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The Shockwave Rider

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One man has made it his mission to liberate the mental prisoners. to restore their freedom in a world run mad.

Nickie Halflinger, the only person to escape from Tarnover—where they raise hyper-intelligent children to maintain the political dominance of the USA in the 21st century—is on the run, dodging from loophole to crevice to crack in the computerised data-net that binds the continent like chains. After years of flight and constant changes of identity, at the strange small town called Precipice he discovers he is not alone in his quest. But can his new allies save him when he falls again into the sinister grasp of Tarnover...?

288 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1975

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About the author

John Brunner

498 books393 followers
John Brunner was born in Preston Crowmarsh, near Wallingford in Oxfordshire, and went to school at St Andrew's Prep School, Pangbourne, then to Cheltenham College. He wrote his first novel, Galactic Storm, at 17, and published it under the pen-name Gill Hunt, but he did not start writing full-time until 1958. He served as an officer in the Royal Air Force from 1953 to 1955, and married Marjorie Rosamond Sauer on 12 July 1958

At the beginning of his writing career Brunner wrote conventional space opera pulp science fiction. Brunner later began to experiment with the novel form. His 1968 novel "Stand on Zanzibar" exploits the fragmented organizational style John Dos Passos invented for his USA trilogy, but updates it in terms of the theory of media popularised by Marshall McLuhan.

"The Jagged Orbit" (1969) is set in a United States dominated by weapons proliferation and interracial violence, and has 100 numbered chapters varying in length from a single syllable to several pages in length. "The Sheep Look Up" (1972) depicts ecological catastrophe in America. Brunner is credited with coining the term "worm" and predicting the emergence of computer viruses in his 1975 novel "The Shockwave Rider", in which he used the term to describe software which reproduces itself across a computer network. Together with "Stand on Zanzibar", these novels have been called the "Club of Rome Quartet", named after the Club of Rome whose 1972 report The Limits to Growth warned of the dire effects of overpopulation.

Brunner's pen names include K. H. Brunner, Gill Hunt, John Loxmith, Trevor Staines, Ellis Quick, Henry Crosstrees Jr., and Keith Woodcott.
In addition to his fiction, Brunner wrote poetry and many unpaid articles in a variety of publications, particularly fanzines, but also 13 letters to the New Scientist and an article about the educational relevance of science fiction in Physics Education. Brunner was an active member of the organisation Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and wrote the words to "The H-Bomb's Thunder", which was sung on the Aldermaston Marches.

Brunner had an uneasy relationship with British new wave writers, who often considered him too American in his settings and themes. He attempted to shift to a more mainstream readership in the early 1980s, without success. Before his death, most of his books had fallen out of print. Brunner accused publishers of a conspiracy against him, although he was difficult to deal with (his wife had handled his publishing relations before she died).[2]

Brunner's health began to decline in the 1980s and worsened with the death of his wife in 1986. He remarried, to Li Yi Tan, on 27 September 1991. He died of a heart attack in Glasgow on 25 August 1995, while attending the World Science Fiction Convention there

K H Brunner, Henry Crosstrees Jr, Gill Hunt (with Dennis Hughes and E C Tubb), John Loxmith, Trevor Staines, Keith Woodcott

Winner of the ESFS Awards in 1980 as "Best Author" and 1n 1984 as "Novelist"..

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5 stars
1,249 (31%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 251 reviews
Profile Image for Michael.
938 reviews146 followers
April 13, 2009
TSR is not a plot book, and it is also not a character book, but it IS an idea book. Brunner was ahead of the curve (or the shockwave) on so many things, and managed to write about the modern Internet in 1975, anticipating terms like 'bandwidth' and 'computer worm'. This is great social SF.
Profile Image for Kiri.
679 reviews40 followers
September 5, 2010
This book starts out a little rocky and disjointed (possibly an intentional style by the author to match with the subject material), then pulls together and ultimately soars by the last third. Written in 1975, much of the technology forecast in this book is amazingly prescient, especially that relating to the Internet ("datanet"). I'm not usually a fan of the elliptical writing and shallow characterization typical of older sci-fi, and I'm not a huge fan of puns (wordplay is used liberally throughout as paragraph/scene titles), *but* I still enjoyed this book and wish I could give it 4.5 stars, mainly due to the denouement and interesting ideas about society in terms of how individuals contribute and what is "fair". This places it somewhat in the same territory as Atlas Shrugged and Beggars in Spain, but it is radically different from either one, and has a radically different solution.

I'm inspired to read more John Brunner!
Profile Image for Phil.
1,612 reviews104 followers
May 3, 2021
I have read at least a few dozen of Brunner's novels but this one, like Stand on Zanzibar really stands out. That being said, this is a very difficult book to review! Our main protagonist, Nickie Haflinger, starts the book in custody by a somewhat secret government agency, where they are playing back his memories (using some strange memory reader) of the last 6 years. It seems Nickie was something of a genius as a kid and one day he was 'adopted' by Tarnover, a government 'think tank' that sought to train the next generation of 'leaders' for America. After 6 years and increasing doubts, Nickie made a grand escape, taking along some secret computer codes that gave him the ability to generate new identities in the 'use net'. The use net is basically the internet, although when this was published (1975~) that did not really exist yet. After several identity changes and occupations, Nickie managed to get caught and brought back to Tarnover.

The novel switches POVs all the time, as well as time frames, as Nickie's past is revealed in bits and pieces along side his interrogation at Tarnover. Brunner is really a master of this technique as it has the potential to go sideways very quickly, but he pulls it off with aplomb. As we learn more and more about a future dytopian America, Brunner keeps us entertained with witty headlines and quips-- something akin to what he did with Stand on Zanzibar.

