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Stand on Zanzibar

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Norman Niblock House is a rising executive at General Technics, one of a few all-powerful corporations. His work is leading General Technics to the forefront of global domination, both in the marketplace and politically---it's about to take over a country in Africa.  Donald Hogan is his roommate, a seemingly sheepish bookworm. But Hogan is a spy, and he's about to discover a breakthrough in genetic engineering that will change the world...and kill him.  
These two men's lives weave through one of science fiction's most praised novels. Written in a way that echoes John Dos Passos' U.S.A. Trilogy, Stand on Zanzibar is a cross-section of a world overpopulated by the billions.  Where society is squeezed into hive-living madness by god-like mega computers, mass-marketed psychedelic drugs, and mundane uses of genetic engineering.  Though written in 1968, it speaks of 2010, and is frighteningly prescient and intensely powerful. 

550 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1968

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About the author

John Brunner

509 books404 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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Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,853 followers
May 15, 2022
During the wild 60s, Brunner wrote an amazing novel about overpopulation, corporatocracy, everyday terror, and permanent infodump by news media and corporations and described a setting that became astonishingly true in many details.

Reread 2022 with extended review

Dark social sci-fi
Sure, he was a bit too optimistic regarding genetic engineering and too pessimistic regarding totalitarian tendencies, but some passages could be out of a present time history book. More social sci fi than focused on action, Brunner describes a complete unleashed market, PR- and commercial industry in a dystopian world as a mixture of Huxley and Orwell with a focus on showing the most perverse and extreme manifestations of such social constructs.

Extreme detail
It´s a long read with many worldbuilding details and all these amazing news reports, news flashes, and hundreds of integrated mini-stories that help to push the narrative forward and give depth and extra layers to it. They´re also part of the creepy predictive power, because some could really be seen as 1 to 1 real news reports of past or current events.

Skim and scan
Some passages are far too long, some plots unnecessary, and the newsflashes could mostly be ignored. But these details are part of the fascination of the work, so each reader can decide if she/he wants to just go with the main plot and thereby reduce the length or enjoy the full picture of the madness.

Language and wit
The humor definitively isn´t for everyone, it´s as dark as the work itself, quite explicit, and for less borderliny readers than me maybe a bit too sick, but there are some hard laughs hidden in the abysses of this universe. Part of the fun makes the Clockwork orange style fantasy language that especially shines in dialogues with its strangeness, often combined with preposterous settings and characters' motivations.

Style and impact in the genre
My favorite elements are the very detailed descriptions of how the system works, be it by plot or characters, the mentioned many tidbit mini comments, the reactions and motivations of the government and management level, and the complex geopolitical constellations. Not so well known as other Sci-Fi authors, Brunner might have given inspiration to William Gibson and the Cyberpunk genre in general by correctly predicting the development of highly complex societal and global power structures and their long term degeneration.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,377 reviews12k followers
June 10, 2023

Astonishing. Eyeopening. Among the most prescient novels ever written.

Published in 1968 but set in 2010, Stand on Zanzibar by British author John Brunner accurately predicts an entire host of profound changes that have taken place in our early 21st century. To note a baker's dozen:

1. The population of Earth will exceed seven billion around 2010, enough people the island of Zanzibar's 600 square miles would be needed for the world's population to stand shoulder to shoulder.

2. A small computer in every home with access to information contained in all the great libraries (our current-day internet);

3. Europe forms a collective union (the EU);

4. China rises to become a competitive world power and major producer of goods;

5. A world leader will have the name of President Obomi;

6. Europe creates the Euro;

7. People smoke less cigarettes and take many more drugs;

8. Desolation and destruction blight the city of Detroit;

9. The invention of visual phone calls (Skype);

10. Widespread imbibing of what has come to be known as Viagra;

11. The legalization of same-sex marriage;

12. Omnipresence of electronic surveillance;

13. Images and information via mass media, especially television, become foundational in the way men and women experience and evaluate both their own lives and the outside world.

Stand on Zanzibar toggles back and forth between telling the story of several characters, two Americans most notably, and worldbuilding via reams of information in various forms reeled off rapid-fire. "The greatest art is the most neglected. When did you last experience ecstasy in bed?" --- "We can re-programme your life to make an artistically rounded whole." --- "When they say Botticelli, do you think it's a cheese? Well, as of today, it is. And gastronomes acknowledge our achievement."

I agree with many other readers and reviewers - one of the greatest SF novels ever written. Published in the swingin' sixties and usually described as dystopian New Wave SF, Zanzibar gives fans familiar with the author's previous novels the sense John Brunner clicked into a new phase of imagining and writing after tripping on LSD.

Zanzibar contains: 1) a multifaceted structure (chapters headings such as Continuity and Context), 2) multiple plot lines (usually set in the US), 3) insertions of quotes from a 21st century sociologist, 4) allusions to various points of history. So much material packed into this novel. For an in-depth outline of this extraordinary work, here's a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand_o...

Since I'm writing a book review not a book, I'll jump to a batch of zinger highlights:

In an interview, John Brunner praised Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange for being literary fiction of the highest order while addressing themes usually found in science fiction. The influence of Burgess on Brunner is clear, including invented slang: codder (certain type of man), shiggy (certain type of woman), mucker (criminal), prowlie (police car), offyourass (having a strong opinion).

With its dark humor, its gush of a world gone mad as it drowns in its own technology, gadgetry and overurbanization, Brunner's voice will bring to mind Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, JR by William Gaddis and, well, all the books of Philip K. Dick. A splattering smattering: "Dogs fouling sidewalk will be destroyed" --- "Stomp that roach! Beware of fire." --- "What shall we do with our fair city? Dirty and dangerous, smelly and shitty! If you're a friend of New York town, you'll find you a hammer and smash it down."

World population (particularly all the stupid people) has run out of control. Innovative biological sciences attempt to address this most pressing issue in a variety of ways - to list three: forced sterilizations, eugenics, species modifications (you'll have to read for yourself). And there are reports Russia is lagging behind a comparatively backward country like Yatakang in the critical field of tectogenetics. Students in Moscow stage a sit-in when offered a choice: sterilization or removal to Siberia. What is to save us? Would you believe a small African country having a population with unique human qualities? Quick - time to hop on a jet before it's too late!

