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The Jagged Orbit

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  829 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Matthew Flamen, the last of the networks' spoolpigeons, is desperate for a big story. He needs it to keep his audience and his job. And there is no shortage of possibilities: the Gottschalk cartel is fomenting trouble among the knees in order to sell their latest armaments to the blanks; which ties in nicely with the fact that something big is brewing with the X Patriots; ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published August 24th 2000 by Victor Gollancz (Orion Books) (first published February 1969)
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5.0 stars. Not quite as good as Brunner's "Stand on Zanzibar" which I think is one of the best SF novels of all time. This is still head and shoulders above most of the SF out there. A superb novel. Where Zanzibar dealt with overpopulation, this novel deals with the propblem of racial disunity and the fragmantation of individuals to such a degree that people become almost totally isolated from each other emotionally. Highly recommended.

Winner: Britsh Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (1971)
Simon Mcleish
Mar 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in October 1998.

Brunner's four most famous novels take an aspect of today's society and exaggerate it, to create dystopias which are compelling because of the way they relate to our fears for the future. Stand on Zanzibar, the best known, is about the population explosion; The Sheep Look Up environmental pollution; Shockwave Rider computers and privacy; and Jagged Orbit race relations. They all use a similar technique, with news items interrupting the narrati
A reasonably good near-future dystopia, where racial violence, stoked by unscrupulous weapons manufacturers, is gradually causing society to come apart at the seams. Some of the ideas are nice, but it is starting to feel rather dated, and the ending is an unsatisfying deus ex machina. If you want to read one of his books, I recommend Stand on Zanzibar, which is similar but better done. ...more
May 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Progressives, anti-Trump gurus
Shelves: science-fiction
The Jagged Orbit is another in Brunner's series of novels about the dysfunction of contemporary Western societies and is as true today (if not more true) as when written. This novel is about race relations, alienation, gun control, computerization, AI, political mental health diagnoses...

Though there are many passages or chapters which evoke concerns about Trumpism and creeping fascism, the novel overall did not really work for me. This structure is confused/weird as if the author is playing wit
Aug 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: die hard cyberpunk fans
This is a prototype cyberpunk science fiction novel set in a future where racial relations have totally descended into open warfare. Due to rampant paranoia advanced personal armament sales are the most lucrative business on the planet. In addition to racial relations, western religious traditions are breaking down and people are turning to idolatry. And there are drugs that can make some people psychic.

There was a plot, but it was hard to follow, and I have a hard time recalling it.

This book wa
Brunner dreamed up the most horrible things he could, and off course most of them came true. The race war in America didn’t quite play out like this, but with militarization of the police, psychiatric care by meds, edited news, snipers paralyzing cities, cities turned to war zones, over reliance on technology, private gun dealers engineering revolutions, are hardly the territory of science fiction, let alone fiction any longer. This book reads a little like the b-sides of Stand on Zanzibar, but ...more
Christian Schwoerke
This novel was written close on the heels of Brunner’s acknowledged masterpiece, Stand on Zanzibar, and is one of his so-called Club of Rome novels, along with SoZ, Shockwave Rider, and Sheep Look Up, all dealing with the neo-Malthusian concerns cited in the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (1972). While Stand on Zanzibar was a satch-rich outpouring of narrative bits comprising fictional (and some real) media/news, music, essays, computer output, and an omniscient narrator, The Jagged Orbit is a ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Set in 2014, The Jagged Orbit is a tale of our over-armed, over-medicated and Apartheid ridden future. As seen from 1968, Brunner sees America divided into "knee" and "kneeblank" enclaves. (The terms will be explained in the book, but you'll get it after a bit). Those who are not finding themselves committed to the Ginsburg psychiatric hospital for medical care designed to emotionally distance them from everything live in constant fear of riots and 'knee' enclave invasions. Their fears are stoke ...more
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
review of
John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 31, 2014

[sidenote: the actual edition I read is Ace's paperback version also from 1969 & NOT the hardcover bookclub edition - nonetheless, the cover's almost identical & the publisher & date are the same so it's not worth the trouble to create a new edition here - the paperback page count is 397 (not including the ads in the back).]

ALSO, 'of course', my review is "5727 characters" too long so the full review is her
John Loyd
This is set in a near future where personal protection is a priority. Home protection systems have lethal capability. Which is necessary because the armament out on the streets is what we would think of as military grade. Speaking of guns and blasters, Gottschalks are quite persistent with their annoying sales pitches. There are quite a few coined words. Spoolpigeon, pythoness, yash, mackero, macoot, etc. It took me a while to realize that a knee referred to a black person, but it was before cha ...more
Michael Battaglia
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you've at all heard of John Brunner, it's probably by way of his masterpiece (and masterpiece of 1970s SF) "Stand on Zanzibar", which managed the neat trick of creating a book about overpopulation that actually felt clastrophobic while taking a cross-section of its overstuffed expanse and spraying it at the reader all at once. It remains an extraordinarily visceral experience and probably works better as a multi-faceted depiction of a broken world than its more famous cousin Harry Harrison's ...more
Justin Price
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Perhaps one of the most important traits of science fiction is its ability to be prescient—the ability to be able to see trends in present day society and extrapolate them into plausible scenarios taking place in future societies or on alien worlds. What separates good science fiction from bad is this ability, for a good story can transcend the period from which it was written and feel as relevant today as in yesteryear. Jagged Orbit is one of these books.