About this future America-- damn if he was not prescient! Most people live what is called a 'plug in' lifestyle, willing (and forced) to move all the time to new occupations and places; hence, most accommodations are standardized, as seem to be most personality traits. There are fringes of people who resist and resort to 'tribalism', warring among themselves for no real reason. Strange religions flare up and die; unminded by the powers that be (PTB) as they serve to provide an outlet of frustration/anger not directed at the government. Again, most people resort to some type of medication (can you say soma?) to keep themselves together.

Nickie hates this and vows to change it, but where to start? How can one man take on a system so entrenched? He has mad computer skills (called data management here), but again, he is just one man and can trust no-one. One day, after a stint as a preacher, he decides to take a vacation and meets a woman; one thing leads to another and she basically offers him a job in a corporation in K.C. He does a good job, acting basically as a computer nerd, but the strange thing is how the woman's daughter, Kate, seems to see right through Nickie. She is a non-conformist and proud of it (much to her mom's dismay) and eventually, they pair up on the run...

Enough with the plot. This really is not a plot driven book, nor is it a character driven one-- Brunner decided to go whole hog on the idea that enough big ideas can be enough to drive the story along and strangely, it works! The main theme is loosely adapted from Toffler's Future Shock, where the pace of change in society has become so fast that people cannot keep up and remain sane. The 'think tank' Tarnover is basically a lab where people who can keep up with the change are trained to be the new status quo and lead by example. Dismal future to be sure. Brunner also has a wealth of scorn to direct at governments which may please libertarians to no small degree. Politicians are only in the game for power and prestige, they can be and are bought and sold, and while the 'use net' makes lots of things available to everyone with a phone, lots of secrets are covered up as well, like ways to avoid taxes, cover up bribes, etc. Indeed, the most common ailment people complain of is a fear that someone has more information/data then they do and that this information asymmetry will be used to harm them (and it is!).

So, on the one hand this is a look at the sociology of the near future, along with a heavy assortment of political science, economics and so forth, and on the other hand it is a novel of rebellion-- one man's fight against an exploitative system. I am kinda sucker for the latter but the former also keeps me reading right along. Although dated, the anachronisms come off as quaint-- we are still using tapes for example to store data-- but mostly Brunner's future tech still seems about spot on. The idea of a use-net really stands out here, as does governmental tracking of citizens and so forth. The tech is not the big aspect of the story, however, outside of the use-net, so it really escapes the dated feel of some 'near future' science fiction texts. 4.5 stars rounding up!!!
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,158 reviews103 followers
September 17, 2018
I could really get into the (pre) cyberpunk aspects of this, yet the plot and character development are not strong points. I'm giving this 3 stars because of the issues it foreshadowed back in the hey day of 1975 that are super relevant today, all implications of humanity barreling into the information age. These include the struggle for personal privacy, cyber warfare & hacking, the widening disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and the blowback and damage to society from the ever accelerating rate of change wrought by technology. Future Shock indeed.
Profile Image for Brian Clegg.
Author 202 books2,565 followers
December 22, 2016
I've recently re-read one of my favourite SF novels from the 1970s, John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider, and it has more than lived up to expectations.

Okay, like any book using future technology it gets some things wrong. Its early 21st century tech is mostly too advanced (but then they still use tapes to store information). However, this book absolutely sizzles with ideas, some taken from Alvin Toffler's far effective readable futurology book, Future Shock.

Just one example - the protagonist is in the business of creating digital worms to make changes to the net. At the time (1975), not only was ARPANet, the internet's predecessor very limited, the first actual network worm wouldn't be launched for another 13 years (Brunner originated the term in this novel).

Brunner also creates a stunning dystopian society, where the US government/major corporations (hand in hand) manipulate what could in principle be an exercise in effective distributed democracy - the public Delphi boards used to suggest solutions to problems and predict outcomes - to keep the population in check.

There's far more to it than this, and though the ending wraps things up a little too neatly (I'm afraid the bad guys would almost certainly have won), this remains a brilliant net-based SF novel.

Even better it comes here with two other Brunner novels as a bonus (I read this in a SF Gateway collection I couldn't find here). The Traveller in Black is a short fantasy novel - a little vague for my liking, but still rather nicely explains the disappearance of magic from the world. The Sheep Looks Up generally gets better reviews than Shockwave Rider, and it certainly tries to do something more grandiose, but for me it's not as good a story. Even so, it's another example of Brunner doing something original and showing that science fiction should not be confined to a ghetto.

Brunner is now a largely forgotten author, but he really shouldn't be.
Profile Image for Marcus Wilson.
235 reviews1 follower
January 31, 2019
I'm writing this review on a smart phone, connected to the world wide web, and it will be seen by potentially thousands of people around the world, yet I am sat on a train in Birmingham, England. Later I will browse Facebook or YouTube, and advertisers will target me based on data they have detected from the web sites I have visited. This is the world we live in, the world envisaged by John Brunner in 1975, and that core idea is what makes this science fiction novel so very chilling. The minds of men can no longer keep up with science and technology changing the fabric of society at breakneck speed. The computers were now the masters of men.

The overall structure of this book is very confusing, I struggled to recognise a story at all in places, and there is very little characterisation, so it is a tough read. Like other people have said, this is however a book of ideas, and overall it is a gripping narrative of what was then a very real future, much of which has come to pass.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
October 20, 2018
-Muy visionaria en su momento.-

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En el siglo XXI, un hombre que en este momento se llama Arthur Edward Lazarus y es ministro propietario de la Iglesia del Infinito Discernimiento, pero que ha sido antes muchas otras versiones de sí mismo con ocupaciones muy diferentes, está internado de nuevo en Tarnover, institución perteneciente a un programa gubernamental estadounidense de localización y adoctrinamiento de individuos especialmente dotados que resultan de interés para los dirigentes de los USA, un país con más de trescientos millones de habitantes que están conectados a una red integrada de datos y cuyos líderes no dudan en usar cualquier método para favorecer sus planes, normalmente de carácter ilegal en muchos sentidos.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews205 followers
August 15, 2014

Three and a half stars, rounded up.