A husband and wife, via innovative futuristic technology, can scan their own faces to merge with the faces of Mr. & Mrs. Everywhere, a couple who travel to beautiful worldwide destinations. In this way, couples trapped in their tiny, cramped home in their vastly overcrowded city can see themselves enjoying tropical paradise or a perfect ski resort right on their TV screen. The ultimate in psychological projection! I hope you agree: the bleakest and blackest in black humor.

With eerie echoes of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, A Space Odyssey where computer HAL calls many of the shots in outer space, so Zanzibar features Shalmaneser, the ultimate supercomputer making many critical decisions right here on Earth. Some of the lowly humans complain how those in power don't trust anybody except a computer.

However, there is that time when we read about Norman (one of the key main characters) voicing dissatisfaction. "The omniscient Shalmaneser had let his faithful disciples down, and with half their minds they were afraid it might not be his fault, but theirs." Ha! Even when the mighty computer might not be all that mighty, invariably the blame lies with humans. Blaming the omniscient computer? Blasphemy! You might as well blame an omniscient God.

Key overarching John Brunner theme: All the ways individuals are stripped of their individuality and humanity by large, all-powerful organizations. So many ways, both blatant and subtle, to manufacture consent, that is, make sure everyone adheres to regimentation and conformity. The British author gives ear to thinkers like Marshall McLuhan (the first "Context" chapter is a MM quote) and Alvin Toffler (Brunner's novel Shockwave Rider is a nod to AT's Future Shock).

Black humor overflowing in Zanzibar is never more apparent than all things relating to sociologist Chad C. Mulligan. We have Chad C. Mulligan quotes via his collection of pseudo-definitions from his satirical dictionary and several of his books urging people to use their head for more than a hatrack.

Chad even makes his personal appearances throughout. Here's Chad sharing a slice of his vitriol: "But I'm giving up. I'm quitting. The sheer God-blasted inertia of this asinine species (human) has defeated me. I can't make people pay me attention whether I argue, or bellow, or daub myself with shit."

Stand on Zanzibar - the ideas and insights runneth over. Read it.

“You know Chad’s definition of the New Poor? People who are too far behind with time-payments on next year’s model to make the down-payment on the one for the year after?”

British author John Brunner, 1934-1995
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
February 18, 2019
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner is an amazing book.

First of all, the title comes from the idea of putting all the people on the planet in one place. A nineteenth century commentator speculated that if everyone were to stand, and have maybe a couple feet square around him or her, then everyone could stand together on the Isle of Wight. Some time later this concept was expanded due to population increases to speculate that the same experiment could be done on the Isle of Man. Brunner, setting his novel in the not too distant future of 2010, extrapolated that then, with population continuing to expand exponentially, the gathering would need to be conducted on the African island of Zanzibar.

Stand on Zanzibar uses a narrative technique pioneered by the Lost Generation novelist John Dos Passos in his USA trilogy. Brunner used a cacophony of voices and characters, news bulletins, and illustrative sketches and a large cast of characters and settings to create an experience of out of control, inevitable and relentless over population. Winner of the 1969 Hugo Award, this is a thought provoking, dystopian tour de force that can overwhelm the reader, but through masterful crafting, stays on track and has a satisfying, if not disheartening end. Eclipsed by other dystopian novels like Brave New World and 1984, this is nonetheless a worthy entry in that list.

I have long been a fan of writers like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson who bravely set their stories in the near future and there could even be an ever-growing sub-genre of science fiction whose vision has now become contemporary. Brunner has done an admirable job in contemplating a time, only 40 odd years in his future where over population and increasing poverty are progressing at an alarming rate.

Most alarming to me was Brunner’s prophetic ideas of “muckers” those people who have run amok and go on mass murder killing sprees.

Brunner’s vision is not without hope, but his predictions fall too close to home to go without notice, and hopefully, with some contemplation.

Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,254 followers
February 7, 2016
:: Stand on Zanzibar is one of my favorite novels ::

Stand on Zanzibar (50th Anniversary Collection)

a) Stand on Zanzibar is about overpopulation. if the entire world's population were to stand on Zanzibar, it would sink.

b) Stand on Zanzibar is about information. how is it processed? what does it really mean?

c) Stand on Zanzibar is about the evils and cupidity of corporatization. it is about how a corporation may be able to do a good thing, despite itself.

d) Stand on Zanzibar is about the evils and stupidity of the State. it provides many examples.

Tous à Zanzibar

SCANALYZE: "brown-nose" is a casually derogatory term for blacks.

CAST INCLUDES: Norman House is a muslim african-american and a ruthlessly ambitious rising star in General Technics. in the early part of the novel, he acts quickly and sprays an amok terrorist's hand with liquid helium, causing it to freeze and then break off. later in the novel, he is given de facto control of the african country of Beninia, which is being taken over by his company.

:: this book made me angry at times ::

LOCATIONS INCLUDE: Beninia has somehow remained a neutral refuge throughout its history. it has resisted slavers, colonial forces, mass waves of immigrants, and many other external influences. its people are malnourished, poorly housed, and only marginally educated. there has not been a murder in Benina in over 15 years. its residents do not have a phrase to explicitly describe "losing your temper". instead they use a phrase that means "went temporarily insane". once, several years ago, in a different village, a boy saw a man "lose his temper" while arguing with his wife. everyone laughed at the man's outlandish behavior. so silly and so strange!

:: i lose my temper. it is one of my flaws. i say terrible things sometimes ::


PROFILE OF NOVEL: Stand on Zanzibar was written by John Brunner in 1968. it is a New Wave science fiction novel about a future dystopia. it won the Hugo Award in 1969. it won my heart and mind in 1990. i just reread it.

PROFILE OF AUTHOR: John Brunner has written over 50 books. this novel was inspired by the cut-up technique of John Dos Passos' U.S.A. Trilogy. i was occasionally reminded of William S. Burroughs and Kathy Acker. and Robert Silverberg. and William Gibson. and the way my own mind processes information.

PROFILE OF NOVEL: according to my best friend wikipedia,
"Stand on Zanzibar was innovative within the science fiction genre for mixing narrative with entire chapters dedicated to providing background information and worldbuilding, to create a sprawling narrative that presents a complex and multi-faceted view of the story's future world. Such information-rich chapters were often constructed from many short paragraphs, sentences, or fragments thereof — pulled from sources such as slogans, snatches of conversation, advertising text, songs, extracts from newspapers and books, and other cultural detritus. The result is reminiscent of the concept of information overload."

