Wake
Aug 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Comparable to Rudy Rucker's ware tetralogy in genre (more human immortality through brains in jars/ people blending into machine conciousness), this postulates a sort of brain in jar police state, where people are forced onto a path towards buddhist enlightenment. If they ever achieve it, they get decanted into real bodies, where they live a sort of possessionless primitivist existence until they die. Not a lot of compelling characters or plotting to carry the freight of the ideas, this went out ...more
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La búsqueda del ser a través de introspecciónes de una sociedad basada en ascencsión espiritual y cerebros en suspensión líquida. Un libro muy interesante que muestra como cada uno de los participantes que forman parte de esta series de historias paralelas y entrelazadas intentan o no ascender, y un vistazo acerca de cual es la meta.

Sobre el final desarrolla una sociedad utópica donde creo que no me gustaría vivir.
Dave Goody
Apr 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
I desperately wanted to like this book as I am trying to broaden my reading horizons, but I just couldn't get into the story. It was written back in the 70s and as such, the sci-fi element is very dated, but if you are a fan of older sci-fi writing, I am sure you'll enjoy it.
It just wasn't for me.
Sep 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
It was strange enough to keep me reading to the end, but the hoped-for "Aha--this is why it was so disjointed and strange" moment never really arrived. Weird 70's sci-fi still doesn't do much for me, but I already knew that. :-) ...more
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Odd, philosophical, and occasionally smutty look at life as a brain in a jar, life in a paradise, and life in a good ol' human body. That's pretty much what I got out of it. Skinnerian stuff. Yeah. ...more
Scott Nieradka
Jul 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: crap-sci-fi
Should have been terrible, but i cant decide after it was done, if it really was. Pleasantly bizarre and disjointed 70s sci-fi, bad in a good way. I didnt think it was possible to like a brain in jars post apocalyptic book.
Erik Graff
Sep 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Hjortsberg fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sf
The idea of disembodied brains had fascinated me since seeing the movie They Saved Hitler's Brain when fourteen, if not before. This novel took care of that. ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
A great way to "unplug" for a fast moving story. It is a great typical sci-fi book to help escape for moment in time. ...more
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
fond memories
Jan 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
Recommended to A. by: Scott Nieradka
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
rated it really liked it
Jun 29, 2014
rated it it was amazing
Dec 24, 2018
rated it liked it
Oct 31, 2019
Luca Germani
rated it really liked it
May 13, 2019
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William Hjortsberg was an acclaimed author of novels and screenplays. Born in New York City, he attended college at Dartmouth and spent a year at the Yale School of Drama before leaving to become a writer. For the next few years he lived in the Caribbean and Europe, writing two unpublished novels, the second of which earned him a creative writing fellowship at Stanford University.

When his fellowsh

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