This is an unusual book, one without a plot exactly, and which ends with a question for the reader rather than an actual conclusion. But considering that it was published in 1975, it felt less outdated in its prediction of a wired future than one would have thought when I read it in 2004 or thereabouts.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,682 reviews634 followers
February 8, 2023
I've previously read two John Brunner novels that both had quite a profound impact on me: Stand on Zanzibar (1968) and The Sheep Look Up (1972). The former is an all-time favourite sci-fi novel of mine and the latter the most devastating novel of environmental breakdown that I've ever read. What I didn't realise is that Brunner was incredibly prolific and I happened to encounter these two as they were part of the SF Masterworks series. Now that The Shockwave Rider is as well, the library has acquired a copy. Brunner published nearly 60 novels, most of which I expect are now out of print. Based on my own reading experience and his wikipedia page, those that are still in print were also most celebrated at first publication and all deal with social issues of great concern to the US and Europe in the 1960s/70s. In Stand on Zanzibar, the topic is overpopulation. In The Sheep Look Up, environmental disaster. And in The Shockwave Rider, information technology and data overload.

In my opinion, of the three The Sheep Look Up retains the greatest relevance today, while Stand on Zanzibar is the best-written. Both use an original and very powerful polyphonic structure, with many characters and interjections from media. I was surprised, and a little disappointed, to find that The Shockwave Rider has a more conventional structure. I understand from friends that the collage approach is not to everyone's taste, but I love it. Given that it seemed particularly appropriate to the novel's topic, I think it could have worked well if used more here. Snippets of news reports and other information are interjected periodically, but the plot sticks close to the protagonist rather than involving a large cast.

The Shockwave Rider is set in an alternate 2010s America where everyone has access to the 'datanet' via phone booths. There is ubiquitous tracking and surveillance by technology, as well as videocalling via 'veephone'. (Another addition to my collection of names from sci-fi for proto-smart phones that are no stupider than 'smart phone'.) America has socially fractured and is mired in gang violence, while professional jobs require constant relocation and travel. There is an obvious temptation to sift the worldbuilding for prescience. The most significant element of this, in my opinion, is Brunner putting his finger on this frustration of internet access:

Theoretically any one of us has access to more information than ever in history, and any phone booth is a gate to it. But suppose you live next door to a poker who's suddenly elected to the state congress, and six weeks later he's had a hundred-thousand-dollar facelift for his house. Try to find out how he came by the money; you get nowhere.

Really important information is not accessible and instead we are drowned in trivia and misinformation. Brunner doesn't get into the risks of the latter (try Melissa Scott's The Jazz instead), but does sort of predict people asking Reddit AITA in the form of Delphi panels. Delphi Method is actually a qualitative methodology sometimes used in academic research, albeit one I find rather dubious. Indeed, the novel's protagonist Nickie Haflinger is an escapee from a US government attempt at hothousing intelligent kids into a Delphi panel. There are a lot of conversations, some part of Halflinger's interrogation after he's recaptured by the government, about how the American population has been controlled with 'behaviourist techniques'. In 2023, the concerns about government manipulation look simultaneously like conspiracy theory and naivety. Such centralised efforts seem unnecessary in a neoconversative world where poverty or the threat of it constrains most people. Brunner's world still has the USSR as an ideological rival to the US, but the arms race has shifted from weapons to 'wisdom'; a brain race. I didn't find that side of the world-building very satisfactory as the concept has been explored better elsewhere.

The elements around information technology are much more interesting, however. Haflinger is a hacker, indeed an early cyberpunk protagonist. He writes worms (a term that Brunner apparently coined which we still use now) via telephone that let him evade surveillance and invent new identities for himself. Switching identity is depicted as a mentally and physically taxing process. While on the run from the US government, he meets a young woman and they take refuge in a utopian community that's mostly cut off from the datanet. Haflinger then decides to use his skills to try and fix America's problems, in a dramatic fashion.

In this respect, The Shockwave Rider felt much more optimistic than the other two Brunner novels I've read. Particularly The Sheep Look Up, which is truly one of the most devastating books I've read in my life and has an extremely bleak ending. Haflinger and his allies seem to prefigure the techno-utopianism that accompanied the first decades of the internet. (This now seems to have atrophied into Zuckerberg defending the right to spread holocaust denial on facebook, and similarly self-serving libertarianism.) In Haflinger's world, information wants to be free and the paradoxical solution to overload is releasing more of it. While the execution of this plotline was rather ingenious, it has been copied too many times since to have the impact it once did. Another aspect of the book that hasn't aged too well is the relationship between Haflinger and Kate. Everyone gets over him hitting her in a rage remarkably quickly, which is depressing. Although I found many of Brunner's ideas interesting, The Shockwave Rider doesn't have the impact of his polyphonic masterpieces.
Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews349 followers
June 15, 2009
A proto-cyberpunk text by Brunner that I didn’t warm to that much but fairs alright in hindsight(and as a piece with quartet, sometimes refered to as his "American Quartet".), the images aren't as vivid and the plot is more opaque. Some interesting moments with an ending somewhat echoing Bester’s Tiger! Tiger! (Fine, Stars my Destination, blah!) Interesting book (especially the thoughts on identity which seem very prophetic for the identity theft age) some elements seem to have been better handled by Gibson and Iain M. Banks(information refuges etc.)This along with Stand on Zanzibar, Jagged Little Orbit, and The Sheep Look Up aren't a tightly constructed quartet detailing a intricate future history, but different visions and warnings mutated by the different permutations Brunner throws at them but a similiar feel. They are stark satires with narrative ideas borrowed from modernist author Dos Passos and somewhat similiar in effect to Moorcock's Cornelius adventures(esp. Cure for Cancer and The English Assassin) but less intentially absurd. These are 3-dimensional, lived in futures that hold up remarkably well in thhis day and age.
Profile Image for jzthompson.
381 reviews3 followers
November 21, 2016
The Shockwave Rider is the final installment in John Brunner's Club of Rome Quartet, and in many ways the most prescient of the lot. Previously, Stand on Zanzibar drew from Paul Ehrlich to deal with over-population, The Sheep Look Up covered Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and ecological breakdown, and (less successfully) The Jagged Orbit covered racial tensions and the medicalisation of everyday life by 'Big Pharma.' The Shockwave Rider imagines a future that must have seemed a little... if not far-fetched then certainly a little over-cooked... to readers in the 1970s.