Stand on Zanzibar

SCANALYZE: "eptification" is a process in which the government can turn an ordinary man into a trained assassin.

CAST INCLUDES: Donald Hogan is a white american and a synthesist - a rather dilettante-ish position paid for by the government, in which the practitioner studies patterns in the mass flow of information. in the early part of the novel, his unwitting presence in a non-white ghetto inadvertedly causes a riot in which hundreds are hurt and a helicopter pilot is beaten to death. later in the novel, he is turned into a spy and sent to the angry country of Yatakang.

:: at times this book made me irritated and frustrated ::

LOCATIONS INCLUDE: Yatakang is a military dictatorship along the lines of modern-day Pakistan. it was once a part of the Philippines, which is now called Isola. Yatakang hates the U.S. and is on the verge of U.S.-sponsored revolution. Yatakang is home to a brilliant and humane geneticist. this brilliant geneticist may be able to create super-children.

:: i am half-Filipino. i do not want children, super or otherwise ::

Всем стоять на Занзибаре

1) due to overpopulation, nearly the entire world has severe restrictions around giving birth. people are obsessed with genetic make-up. if you have flaws in your genetic make-up, you are not allowed to have children.

2) overpopulation + ennui + a lifetime of frustration can equal many things, including the potential for murder & rape & incest. did you know that?

:: this book made me laugh a lot. a great sense of humor. malevolent, merciless, mordant wit. my favorite! ::

[Stand on Zanzibar can be an off-putting experience. many people do not like it. some find it challenging; some find it boring; some find it frustrating. it does not take it easy on the reader. it throws a lot of things the reader's way. the reader is given a mass amount of information to digest. can the reader find patterns in this information? does the reader even care?]

CAST INCLUDES: Shalmaneser is an all-knowing computer created by General Technics. is Shalmaneser growing consciousness?

Todos sobre Zanzíbar

SCANALYZE: "shiggies" are a common type of lady. to be specific, they are attractive, upscale, vaguely whorish young women with no permanent residence. they move or are passed on from guy to guy to guy. guys share shiggies. most young women appear to be shiggies. unless they are daughters, wives, or business leaders.

CAST UPDATE: Norman and Donald are roommates. one is full of cold anger and the other is full of passive idleness. they toke up together. they share shiggies. Norman likes the scandinavian babes and Donald likes the black hotties. the two go to a jail and then to a party together. the two have great and terrible things in store for them. later, they actually become friends. sorta.

#what is "friendship" anyway?
#does anyone really know anyone?

CAST INCLUDES: Begi is a Beninian folk figure. he is a trickster of sorts. he exists to punish the greedy, the pretentious, and other assorted pricks and assholes.

((i have too many favorite scenes in this novel to count. my favorite may be the riot. or it may be a party that turns out to be a colossal fail. another favorite may be the scene in which a trained assassin takes down a mucker.))

SCANALYZE: "muckers" run amok. overpopulation and other factors drive them insane. that insanity endows them with the strength of many and causes them to seek the immediate death of everyone around them. they are a sign of the times.

:: sometimes, in crowds, i feel like running amok. but i don't. whew! ::

Stand on Zanzibar

[i have a Goodreads friend who didn't care for this book. he said the plot didn't start for over a 100 pages and all the random snippets of information became wearisome. sometimes i read his reviews and i wonder my God, does he even like reading? still, his opinion is a valuable one to me.]

CAST INCLUDES: GT Buckfast. Eric Ellerman. Chad Mulligan. Poppy Shelton. Guinevere Steel. Sheena & Frank Potter. Arthur Golightly. Stal Lucas. Sasha & Philip Peterson. Victor & Mary Whatmough. Elihu Masters. Gerry Lindt. Dr Sugaiguntung. President Zadkiel Obomi. Jogajong. Olive Almerio. Grace Rowley. Pierre & Jeannine Clodard. Jeff Young. Henry Butcher. Bennie Noakes. all of these characters have POV chapters.
~ by the time the novel ends, ten are dead ~

#do you want to live forever?

(the constant racist language against asians really bothered me. is this because i am half asian? the novel itself is not racist. quite the opposite.)

CAST INCLUDES: Bronwen Ghose does not have a POV chapter. if i have one critique, it is that Bronwen in particular deserved one. a moving character, and a very appealing, very attractive one as well.

PROFILE OF AUTHOR: John Brunner also wrote a book called The Sheep Look Up. i love that title.

The Sheep Look Up

* Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere go everywhere... just for you! watch them from the comfort of your living room, on your television! they look just like you! *


Stand on Zanzibar

Stand on Zanzibar should be read carefully, over time. there is too much going on, so you should go slow. i think if you read it too fast It May Become Like A Long Night With Too Much Coke And Too Many People And You Are Almost About To Lose It But You Don't Have Anywhere To Go So You Just Do Another Line And All Of A Sudden It Is Too Much But All You Can Do Is Smile Smile Smile And It Begins To Hurt And Your Brain Begins To Hurt And You Feel Like Freaking Out And Crying.

Stand on Zanzibar should be read quickly like a big rush of information just let it sweep all over you because you know that's what life is anyway just a big rush of random and not-random information so just take it all in like a good little sheep and maybe the information will eventually have some meaning or maybe not.

Stand on Zanzibar has a happy ending. that is, if you consider an ending where to be a happy ending.