Written in the 1960s, it feels as if i
Roddy Williams
While reading this, it struck me, since Brunner seems particularly Dick-influenced - how PKD's characters seem to be trapped in their roles. I suspect if you pick up any Dick novel at random you would find more than one character yearning to break away from a job, or a spouse or both and yet seems doomed to remain. PKD's characters, oddly much like Dick's are defined by their status and their place in society, and to a certain extent, so are Brunner's.
Brunner's work is more obviously satirical,
Glen Engel-Cox
Nov 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: amazon
I cannot recall what I was reading at the time, but the gist of it was that John Brunner wrote four challenging and experimental novels in the late 60s/early 70s. Of those four, I had read three and considered two of them to be among my top 20 of all time (Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up; the other that I had read was The Shockwave Rider, which I like and which should be mandatory reading for cybergeeks, but I don't think if has the same impact of the other two). The fourth was this nove ...more
Feb 24, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
I took a long time coming to this book, after finishing the hugely disappointing Stand on Zanzibar, but I had promised myself to give the author another chance and this is another of his highly acclaimed novels. This time I wasn't nearly so patient.

I gave up about 40 pages in. Presented again with a fragmented narrative with frequent and annoying digressions and the whiff of the same smug humour and didacticism, I just didn't have the patience to persevere. It was just going to be too much like
Jul 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf, dystopia, cyberpunk
It's technically not cyberpunk because of when it was written, but it definitely does the high-tech-low-culture thing well, plus reads like an almost-contemporary novel given how presciently it describes the organization of society. I guess some things don't change (even though I wish they would). If you're not into the '60s psychedelic style you will not have fun with this book. Luckily for me I'm cool with hopping into word rivers and seeing where they take me.

Oh also now I'm thinking of a new
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book was written nearly 50 years ago, with the locus of the story set around this time era. It depicts a US society divided by race, colour, and to lesser extent religion. Commercialism controls the media, and the sale of arms and weapons to the public is rampant, and controlled by a Mafia-like organisation. Civil unrest is widespread, and violence is worsening. The President is publicity seeking fool.
John Brunner must have been prescient.
Apr 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Jagged Orbit may become one of my new favorite books.

The author doesn't just hand you the story; much like A Clockword Orange, eventually you'll understand the slang. Maybe.

This book is worth working for it though. The concept is slightly dated, but in the far distant year of 2014 black and white folks are still deeply segregated, still killing each other, and America is still obsessed with guns, technology, and macho posturing.
Ralph Jones
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 20th-century
What makes a good story? Is it the longer the better? That is how it is with The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner.

The book has 100 chapters. 100 chapters! Yet, the plot of the story is too entangled what with the characters worldly problems and the current world affairs which interracial concerns. Maybe Brunner is too ambitious with this. Maybe he thought, that this book is like a television show script. A drama, probably. I can probably understand the story if it is in TV series form, because it te
A relatively tame excursion by New Wave standards, with a conventional and contrived plot and on-the-nose themes. The first section is engaging but challenging, teaching the reader new concepts by immersion, but by the end that's all abandoned in favour of a neverending series of heads talking in rooms where the heroes explain for the reader's benefit what was happening the whole time. Along the way you get plenty of strong characterisation, some fun developments, and an impressive command of to ...more
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction
Mind blown again.

Let's set up groups of citizens against each other and get rich while selling them weapons.

Let's create TV shows that undermine trust in other people by "exposing" how hypocritical and corrupt some of them (politicians, captains of industry etc) are.

Next, let's alienate people from each other by telling them everyday that they should "be an individual".

Next to that, substance abuse is normalized and shootings in schools taken for granted.

You think I am describing some things hap
Lance Schonberg
Feb 27, 2021 rated it did not like it
Well, my second DNF of 2021.

I don’t know if it’s the narrative style (I don’t seem to do well with the late 60s to early 70s New Wave subgenre) or the scattershot dystopic clichés, but I’m putting this one down after 50-ish pages.

It’s clunky, it’s disjointed, it’s scattered, and, with apologies to Mr. Brunner, it’s boring and doesn’t offer me anything new or even interesting. It’s entirely possible that things will come together later in the book or get better, but it’s going to take longer than
Chris Harris
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brunner on where he saw the US going with respect to racism. I won't spoil the etymology of "blanks" and "knees" that he uses to set people apart, but when it's revealed it perhaps shows how widely his vision departed from reality. But he's not *that* far off, though; his description of the US president is eerily prescient... ...more
Kavita Favelle
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
I usually really enjoy stories that extrapolate the near future from the woes of today's society and make you think hard about how readily we could end up in the world showcased by the author. So the concept of the story appealed. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into the book itself, neither the characters nor the pacing grabbed me. I stopped reading about a quarter way in. ...more
Ernest Hogan
Dec 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A crazy 1969 experiment at the intersection of British New Wave speculative fiction and Blaxploitation that gropes for both Afrofuturism and cyberpunk, while previewing the Disimformation Age, with news clippings that inspired it. Dedicated to "CHIP" (AKA Samuel R, Delany) "--the only person I know who can really fly a jagged orbit." ...more
Marsha Valance
Matthew Flamen, the last of the networks' spoolpigeons, is desperate for a big story. There's no shortage of possibilities, but then into his lap falls the story that the respected director of the New York State Mental Hospital is a charlatan. Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1969), British Science Fiction Association Award for Novel (1970). A Science Fiction Book Club selection.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My first John Brunner book. Got started slowly for me, but once I got the different characters straight (that got easier when they started interacting instead of being in seemingly unrelated story arcs) I enjoyed it. The dystopian view of race relations is unfortunately still relevant.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
English New Wavity. Starts slow, I seriously question Brunner's decision to use dialect for many of the black characters, and like many books from the late 60s, it has some odd racial politics. Having said that, it's still an interesting read. ...more
Andrew Brooks
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
just couldnt relate with it. To me it seems written in the buzztLk of the in crowd... if you know what's what, and the whyfor of it, you can maybe dig the nuggets. Cool beans for those withit... not so much for social misfits like self. ...more
Struggled with this one
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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 Ro ...more

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