In the early years of the 21st century, computers dominate society. Everyone, from the super-rich to the barely scraping by* lives their entire life plugged into the global datanet via their veephones. Data savvy professionals can earn enormous amounts, but secure permanent jobs are a thing of the past, with people adapting to 'the plug in lifestyle,' living from short term contract to short term contract and never staying in one place long enough to make lasting relationships. Targeting your enemies with malicious computer programs (called 'worms' here) is an everyday bit of vindictiveness, and Government computers in'Canaveral' monitor every aspect of online existence. The pressure of life at this pace, and awareness of this panopticon, puts people under massive mental pressure. Physical and emotional burnout are common, and the aging survivors of the last century seethe with resentment at the lifestyles of children who have grown up in the world they created. Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley deluded utopians are funding unethical, not to say plain stupid, experiments in posthumanism to 'win the brain race.'

It gets to the point where noticing the things that Brunner got wrong becomes more interesting than the things he got right. Skipping over the super-intelligent dogs and the tame mountain lions, possibly the most charming thing about the book is that Brunner totally missed the wireless revolution. 'Veephones' are wired into the mains of their homes and offices, the rich might have a veephone in every room, whilst the poor make do with clunky public terminals in the street. He also didn't really see interactive sceens coming, people 'punch codes' into the keypads of the phones and get print-outs or connected to a talking-clock style read out. I'd love to see an episode of Black Mirror or somesuch shot in this retro-futuristic '90s style.

Brunner also made a few fairly big errors in his socio-political futurism that are worth exploring in a bit more depth. In this timeline, the USSR and China are rival superpowers to America. As such, the dystopia is driven by government-backed cold warriors rather than the impersonal forces of capitalism and the quixotic whims of tech billionaires. Secondly, a lot is made about the dangers of 'tribals,' out of control yoof banding together into ethno-religious groups for Clockwork Orange style thuggery... you could really twist things and see this as a dramatised (not to say reactionary) take on so-called 'identity politics' but I think it's safer this was meant to be about gangs. There's also a shoe-horned in subplot about the horrors of child psychiatry that seems a hold over from The Jagged Orbit and never goes anywhere. A bad touch of the grumpy-old-mans derailing Brunner's usually clear eye perhaps.

Finally, and I think most-interestingly, Brunner makes a big deal about 'the new conformism' caused by the plug-in lifestyle. This isn't exactly a funny book, but jokes about people not knowing wether they're in the Cairo or New York Hilton must have seem pretty on-point by the time the American Psycho-ey eighties rolled around. It's certainly true that you can go to just about any city in the world right now and find a 'third wave' coffee shop, selling single origin roasts and decorated with exposed brick work and edison bulbs... But an extended paragraph about the death of the burrito as everywhere starts selling american style burgers shows the limits to this. Perhaps a linking thread to these errors is Brunner overstating the totalitarian, and totalising, impact of his world and missing the extent to which the technological revolution would undermine state power? Perhaps he underestimated the extent to which capitalism would make 'quirkiness' and novelty a saleable commodity in itself? Whatever way you cut it, despite these errors The Shockwave Rider is almost uncannily prescient.

Why only three stars then? Unfortunately there's not a lot to the book besides the eerie prescience. It's been a very long time since I read Stand on Zanzibar, but I remember that having characters with real emotional impact and a slight, but nonetheless workable, plot. This really doesn't have either. The plot is extremely simple and the characters are... not flat exactly... their bugs and psychologies have been worked out in a little too much programmatic detail. Character X resents Character Y because of Defect #11. All relayed in multiple pages of stilted dialogue.

The two central character are the weirdest of the lot. 'Nick' presages Julian Assange as the troubled genius dedicated to revealing all the secrets of the corrupt Deep State, whilst 'Kate'... erm... asks questions and tells him repeatedly how clever he is? A lot is made about how she's 'wiser' and more down to earth than the male characters, but... well no one needs me spelling out why this is for want of a better word 'problematic.' Things get really weird when, at a particularly low ebb, Nick He is, of course, wracked with guilt for a few pages but this is all rather forgotten and, by the end of the book she's back to admiring his brilliance. I'm not really sure what Brunner was trying to do here, but given the misogyny of real life tech-bros it's a very unsettling turn of events. Similarly, Nick might be satisfactory to to quite a lot of monomaniacs on the internet, but is pretty sinister to anyone who has just sat through wikileaks swinging an election in favour of an emotionally unstable fascist. Brunner was probably influenced by the Pentagon Papers, but it's hard to understand the positive spin he puts on this ending. All in all, although it's an impressive bit of futurism, as a novel it's only really worthwhile for Brunner-Completists.**
*Well, everyone aside from the hippies and drop outs in the 'paid-avoidance zones' that is. But they don't really come up all that much.