⇨ i bow before its genius ⇦
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
468 reviews3,255 followers
April 29, 2021
This psychedelic novel, is set in the far distant future, 2010! When we can look forward to picture phones, holographic t.v. sets , Moon bases looking down on the poor, struggling, threatened Earth, and battery powered cars everywhere, (can't wait) but no cell phones or internet, the book was written in 1968, which shows how useless forecasting the future is, if the obvious has to be stated again... The happening man is Mr.Norman Niblock House, he lives in a domed Manhattan, the rest of New York City's citizens, are not important enough to have that structure, is this a Republic? Busy Norman works as an executive and only black man, for General Technical Corporation, (G T to its loyal and not so loyal employees) and still run by the legendary founder Georgette Tallon Buckfast , a sprightly, 91- year- old. Donald Hogan is his rather lethargic, mysterious , intellectual roommate, the city, much overcrowded, who apparently from an unknown source of income, somehow has plenty of money. That era's mad prophet Chad C.Mulligan, a best selling writer, read by millions of people, (real books too) trouble is, no one follows Mulligan's advice, so the wealthy, disgusted man drops out, and becomes a street wino...Yes, he is rather weird , things are not perfect in the second decade, of the 21st century, the endless Vietnam War, is going on after 50 year , also the draft, the population bomb has finally arrived, and crime rates have increased to unprecedented levels, anarchy prevails. The Earth is dying slowly, a sad end for the former, magnificent, blue planet, Donald disappears and Chad reappears, not to worry though, Shalmaneser, G. T.'s , powerful computer, that doesn't make mistakes, (they believe) will come to the rescue, and the all knowing machine will save the day...An American diplomat, stationed in the little west African state of Beninia, ( I haven't heard of it either, my friends) comes up with a scheme to take over that impoverished country, in all but name and bring prosperity to Beninia (this, right after the end of oppressive, colonialism in Africa). Plus a nice little profit to the great corporation , being strictly a business deal only, they're not a charity organization, Norman becomes head of the project in Africa, as an African-American, it looks appropriate, to the rest of the world. Mr. House has a vast amount of reading to do, though, too bad there is no internet or cell phones in this alternative future, the job would be a whole lot easier, all those books to carry around... A product of its time, but still a terrific novel, worth reading, a fascinating glimpse of what could have been..
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
August 27, 2015
Some novels should only be read once. On my second read, I wanted to downgrade my estimation of the novel by a star.

I felt sad.

Sure. Shalmaneser was and still is my go-to model for a hell of a kick-ass supercomputer developing true intelligence and will, with all of it's concomitant problems, such as addiction and hallucination. (How very 1969 of a novel, Mr. Brunner.)

And yes, when I first read this back in 1990, I was surprised and oh so pleased by all the counterculture, drug use, clandestine exploration of assassination techniques, and heavy exploration of genetics within a sociological backdrop.

And now?

I'm only reminded of the great effort that I had to put into reading it. Both times.

I can honestly say that I'll be giving Brunner props forever for all the effort he put into all the digressions, the advertisements, the worldbuilding, and the dystopian outlook of an extremely overpopulated world. I can't say that I particularly liked its readability, though. It annoyed. Greatly. But I can step back and admire it from afar and pray I'm never called on to read the novel again.

On the other hand, I did get into Donald's story easier this time, and Norman with Chad C. Mulligan kicks all sorts of ass from the beginning to almost the very last line in the novel. (What can I say? I prefer letting the computer get the last laugh. It usually does, anyway.)

My hat goes off to the novel, once again, but I'm now hesitating as to whether I'd put this at the top or even in the top twenty novels that I've loved. Even though, in memory, I always put it there before.

Hell, the novel was one of the first fifty novels that cemented my love of SF, and it certainly pushed me off the bridge to go on a hell of a John Brunner spree where I wouldn't touch any other novelist for eight months. I can stand in awe of Stand on Zanzibar all I want, but honestly, I think I LOVED The Sheep Look Up and Shockwave Rider MUCH better. There's a great deal to be said about readability and adventure. Just having a great premise doesn't always mean you've got a truly timeless story.

(I'm speaking to you, Mr. Love Aerosol.)

"God damn you for crazy idiots! All of you! You're not fit to manage your silly lives! I know you're fools- have you watched you and wept for you. And... Oh my god!"

His voice cracked to a breathing moan. "I love you! I've tried not to, and I can't help it. I love you all..."
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
December 26, 2008
Definitely one of the best SF dystopias, which IMHO deserved more attention. OK, it's fair that "1984" and "Brave New World" received greater critical acclaim - there's no doubt that they are better. But there must be a hundred people who have read them for every one who's read Zanzibar, and that's not an accurate reflection of the difference in quality. Brunner has some interesting things to say that you won't find in either of the other two books, and he writes quite well.

By the way, in case you're wondering: the title is based on the computation that, when the action takes place, you would require the surface area of the island of Zanzibar to find standing room for the entire population of the Earth.
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews336 followers
March 15, 2021
Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up were two of my favourite books at university, and the covers even appear in my Master's Thesis.

Brunner wrote a few truly awful sci-fi books early in his career, and then "something happened (LSD?)", and then he wrote these two masterpieces. Truly Awesome books!

Set in 2010, note that the book features a president named "Obomi" !!

Full size image here
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,183 followers
August 25, 2021
Friday afternoon, messaging with my work-husband (who has, more accurately, been my long-distance-work-husband for 18 months).

Me : “I can’t wait for the end of the day, I just want to go read on the couch. Just me, the cat, and this sci-fi novel, written in the 60s about a dystopic world where overpopulation has led to food, climate and housing crisis and corporations own the government... oh wait, that's the newspaper!”
Work-husband: “LOL”
Me: “I’m actually joking about the newspaper; it’s a real book, it was written in 1968 and it’s set in 2010. It won the Hugo Award and everything.”
Work-husband: “… OMG that’s creepy!”

This conversation summarizes a perfectly normal reaction to both John Brunner novels I’ve read so far. I am not a religious person, but in the case of Mr. Brunner, I do have to wonder if he was a prophet, because both “Stand on Zanzibar” and “The Sheep Look Up” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) are uncomfortably close to reality. Sure, he gets a few things wildly off the mark and is clearly a man of his time who loved psychotropics, but otherwise… Eeesh.

In terms of structure, “Zanzibar” and “Sheep” are very similar: collages of newsreels and books cutting through the stories of handful of connected characters who deal with the not-so-unfamiliar world they live in differently. “Stand on Zanzibar” focuses primarily on two characters: Donald and Norman. Despite having good jobs and social standing, they are roommates as there simply isn’t enough real estate in New York to accommodate the enormous population. One is a spy awaiting activation, and the other an executive in a company that created an incredibly powerful AI and a system that filters and distribute the news people see and read. A humanitarian crisis in West Africa and the possibility of world-changing genetic manipulation in South East Asia will turn their lives upside down – and to summarize more would be too complicated and spoiler-filled: you’ll just have to look it up yourself!

Brunner’s books, while fascinating because of the almost impossibly real ideas he was playing with, are not always what I’d call a joy to read: his prose is dry and very heavy on dialogue, but he favors short chapters, which redeems his other flaws. His book are nevertheless very important, because while not as well known as other sci-fi novels of the same era, they are filled with a desperate anger that feels very relevant to read about today. Both this one and “The Sheep Look Up” also have a character who plays the part of Cassandra: an academic who can see the writing on the wall, screams it at the top of his lungs and gets shunned socially as a result of their clear-mindedness.

This book fully deserved the Hugo Award, and it deserves a bigger readership.

"Norman, what in God's name is it worth to be human, if we have to be saved from ourselves by a machine?"

"What this country needs is not better children, but better adults, who could raise their children better anyway."
Profile Image for George Kaslov.
100 reviews138 followers
May 11, 2021
Why oh Why are cynics, skeptics, pessimists and satirists such good oracles. I know things are nowhere near that bad, but there are a lot of good predictions there with a whole lot of counter culture sprinkled all over. And now John Brunner is correct about the Chinese being the first to start editing the human genome, we have the technology to create Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere (deep fakes) and us leaving more and more decisions for AIs. The books main cynic Chad C. Mulligan is even temporarily defeated and gives up and chooses to conform.

Firstly, the title and with it the main theme of the book. John Burnner has read a trivia article that calculated that you could put all the people of the world on one island, that island being Isle of Wight (384 km2). After reading that article he calculated where could one put the whole population of Earth in 2010 and he came up with Zanzibar (2,462 km2) and questioned what would that do to human psychology (based on the first paragraph of my review you can tell his answer was bleak).

So yeah, this book is basically the Bible for cynics with just enough hope to make you angry all wrapped in an experience which reminds me of channel surfing at 2 am with all the movies and commercials no one wants to broadcast in prime time. By this I mean the author described his world through news bulletins, commercials and personal stories of a large number of people. In this way you end up with a pretty complete picture of his world.

And still I love this book, I have no idea why.

... Oh and Shalmaneser (the supercomputer) still has the last laugh.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews663 followers
May 27, 2014
That was 600+ pages of sheer eccentricity! Not in a bad way, but wow. I love books like this, that push the boundaries in some way, play around with indirect narrative. As long as they know why they're doing it. This one did.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,632 followers
February 9, 2023
Brunner’s masterpiece is a disorienting trip into the future which is actually our past. The disorientation stems from the staccato writing style mixing journalism, headings, excepts, and vignettes to the scattered narrative following the author’s inspiration, John Dos Passos’ classic USA Trilogy (reviewed by yours truly here on Goodreads). He is writing in the craziness of 1968 (think Sgt Peppers, Summer of Love, Vietnam War escalation, war protests on college campuses, etc) about the distant (for him) 2010 and while he misses on some things (we are not yet controlled by eugenics) he nails others (corporate takeover of politics, slates are basically somewhere between iPhones and iPads) and especially the user interface of the Shal AI supercomputer which is scarily similar to that of ChatGPT. For the reader in 2023 or later, this reads like alternative history rather than sci-fi, but doesn’t feel hokey or outdated. One of the major characters, Chad Mulligan, has quotes from his books here and there and comes into the narrative late in the story, reminded me a lot of Heinlein’s stand-in Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land.

I loved this quote:
(HISTORY Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from
history is that we learn nothing from history. I know people
who can't even learn from what happened this morning.
Hegel must have been taking the long view.
-The Hipcrime Vocab by Chad C. Mulligan)

There are essentially two protagonists, Norman House, corporate executive at General Technics (Brunner assumed Big Blue would basically take over the world) and his roomate Donald Hogan, spy and secret agent. Donald in a moment of transition:
And in under ten years he had to face the truth--he was
getting bored. He could almost wish that they'd pull the
second string attached to his work, the one which had caused
him so much heart-searching.
Lieutenant Donald Orville Hogan, you are hereby ac-
tivated and ordered to report immediately repeat IMMEDI-
"Oh, no!"
"Something wrong with you, blockbottom?" a harsh voice
rasped inches from his ear. A sharp elbow jostled him and a
scowling face stared into his. Confused, he discovered that
without realising he must have made his decision about what
restaurant to patronise today, and wandered down into the
milling crowd that streamed the whole length of Fifth Ave-
«What? Oh--no. I'm all right."
«Then stop acting like you're off your gyros! Look where
you're going!"
The angry man he'd collided with pushed past. Mechani-
cally, Donald put one foot in front of the other, still rather
dazed. After a few moments, he concluded that the advice
was worth taking. Perhaps part of his trouble was that he'd
fallen into such an automatic routine he had lost the alertness
and interest in the world around which had attracted Dr.
Foden to him ten years back, in which case he was unlikely
to get the option of resigning his job. More probable was
what he'd half-feared when with a flourish of trumpets and a
ruffe of drums they declassified Shalmaneser, and he'd fore-
seen automation making even synthesists obsolete.
And if he was going to give up his job, he wanted it to be
on his own terms, not because he'd been fired for incompetence.
(p. 51)

Here's another interesting passage:
"Prophet's beard, it certainly is! I found time to look over
some of Chad's books after Guinevere's party, and ... Well,
having met him I was inclined to think he was a conceited
blowhard, but now I think he's entitled to every scrap of
vanity he likes to put on."
"I thought of asking State to invite him to come in on this
project as a special advisor, but when I broached the matter
to Raphael Corning I was told State doesn't approve of
"Why should they? He's successfully mocked everything
authority stands for."
"He doesn't think he's been successful."
«He's certainly coloured public opinion. He may not have
changed it radically, but what social theorist since Mao has
managed to turn it over? The mere fact that his books are
prescribed for college courses means his views are widely
"Yes, but so are Thoreau's and-- Never mind, we're
digressing. You said something about our not wanting the
Yatakangi genetic technique and then you started off about
Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere."
"Right. I've almost forgotten to make my main point. I've
watched this happen a couple of times, over eugenic legisla-
tion and over the question of partisans. After they've been
using a personalised TV set for a while, especially if it
includes a homimage unit, people begin to lose touch with
actuality. For instance, you're supposed to have a fresh base-
recording of your appearance put in about once a year. But I
know people who've merely had a fresh track made of the
first one, for four and even five years successively, so they
can go on looking at their younger selves on the screen. They
deny the passage of time. They live in an extended instant.