**That said, the climax is going to give me sleepless nights in the light of Donald Bloody Trump.
Profile Image for Thom.
1,565 reviews47 followers
March 26, 2023
The first half is more idea driven than plot driven; characters can be hard to follow in the first section especially. Once you realize this is government investigation into the life of a captured traitor (serious "The Prisoner" vibes), the characters start driving the story. By the end (and now in real time), the plot has taken off. In other words, a really good novel if you stick with it!

Released in 1975, John Brunner's story is way ahead of it's time. Samples include the internet, hackers and self replicating network worms, a "plug-in" lifestyle, computers prevalent in homes (and manipulated by the government), and a thin-skinned president using the army to make war on his domestic opponents.

This is the last of a quartet of Brunner books connected to future looking non-fiction of his time. In this case, it's Toffler's Future Shock, which I read decades ago but mostly forget. I've recently read Stand on Zanzibar, which is connected to Erlich's overpopulation thesis, and need to read The Sheep Look Up, which is connected to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. I really like forward looking science fiction stories; the examination of future predictions is some of the most interesting reading for me.
Profile Image for Tony Daniel.
71 reviews6 followers
March 2, 2010
Prescient proto-cyberpunk classic. Highly influenced by Alvin Toffler's Futureshock, down to having a Toffler-like philosopher quoted in the book and a Toffler blurb on the back. Used the idea of the computer worm and virus (called a phage in the book) for maybe the first time in sci-fi. Eventually devolves into a 70s aging hippie luddite critique of of technological advancement, completely failing to foresee the individual, antitotalitarian empowerment the information revolution brought about. The solution to a rigid sort of eugenics experiment to breed what would be called hackers is brought down by an "off the grid" bunch of third-way San Franciscans. I may have a hippie heart, but my more rational brain found the ending kind of amusingly wrong-headed, as the hero uses the very information snooping tactics he accuses his opponents of misusing to bring down the evil military-industrial-CIA-whatever. Oh, he's GOOD, so it must be okay! Yawn. Yet I absolutely loved lots of the prescient philosophical arguments about information and predictions (such as services such as InTrade that uses multiple sampling to predict future convergences, of successfully. Also DARPA's vilified, criticized and withdrawn initiative to do the same with military and government policies) A very fun book, and still an extremely worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Watt.
123 reviews2 followers
March 4, 2020
Brunner imagina ya en 1975 un mundo donde la gente vive pegada a los vifonos (una especie de smartphone), el estilo de vida es llamado “métete-a-fondo” donde se cambia de vivienda y trabajo continuamente, los productos de consumo son iguales en todas partes, se paga mediante la Red y el dinero en efectivo apenas existe, para los niños con problemas mentales se llama a la empresa Anti-Trauma Inc, puedes llamar al Oyente Silencioso para desahogarte del stress… y así un montón de cosas que coinciden inquietantemente con el presente.
La pega que le encuentro es que interrumpe la narración con discusiones interminables y densas durante los interrogatorios entre el protagonista Nickie Hafflinger y Freeman el director del centro de Tarnover y que el final es un poco fácil y poco creíble.
Profile Image for Ann-Marie "Cookie M.".
1,107 reviews120 followers
February 27, 2019
When this book came out in the mid-1970's I was a computer/ theater geek college student. The ideas presented by John Brunner predicted the internet, computer viruses, government experiments worse than "Men Who Thought at Goats."
I was fascinated. I had never read anything like it.
Reading it 45 years on I cannot believe how much he got right. This story could still be part of our future.

And, on a side note, I would love to meet the person in Wisconsin who named a haflinger horse Nickie. At least one person got the joke!
Profile Image for Rowena Vaughan.
20 reviews
January 7, 2013
When you consider that this book was written in 1974 (or before) it is remarkably prescient in subject and anticipation of the internet and the concept of computers being omnipresence in our current lives. The sub story is interesting but not as interesting as Mr Brunner's ability to conceptualize our current lives. I really enjoyed this book and have read many of his other novels which I also enjoyed.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,027 followers
October 23, 2014
I think the futuristic lingo is a little over done - makes it a bit more difficult to read than it has to be - he is painting a very scary look at a future that is now here in very many ways. This is pretty remarkable when the main thrust is a computerized society that was only beginning in 1975 & the Internet was a twinkling in ARPANet's juvenile eye. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Stephane.
352 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2019
Shockwave Rider
John Brunner

“It’s not because my mind in made up that I don’t want you to confuse me with any more facts. It’s because my mind isn’t made up. I already have more facts than I can cope with. So SHUT UP, do you hear me? SHUT UP!”

Facts, facts, facts… Fact checking, alternate facts… From factum meaning real events. But whose reality are we talking about? We have access to so much information in the digital age, it really is staggering. For someone from 1975, the year Brunner published Shockwave Rider, the transformations spearheaded by both social medias and smart phone would seem incredible.

Our relationship to information is undergoing a profound transformation. We now have access to continual entertainment and news, on-demand programing, we have fake news, we have passwords leaks, breach or privacy, wikileaks, targeted advertisement… A highly connected person has is in a pockets a tool that know more about himself than he, himself does. The vulnerability of our online personas might certainly be unnerving to many. The term FOMO has been coined to express the idea that people might be anxious when feeling they are missing out on something that is happening. This is often aroused by social medias. We have too much information.

While much has been made of the predictive power of Stand on Zanzibar, I think there is also a lot in Shockwawe Rider that resonate with today, especially concerning our relation to information and social medias. Consider the following passage:

“The nation was tightly webbed in a net of inter-locking data-channels, and a time-traveler from a century ago would have been horrified by the degree to which confidential information had been rendered accessible to total strangers capable of adding two plus two.”