Do you see what I'm steering towards?"
(p. 315)

I felt that the bold passage is an interesting description of our Instagram/ShapChat culture.
There is a lot to process in this book, but rest assured it is definitely a 5-star sci-fi classic.
Profile Image for Jeraviz.
930 reviews441 followers
March 31, 2023
Abandonado. No tenía el cuerpo ahora mismo para estas cosas.

John Brunner construye una distopía acerca de la sobrepoblación, la pobreza y los Gobiernos autoritarios. Pero el estilo que utiliza tan caótico, insertando anuncios, citas, extractos de texto, juntándolo con la narración y los diálogos me ha hecho huir del libro.

Imagino que el objetivo del autor lo consigue y tampoco puedo opinar mucho más. Lo dejo para más adelante o si alguna amistad en GR lo lee y me convence. Pero ahora mismo no estaba para mí.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,030 reviews1,165 followers
November 3, 2020
Reading this before discovering Dos Passos' 'U.S.A.', I was mightily impressed by Brunner's originality of technique. Discovering 'U.S.A.', I was even more impressed by Dos Passos, of course, but did not fault Brunner's employment of the other's proven methods for painting an enormous, richly textured picture of a possible future.

The book was anxiety-provoking in 1969. The accuracy of many of Brunner's predictions makes one wonder about the increasingly large subgenre of science fiction books which are set in futures which have now happened. This device has been employed, self-consciously, in many books and movies of the alternative timestream variety, books such as 'The Iron Dream' by Spinrad or movies such as 'Brazil' or the recent 'Richard the Third'. But what about the naive products of the past? What of their influences on us? What of our avoidance of seeing the contrast between past anxieties upon reading such prognostications and present calm acceptance of such horrors?

I think, in this instance and in reference to Brunner's theme, of Haiti and the global misallocation of resources between first and third worlds which Haiti represents. People are starving, really starving, because it is now more profitable to make biofuels for the vehicles of the rich than it is to produce food. The response is piddling 'charity' and police repression. And we see this, if we wish, live, on television, on the web. We can talk to people over there, on the ground, amidst the riots, by cell phone. Meanwhile, the trends towards ever-greater accumulations of wealth and power, on the one hand, and ever-wider immiseration, on the other, continue.

'Stand on Zanzibar' is set at about now, at the time you may be reading this. A subsequently set novel by Brunner, 'The Sheep Look Up', is also available and worth reading for many of the same reasons.
Profile Image for Monica.
621 reviews631 followers
September 8, 2020
So I'm going to have to let this one marinate for a while... I will say it's incredibly, depressingly prescient. My second book by Brunner. It wasn't a fluke, clearly the man is a soothsayer with his prognostications on population growth, race, LGBT, mass killings, legalization of marijuana, population control (one child policy), Artificial Intelligence, wars fought in skirmishes, terrorists, price increases 6 fold since the 60s, European Union, China as our biggest economic rival, the loss of manufacturing in Detroit, a population controlled by drugs (anxiety meds and antidepressents), crass materialism and socially desensitized nature of the wealthy, and much more. His world building here is amazing. I was more fascinated than depressed by the novel, he get so much right here. I understand why this is a classic. In my view it stands up pretty well to the test of time. I will definitely be reading this one again.

4+ Stars

Listened to the audio book. Erik Bergmann is superb!
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
August 5, 2010
6.0 stars (One of my All Time Favorites). A staggering novel. Rich in characters, a superbly crafted story that moves very quickly and deals with some very important issues. I absolutely loved this book and consider it one of the true classics of Science Fiction.

Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1969)
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1969)
Winner: Britsh Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (1970)
Profile Image for P.E..
777 reviews558 followers
April 19, 2020
Read in the French translation by Didier Pemerle, a poetical feat stretching over 500 pages!

Here is a kaleidoscope of verbal, narrative and typographical fantasy!

Matching Soundtrack :
Close to the Edge album - Yes


Un pur kaléidoscope de fantaisie verbale, typographique et narrative.

Je salue Didier Pemerle qui livre une prouesse en traduisant ce poème de plus de 500 pages dans l'original.

Bande-son de lecture :
Close to the Edge (album) - Yes
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,889 reviews1,416 followers
June 15, 2022
It's easier to wreck a man than to repair him. Ask any psychotherapist. And take a look at the crime figures among veterans.

Major Menippean satire going unchecked, or as Brunner describes the phenomenon of sudden social violence: muckers. It is tempting to suggest that this is the Gaddis of Dystopia but that formulation is likely redundant.

At bottom the human species finds idealism an uncomfortable posture.

Everyone talks about how prescient this novel was at the time of its 1968 publication. The novel which takes place in 2010 also lags and the characterization is odd--soft conformist types who all agree that something is afoul, yet aside from their names people speak the same way, whether they are black, Indonesian or the strange kept/comfort woman which appear to predominate.

Overpopulation is the chief crisis of the novel and this is resolved at least in one locale by an unlikely adaptation: a tranquilizing body odor. I have to admit I didn't see that one coming. Consumption and eugenics cover considerable terrain even as climate does not. There were some ingenious solutions to fossil fuels and clothing waste.
Profile Image for Gabi.
698 reviews123 followers
March 17, 2020
This was impressive!

Not so much the plot, which is somewhere in the background and not really that exciting. No, this book is much more about the detailed worldbuilding, the narration choice of mixing chapters of background information, hectic news/add chapters and the plot itself into a whole that masterfully illustrates a world of overpopulation and anxiety.

It feels like an artificial creation, but one that really works.

Above all for a book from 1968 Brunner writes in a tone that today still does not feel dated, with the exception of the sexism (somehow most of the inventive SF brains didn't manage to imagine a better equality of genders in their near future settings). The topics are modern and feel quite relatable nowadays.

The book deserved the awards it was getting and I will list it for a re-read in the future.
Profile Image for Denis.
Author 1 book21 followers
March 28, 2017
A difficult to read. Difficult to rate. It's a masterpiece.

Many others have summarized it brilliantly. I wouldn't even try.

However, it is an outstanding and unique work from a guy who, until then (1967) primarily published - as did PKD - in Ace Double paperbacks.

It's a book about everything, and written in a very unusual and clever fashion with simultaneous overlapping segments: Context. The happening world. Tracking with closeups. Continuity.

The bulk of the "actual novel" is in the "continuity" sections. One could simply read that, but all the world building and "spirit of the society" are written within the other sections.

Took me a while to get to this one, but glad I finally did. A must read.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
February 1, 2010
6.0 stars (One of my All Time Favorites). A staggering novel. Rich in characters, a superbly crafted story that moves very quickly and deals with some very important issues. I absolutely loved this book and consider it one of the true classics of Science Fiction.

Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1969)
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1969)
Winner: Britsh Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (1970)
Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews273 followers
December 26, 2014
This is not a proper review. I just want to share my opinion.

One of the fictitious nation on this novel, Yatakang, is a good analogy/shadowing of Indonesia at second half of 1960s period condition. Maybe that helps me to give high rating for this book. There isn't many SF books that picturing the Indonesia as details as this book. Until now, this is the best that I have found so far.
Profile Image for Simon.
378 reviews78 followers
October 8, 2022
Much better than Telepathist, the one other book by the same author I have read, also much longer at around 650 pages. The best description of "Stand on Zanzibar" I can think of is a novel about corporate drama that later turns into globe-trotting espionage, that feels like it's taking place in the same universe as Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange except (for the most part) told from the jetsetting upper class' viewpoint instead of the lower classes'.

Both "A Clockwork Orange" and "Stand on Zanzibar" take place in overcrowded and dysfunctional futuristic societies. A key theme in both novels is also how utopian social engineering schemes always have some undesired side-effect: They either make the problems they're created to solve worse; add new problems nobody in-story predicted; or their practical implementation turn out to be thoroughly morally horrifying to the vast majority of readers. In "A Clockwork Orange" the utopian projects consist of psychotherapies meant to turn criminals into productive citizens whereas in "Stand on Zanzibar" it's things like eugenics legislation, human cloning and putting artificial intelligences in charge of important business decisions. Both novels are written in fictional future slang dialects that at first are confusing to the reader, but make more and more sense as the reader figures out what the slang terms mean. It helps that several of the chapters are excerpts from in-story newspapers, advertisements and sociology textbooks - a technique that Brunner uses instead of traditional science-fiction infodumping, one I find much more entertaining.

The bulk of the plot revolves around an American businessman being spied on by his roommate, with both protagonists being involved in schemes to respectively secure public contracts for a new breakaway nation in West Africa and lure the secrets for human cloning plus the creation of designer babies from another young nation this time one in South East Asia. In the second half the novel turns into a futuristic version of a globetrotting spy thriller, where Brunner has put an impressive level of work into creating convincing globalised creole hybrid cultures. The proliferation of regional secessionist movements all over the planet with some of them succeeding is one of many areas where "Stand on Zanzibar" has been quite successful in predicting the future - just look at Abkhazia, the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, Rojava, South Ossetia, South Sudan, Transnistria etc right now. Another accurate prediction Brunner makes in "Zanzibar" is China overtaking Russia's place as the United States' main economic and geopolitical competitor..

In true hardboiled film noir/spy thriller fashion the plot gets convoluted and twisty as all hell, right down to ending in a way I won't spoil except that it turns out to be extremely unsatisfying for almost every single character. What impressed me most of all was how "Stand on Zanzibar" turns out to be quite gripping and easy to read as the reader adjusts to its universe, despite how confusing a reading experience it is at first. The second half makes me suspect that had Brunner become an author of mainstream spy thrillers, he would have been as popular as Ian Fleming, Frederick Forsythe, John Le Carré and other popular names in that genre. However, I am grateful that he instead wrote something that is not just one of the most prescient dystopian science-fiction novels of the era but also one of the most entertaining.

Many thanks to Justin Isis for recommendation, his own science-fiction short story collection Welcome to the Arms Race is highly recommended as well for a modern take on New Wave SF.
Profile Image for Jason.
94 reviews40 followers
July 22, 2015
Some love this book and some hate it. I find myself more in between, because this is a serviceable novel, with occasional exciting and insightful bits, but not one that coheres or gels in a satisfactory way. Yes, the narrative technique Brunner used to tell his story was, I guess, unique at the time it was written, but I believe its "experimental" nature has been grossly exaggerated. Basically, there is a definite plot in the middle of all this, a rather dull one, but it is interspersed with advertising slogans and newspaper excerpts and mini-anecdotes, and then, every few pages, the book returns to its normal story. How will the modern reader react to these distracting chapters, sometimes interesting and sometimes tedious? Probably as irrelevant. Do they build a picture of the world of the novel? Sure, sort of, I guess, but not in the most effective way - that would be, I think, in normal linear narrative. (It's not like George R. R. Martin needed to borrow this technique to make Westeros feel real.) Essentially, what I'm saying is that the famous "technique" of this novel is just a shtick, one that feels very anchored in the 60's, and not one that alters or improves the basic, conventional storyline at its centre.

The biggest problem, though, that I had with this novel is that it's all so distant, so intellectual and smug. We don't care about any of these characters, not the extras in the background, not the main characters. The best character, because he is the only one with a perceivable personality, is Chad, the mouthpiece for the author. Everyone else is unreachable and flat. The world itself, drowning in overpopulated mire and violence, is not one we grow to care about either, since we only access it in bits and pieces. It never feels real or comes to life. I can't smell it and taste it. So, there is very little tension or narrative momentum throughout the book, because I am not worried about this place. The book, really, is just hundreds of pages of cultural criticism of the obvious kind. For proof of this assertion, just look at the majority of commentaries about this novel: everyone talks about how prescient Brunner was, and how cleverly he predicted all this. That's really all they have to say, that he predicted accurately. Well okay, fine, I give him that, and that would be great if the job of a fiction author was to predict the future. But it isn't. That's what gypsies are for. What Brunner has are useful and intelligent things to say about the world he inhabited, but he fails to find a compelling set of characters to populate his dystopian world, and a compelling story to happen in it.