Or again:

“Of course everybody had to be given a personal code! How else could the government do right by its citizens, keep track of the desires, tastes, preferences, purchases, commitments and above all location of a continentful of mobile, free individuals.”

This information overload is nefarious, the protagonists of Shockwave Rider are confused and uneasy: “don’t we daily grow more aware that data exist which we’re not allowed to get at?” The malaise they experiment through the novel is not dissimilar to mine, while I do not really wonder what is on the web that I can’t access, but rather what does the web knows about me? I don’t engage with social medias, am I missing out on something? For me, it still is relatively easy to leave my phone home, to disable notifications or to leave my Facebook account untended for weeks… but for the generations succeeding me, it is nearly unthinkable. I worry that I might soon no longer be able to understand their relationship with information, or perhaps this already has happened.

Brunner did well in exploring the question of what this increasing power of connectivity, the creating, recording and sharing of personal information, might do. His vision did not fully realized, he did not seem to have anticipated that corporations might make more use of this information than government (but aren’t we govern by corporations today anyways?) His solution is drastic.

I read Stand on Zanzibar eons ago (a re-read is in order soon…) and The Sheep Look Up earlier this year, and now I am beginning to think that John Brunner is truly one of the most underrated writers of science fiction. This is not an easy read, and can be a bit rough at the onset. Brunner is all over the place, uses lingo that confuses more than enlighten, and the plot is broken. Both story and dialogue are simply vehicles for ideas. But its creative, interesting and the prose is lively. I truly enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Lee.
320 reviews17 followers
December 5, 2010
The Shockwave Rider is a book before its time, published in 1975, the book provides a vision for the future of computer networks today. The term 'Web' was used in this book years before the Web as we know it emerged. A riveting story of freeman vs Big Brother society which contains the classic values of privacy still being debated vigorously today. Computer worms and self replicating code - all the cyber components.

The increasing rate of change has sent most Americans into mental distress. Everything one does is subject to scrutiny by the Feds and by anyone who can hack the Web. The flip side is that oneself is rarely able to find out important information. In other words: there are those around one who know things they shouldn't, are improperly profiting from it, and one can't do anything about it. The protagonist is a government-trained programmer who becomes hacker extraordinaire.

A far-reaching vision. The book is worth reading to see how true it has become in certain senses. Predicting the future is a hit or miss proposition.

Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,004 reviews1,118 followers
November 3, 2020
During the early eighties, after the brothers Miley moved out of our 1134 W. Chase apartment in East Rogers Park, Chicago, Jim moved in, staying a few years. Jim, an artist, later an author, was an aficionado of the bizarre, of conspiracy theories, of the democratic potentials of new technologies and of all that Michael Miley had called "high weirdness." Primarily self-educated, he was an ever-enthusiastic source for new ideas and controversial opinions, introducing me to quite a lot during our years together.

One of the books he recommended most highly was Brunner's 'Shockwave Rider'. It didn't take much of a push to get me to read it since the author's 'Stand on Zanzibar' and 'Sheep Look Up' were already two of my favorite near-future novels. Written in 1975, Rider was both remarkably prescient and influential in the then relatively new field of computer science.
Profile Image for Ugur.
227 reviews201 followers
June 26, 2013
1975 yılında yazılmış olan Şok Dalgası Süvarisi, yazıldığı döneme göre çok orijinal bir konuya sahip ve yazarın uzağı çok iyi öngördüğünü göstermekte.

Gelecekte devletler güvenliklerini ve üstünlüklerini sağlamak için genetik mühendislikten ve bilgisayarlardan yararlanarak yeni bir toplum düzeni yaratmak istiyorlar. Tüm insanlar tek bir veri ağına bağlanmış durumda, gelecek veya herhangi bir konu ile ilgili tahminler yapılırken tüm insanlardan alınan veriler ile gerçek değerlere ulaşılmaya çalışılmakta.

Bu dünyada bu sisteme karşı olan bir adam, sistemin açıklarını kullanarak sisteme karşı savaş açıyor. Süreç içinde birçok sanal kimlik kullanan karakterimizi okurken kitabı bırakmak istemiyorsunuz.
189 reviews5 followers
January 16, 2021
bit of a campy ending but this book is really good. just incisive takes on the way big data feeds into consumption and the construction of a consumer personality, leading to the dissolution of a personal self and community. i will say this book is good in the way it articulates the psychological and sociological impact of a data-driven society and government, as opposed to blowing me away with any revelations in and of themselves. there are so many cool moments in this book so here's potpourri about it.

it just feels so pertinent? but it was written in 1975?? so that's fucked up. the big one is Brunner futurecasting that the future would be everyone is trackable by their phones and credit cards and has a data profile sitting on a global network and that that makes it very hard to drop off the map and hide. i was also stunned at the depiction of a government infrastructural failure to help millions of people displaced by 'the Great Bay Quake' because there wouldn't be profit from it. granted parts of it feel idyllic and campy because of its age, too. for example, the fundamental articulation of people being estranged and disillusioned from others because the economy is increasingly designed to keep people moving from place to place and keep people from knowing their neighbors is good. the hard-edge that this is specifically because it is easy to transfer your mail, your job, and your physical belongings and travel is cheap because of technology all the time feels? i mean it always feels a little bad when the dystopian bureaucracy in a book is still way better than the existing bureaucracy irl.

the interstitial debates between freeman and haflinger was hard for me to follow because i am lazy, but it was still really interesting. just setting up critiques of numbers-driven, profit-margin governance, and poking out homogeneity and measurability of citizens is one of the goals of government, and and and -- so dense !! worth dissecting !! also, foucault!