There are some great science fictional gems hidden here, for sure - the shenanigans with Shalmeneser, the resident AI, are fun, and the mystery surrounding the strange peacefulness of the fictional African country is a good old fashioned sci fi conundrum. There is a party-chatter chapter in the middle of the book that is brilliant, probably the best section of the novel. But the book fails to grip for more than 10-20 pages at a time. As I read, I was reminded, constantly, of the far superior The Windup Girl. This is another dystopian novel about how we are destroying ourselves, but man, is it suspenseful, and scary, and incapable of being put down. In fact, John Brunner's own The Sheep Look Up is a much more convincing and horrifying novel about our self-imposed doom. Zanzibar, though, is more dry, more academic, more dated, and overall just less involving.
Profile Image for Barry Cunningham.
Author 1 book185 followers
April 17, 2017
I bought and read this book in 1968, it is without doubt one of the most amazing Sci-Fi books of all time. All these years later the foresight Brunner had is alarming. "Muckers" for example where people who went inexplicably mad in public places, indiscriminately killing as many people as they could, in 1968 it was unheard of, by 2017 it has happened on numerous occasions. I love the way he describes when the book was based - In 1968 the entire population of the World crammed together would occupy the Island - The Isle of Wight - in the UK, the time the book depicted the population would fit on Zanzibar. It depicts a time of massive over population, a time when huge corporations were in control. In 1968 the way this book was written was different to anything I had ever read, it was and remains a stand out book. Highly recommended for any Sci-Fi fan.
Profile Image for Jason Pym.
Author 4 books14 followers
October 28, 2018
I understand this was a breakthrough novel for 1967, and it is full of ideas that are staggering for the time it was written, but for me this didn't work as a story. The characters leave me cold (with the exception of Chad Mulligan - he was great), which is a problem for such a long book.

I like the idea of all these snap shots of the world, like a photomontage, but it would have worked better if they were fleshed out a bit more, given a more personal focus. And as for the two main plots that emerged (once I'd figured them out), neither needed 650 pages.

One of those books that if someone tells you about it, it sounds so much better and more interesting than it actually is (looks good on paper?)...
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews270 followers
August 2, 2014
One of the best SF dystopias from the late 60s about overpopulation in the future, and deserving of a much broader audience. One of my early high school favorites.
Profile Image for Mike.
502 reviews378 followers
June 1, 2017
Where to start when talking about Stand on Zanzibar? Maybe the meaning of the title:
"And to close on, the Dept of Small Consolations Some troubledome just figured out that if you allow for every codder and shiggy and appleofmyeye a space one foot by two you could stand us all on the six hundred forty square mile surface on the island of Zanzibar ToDAY third MAY twenty-TEN come aGAIN!"
By the end of the book, several months later, poor Zanzibar can no longer hold all of humanity and some of our number would be forced into knee deep hypothetical water.

To me the overriding theme of this excellent book was the consequences to human society when its numbers expand unchecked.

The time: The future year of 2010 (well, the past now, but in the sixties 2010 WAS the future). The place: our little green and blue marble. Humanity's numbers have swelled putting a heavy strain on Earth's resources and space. Most of the advanced countries of the world have instituted eugenics boards to manage population numbers and try to weed out unwanted genetic deficiencies (such as color blindness which drives the decisions one set of characters make). Naturally these conditions cause strain on society, and we see this strain played out across a wide variety of characters that we get occasional glimpses of between the main action.

Initially I found this book somewhat difficult to access. Brunner tells the story in a very interesting way, using short chapters of various types to both tell the main story which follows the major actions of the book (these chapters are called "continuity") and chapters that flesh-out the wider world. Some follow specific characters ("tracking with closeups"), some are informational chapters that exposit on a given topic ("context"), and some that provide brief snips of events going on around the world ("the happening world"). This was at first jarring to me, but once the main action ("continuity") picked up, all the other pieces beautifully fell into place and really enhanced my experience. Instead of getting a rather narrow look into this fascinating world through the main protagonists we get a cross section of the wider world. This method further fleshed out the world Brunner has conjured up and shows the reader how the main action is having a ripple affect across the world.

This story is, at its root, a cautionary tale about how we humans just can't get out of our own way in spite (and sometimes just to spite) ourselves. I almost feel like the character Chad Mulligan, highly regarded, if abrasive, sociologist, stood in for Brunner as he bemoans and derides what human society has devolved into (Don't worry, it doesn't come across as preachy; he serves as an accessible character for a reader not of the book's time and place). Humanity, as far a Brunner/Mulligan is concerned, excels in the arts of crass consumerism and killing. Humans are dumb animals, even more so in large numbers. Considering the picture of the then future Brunner paints it is hard to disagree. International conflict, strained natural resources, brinksmanship that places national interests above that of humanity, living conditions in society that strain the psyche of its inhabitants. Fortunately this message wasn't pounded into the me on every page (cough::AtlasShrugged::cough) but seeped into my awareness through the small peeks Brunner allows us into his world. It was clearly there, but let me approach and understand it on my own terms instead going all Alien facehugger on me.

Once I got into the groove of the writing style and world (plus the future slang Brunner threw at me; see the quoted passage above) I was completely immersed in his world. He kept the main action flowing along nicely, taking some unexpected turns that delighted me, and really evolved the continuity characters quite well, having them grow and naturally react to what circumstances thrust upon them. I will no doubt be rereading this book to pick up on all the things in the beginning I probably missed the first time through. Heck, I might even try reading it by chapter type, that could make for an interesting experience. In any event I think this is a very worthwhile book if because it does raise some interesting ideas and encourages the reader to examine our present time for the sort of madness we see crop up in Brunners's 2010.

Or maybe the book was all just a set up for a joke whose punch-line was the second to last section. In which case: Christ, what an imagination John Brunner's got!
Profile Image for ruby.
4 reviews4 followers
December 21, 2007
this is perhaps one of the most prescient science fiction novels ever written.

i picked this up relatively recently, aware that it had a certain reputation as a classic of the genre, but also expecting it to have aged relatively badly, like many classics of the time. i was aiming to fill a gap in my reading, but wasn't expecting it to be particularly enjoyable.

as it is i was very pleasantly surprised. Brunner's style is very contemporary and not in the least stuffy. his speculative science, though not really exact on the technology, hits very close to the target on the effects of the technology (e.g. Brunner predicts a massive supercomputer to which we all log in to get whatever information we want, instead we have a massively distributed network of computers serving the same function). his social and political commentary is very pertinent today.

while reading Stand on Zanzibar i felt like i was reading a contemporary work of near-future science-fiction, transported over from a parallel history. if it weren't for the errors in science and technology, it reads as if it had been written in the closing years of the century, and set to happen now.

one might perhaps compare it to William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties, but pulled from an alternate history, and much better written.
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