it was hamfisted but there was an interest in character in this book that i really enjoyed. it was a classic arc where the protagonist starts as a total loner and can't have any ties to any place or person because he is on the run, and learns to ask for help and rely on other people. i think it just felt charming because i had low expectations for a book from 1975, but it was really nice and satisfying to have a woman berate a dude for being unnecessarily and unhelpfully independent and have her be depicted as in the right. on a more ideological note the utopian town of Precipice was just really cool against Nick Haflinger's independent streak; he starts the novel wanting to do a revolution all by himself, and it does take a community to bring about change. i also really enjoyed Freeman's flip from government interrogator to ally. NB i do think race is sort of old in this book. Brunner brings up whether people are black or not and takes pains to explain that most people are cool with mixed marriages but it's still a little contentious in this world. i get the sense he was swinging for intentionally non-white world-building, like having the mayor of the utopian town of precipice be black. freeman also ends up being a critical good guy, but it still shocked me every time Brunner described freeman's black and skull-like evil smile.

i was really charmed by the idea that after the arms race and brain race there'd come a time when there was the wisdom race, and that all these countries are fighting to tune their populace for wisdom but in the dumbest most data-driven hyperrational way possible, which obviously doesn't work. i think there's a kernel of optimism that wisdom is something our societies will intentionally pitch for, and perhaps a hint of pessimism that we'd have the hubris to believe it is achievable in a measurable, technological way.

there is something interesting about the solution to future shock being to slow down. i still don't know entirely what it means. the book doesn't really show that part, it just shows the takedown of the government network itself. the revolution without the aftermath. Brunner certainly is not pointing back to some sort of pre-technological state, i feel. the little hint we get is some sort of computer-based populist voting system on two policies: (1) elimination of poverty via computer-based distribution systems of money and food (2) a complex algo for determining salary by usefullness and difficulty of the job. this is very campy and at this point the book had gone off the rails for me a bit because Brunner made it seem so easy (Freeman seems to build this algo whole cloth by himself and nobody is mad about it and there's minimal angsting? trusting in the population to say yes to making life better for everyone this easily when *gestures at everything around me * ). but yeah, a computer based planned economy is part of this. i think slowing down was clearest in the town of Precipice, in that people actually stick around for years and years here, and it is a 'paid-avoidance zone' - aka it gets a government stipend for not getting the latest technology and infrastructure (another 'the dystopia is better than our world' because imagine at least getting paid for not having a train line in your city). people in Precipice have many jobs as opposed to just one, and help each other out with their jobs without being paid. a real commune. Brunner does depict a life that is slower, and without any downsides to the slowness.

the other thing i liked about this book is that ever since Haraway i'm always a sucker for human-animal relations. Precipice has a pack of extremely smart dogs (gengineered, sharkjump) that provide childcare and defense from local 'tribes' (gangs of kids) and are somehow also part of governmental decision making, vetting people before they're allowed to settle in Precipice. I just like when a better configuration of society involves more kinship with non-humans. it sort of feels like a mindfullness exercise; if you're extending kinship and community to nonhumans, you're more appreciative of your ecosystemic place in the world and how you are part of a interconnected species-level community. Kate, the wise woman who teaches Nick how to ask for help and be loved and shit, also has an animal companion. One effect of her having this lion is that it slows her down; she stays in the same place and doesn't move because she can't move a lion across state lines. There's this piece of worldbuilding that people rarely have children or will swap or abandon their children because their lives are so busy and they move around so much; Brunner points to having dependents as part of being grounded and living a full life, and how the capitalist fast life including having only shallow personal attachments.

read this book! it's hokey but it has one hella heart of gold!

Profile Image for Soph Barker.
Author 57 books44 followers
July 11, 2016
Estoy generosa: a lo mejor no se merece las 5 pero ¡qué coño!, me lo he pasado estupendamente leyéndolo y ya está.

Mi pequeña cabecita alcanza a formular reflexiones pero no le da para desarrollarlas del todo; leyendo este libro me ha dado por preguntarme cómo es posible que alguien en los 70 fuera capaz de percibir la trampa y las falsas religiones que surgirían a partir del desarrollo de los ordenadores, pero no fuera más allá de imaginar un aparato que sería aún más engañoso: el smartphone.

Por el tinte del libro, en este caso me atrevo a aventurar que al escritor en realidad el cómo se la suda, y sólo le interesa describir los efectos sociológicos. Pues muy bien, con las diferencias obvias entre realidad y premonición, el tío lo clava. Esa falsa creencia de creer que tenemos acceso a TODA la información existente es muy real; que la existencia de un Nicholas Halflinger en nuestro mundo y sus actos nos sacara de ese estado anestesiado, visto lo visto, no creo que sucediera. Pero es bonito imaginarlo.

El libro, a pesar de estar escrito a retazos, no se hace difícil de comprender. Además, la acción sigue un ritmo creciente digna de cualquier película palomitera de calidad que lo hace superentretenido.

Profile Image for H.
163 reviews3 followers
September 1, 2019
Wow! First Brunner I’ve read but I must immediately rate him on the genius scale along with my favorite, PKD. The politics here are surprisingly laudable, even now in 2019. His powers of prophecy are startling, too. Personally, unlike others, I found this book arresting from page one, with the middle section actually being my favorite. I admire authors who don’t baby the audience, watering down their vision or narrative. Brunner tosses us right in and expects us to catch up quickly. Those who do, hold on. You’re truly in for a science fiction classic. Can’t wait to read Stand On Zanzibar next.
Profile Image for Martin Rundkvist.
Author 9 books22 followers
May 22, 2015
Loads of speechy dialogue overwhelm the genuinely innovative proto-cyberpunk ideas. Reminded me of Gilliam's movie Brazil.
Profile Image for Alex Sarll.
5,761 reviews231 followers
October 19, 2020
Most famous for inventing the computing use of 'worm'*, this is another example of John Brunner's astonishing prescience, at times feeling eerily close to being the definitive novel of the 2010s despite being published in 1975. It's set somewhere after the 20th century but before 2020, after America has hooked up computers to the telephone network to create a data-net, which starts out by recording people's preferences for the sake of safety and convenience, but ends up knowing more about them than they do themselves – and worse, it's maddeningly hard to find out what the system knows about you, or to correct that one incorrect piece of data that's ruining your life. There are compensatory advantages, of course – it turns out that you can get surprisingly accurate and comprehensive information just by pooling responses from enough people, even if some of them don't really have a clue. Violent tribalism is accepted as an everyday hazard. Over and over, Brunner calls it right, whether that be little things like the possibilities of laser printers (just beginning to be a thing when this came out), through cultural phenomena like the new possibilities for spoof versions of ads, to the deepest modern malaise – "how apathetic most people have become, how cut off they feel from the central process of decision making, how utterly helpless and resigned". At times it felt almost like an uninterrupted Xanadu**, someone desperately scrawling down a dream-vision of now, albeit not always with quite the right vocabulary, and with an overlaying mood suggesting that peculiarly brittle, hyped-up, seventies diet pill phase. The somewheres vs anywheres debate is here, though with much more sympathy for the somewheres, even from a lead who is pretty much the ultimate anywhere. The fear of a homogenised society, which to some extent is true, even if Brunner (and modern sceptics) didn't foresee the extent to which the net would simultaneously enable even the strangest and most niche of interest groups also to find their tribes. Organised crime capturing the Presidency. Hell, he even beat Pratchett to the line "If there is such a phenomenon as absolute evil, it consists in treating another human being as a thing." And given the stuff Pratchett was into, I'd be very surprised if he hadn't read The Shockwave Rider.

Every now and again, of course, there does come a hilarious misstep, as when it's suggested the cost of shutting down a particularly smart tapeworm would be the net losing "thirty or forty billion bits of data" - which must have sounded loads at the time, but which we'd now say was around four gigabytes, or somewhere around a seventh of the information I currently have stored on my 'phone. But as with Brunner's other great near-future dystopia, Stand On Zanzibar, the main problem is that he's far too optimistic. Brazil and the Philippines are specifically mentioned as being much better off for the new age of big data. Tarnover, the sinister institute squatting at the heart of the story, is a factory for disruptive young supergeniuses straight out of Dominic Cummings' wet dreams – but it does at least produce disruptive supergeniuses, instead of just corralling and empowering twatty edgelords. Most painful of all, despite being common to much of what was once considered paranoid fiction, there's that touching faith that exposing the truth about wrongdoing will make the least bit of difference. I genuinely winced at the line "Lots of things make people angry, but political graft and the notion of deliberately maltreating children are among the most powerful". Well, you say that, but it turns out that for the majority of the population, they don't make people nearly as angry as libs and the paramount importance of owning same.

*Though it turns out here they only use that as an occasional abbreviation for the more usual 'tapeworm'.
**Samuel TC rather than Olivia NJ.
Profile Image for Fraser Simons.
Author 9 books244 followers
October 11, 2021
This is, like many 70s sci-fi social spec novels, a novel of big ideas. In the backseat is the plot and characterization. Though, what gives it staying power is some prophetic ideas about the Information Age and the wired world that came. Rightly, it envisions a future in which the massive influx of data is used to steer the young and privileged. Propaganda 2.0.

I can’t say it was a completely pleasant book to read though, as I’m a character and plot driven reader. Go figure. This reminds me somewhat of Foundation. Almost B movie dialogue with complicated and fantastic worldbuilding and ideas. Fascinating to consume something meant for a completely different kind of reader.
Profile Image for El_Commutador.
82 reviews28 followers
January 20, 2019
Parts of this book felt to me like some of those crazy comic books I read back in the 80s, where in an economically and ecologically broken USA, Trump was president and the government watched its citizens through video-cameras in the streets, while the TV was full of violent shit and people was mesmerized by all sort of screens.

Back then, it didn't feel like a real future, though...

Good anticipation book, full of stuff that made me think about our day and age's society.
Profile Image for Casey.
734 reviews
May 23, 2018
The Shockwave Rider is considered a classic in the sci-fi genre. It's a story full of ideas, many before it's time.

Plot Summary
Nickie Halflinger has lived many "lives." He was raised alongside other extremely intelligent children at Tarnover. Instead of living the life they intended for him, in which he is supposed to help control the populace, he escapes, and is constantly changing his identity. Much of his success is because he can "hack" into the data-net and infiltrate it with "worms" to cover his tracks.

He meets a girl and then decide to find a town that is supposedly out of the grips of surveillance. They travel there, but Nickie can only keep running for so long.

+Novel ideas the time of publishing

+Confusing beginning
+Light on character development
+Bland story
+Weird mother/daughter relationship
+Lots of tell not show

The weakness of The Shockwave Rider is that is so focused on the ideas, rather than an engaging plot. Much of the time characters are discussing things that have happened instead of actually doing them. I did get bored.

I appreciated all of the ideas. The book was conceptualizing the internet before most people had any exposure to it, and potential issues from it. One that people are going crazy from their "plug-in" lifestyle is something that is still relatable today. With so many ideas, it could have really put them into an awesome plot, but it devolves into a rather formulaic plot of really cool, smart guy vs. the evil bad guys.

It doesn't really go into dystopian land, even though with many of the plot points it should have been. The plot would have been more interesting if it got darker.

I didn't care about the characters. I found it weird Nickie sleeps with this one woman, and then later he dates her daughter. And it's talked about how the mother is jealous of the daughter. It seemed like some Freudian vestige that didn't fit in.

If you're interested in reading some foundational sci-fi literature, you might be interested in the book. However, I would say skip it.

My Thoughts on the Ending
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