Meggan's Reviews > Stand on Zanzibar

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Dec 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi
Read from December 11, 2011 to March 07, 2012

I did not write a review of this book when I finished it back in March. Its not that I didn't like it. I was just overwhelmed by it. Like seriously, there is a ton of stuff going on: Brain programming! Superhumans! Legalized marijuana! Terrorist nuns! Population explosion! Eugenics legislation! Puerto Rican baby farms! One World Supercomputer! Virtual reality TV! Tailor-made drugs! Huxley and Orwell are like: whoa there, slow down dude. Not all at once.

Even if it is shot through with scifi buckshot, this book plays with some cool sociological ideas. Its also the only book I know of to feature a sociologist as a main character. Hey, an author that acknowledges my profession. That's kinda neat.

That said, this book is not for everyone and I think 90% of people would hate it. It's not a "plot" book. It is fully immersible world building. I would only recommend it to people who appreciate thought experiments and enjoy them even if the hypothesis is rejected.

A few things that knock off a ★ are the following:

-Dated 60's ideas like the obsession with population explosion. Back then people (usually rich, educated white folks) were in absolute hysterics about it. Overpopulation is the monoculture of this novel, affecting every political event, social interaction, and personality. This gets tedious. I also wish he hadn't written his main characters into the upper class, since they are largely sheltered from the resource shortages.

-Unsure if Brunner couldn't fathom a civil rights movement or if he purposefully ignored it in order to write about a future where the 1960s never ended? I mean these ideas were around as early as 1950, surely Brunner could have seen where it was heading? Yet women and minorities in 2010 are kept in the same social caste as they were in 1960!? This is insane. I think Brunner was too trapped in identity categories to imagine something different. I didn't feel deeply embarrassed for the author like I do from other authors like Heinlein and Vance. But still...the black main character acts and thinks like he's white. /facepalm

-The supercomputer that runs the world! *eye roll* I usually don't care about scifi novels getting the technology right, but it was hard to suspend my belief on this one. So I'll just say Brunner is not good on the hard scifi. But he is good at the soft stuff. Read this book as social science fiction and you'll be much happier with it.

-The invented slang is corny! Zock music? fuzzy-wuzzies? c'mon! Granted, future slang is a technique that's hard to pull off. I think the only word I liked was EPTIFY.

Why this book is pretty good:

-Mass killings. Brunner envisioned that these would happen throughout the world at least once a month, and they do. Perhaps he was inspired by the 1966 Texas Tower Massacre. He foresaw a trend there and explained it as the isolating effect of mass society: "True, you’re not a slave. You’re worse off than that by a long, long way. You’re a predatory beast shut up in a cage of which the bars aren’t fixed, solid objects you can gnaw at or in despair batter against with your head until you get punch-drunk and stop worrying. No, those bars are the competing members of your own species, at least as cunning as you on average, forever shifting around so you can’t pin them down, liable to get in your way without the least warning, disorienting your personal environment until you want to grab a gun or an axe and turn mucker." There's even a test - University Personality Profiling - that claims to weed out these guys.

-Eugenics. Some great ideas here. So we have health insurance companies meticulously monitoring and classifying everything about your body. But what if that defined what kind of citizen you were? What if your medical record determined everything about you? Your genes would become part of your identity: you're either "approved for breeding" or rejected. If you're approved, you say things like "I've got a clean genotype" in everyday conversation. Everyone carries around eugenics ID's, so that you can avoid partners with genetic mutations. If you have kids you have to deal with harsh restrictions on the health practices of pregnant women. The government demands that your genotype become public information so they can criminalize breeding between the sick and disabled. The domains of life previously outside the jurisdiction of medicine come to be constructed as medical problems with the aid of technologies like genomization, gene testing, and biotechnology. Seriously folks: this is the disability movement's nightmare fuel!!!

-Sensory overload, via the Innis Mode. Just so well done, perfectly capturing the culture of media saturation. When you've got 10 billion people on the planet the fracturing of society is infinite. The fracturing of the text itself conveys this world very well.

-Brunner reminds me a bit of Orwell and Huxley yet he has original ideas and a distinct voice and viewpoint. In this future, people are acutely aware of world events and are free to discuss/debate them at parties. But the conversations are consumed by a fear that there are just too few resources to go around, and "I'm going to get left out." This is the spirit of Reaganism writ large. Big Brother becomes a data safety monitoring board that acts out of concern for a social problem (or at least in the name of state security). Drugs and virtual fantasies are consumables but I found it poignant that people dream about wide open spaces and private deserted islands.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Stand on Zanzibar.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

12/14/2011 page 54
10.0% "kind of fascinating how many things this book gets right/wrong about 2010. A 1968 view of our future puts the rapid pace of technological change into perspective. Ex: actual human beings called "synthesists" compile info for people, doing the same work that RSS feeds, tumblrs, & blogs do now. In the book, however, these synthesists are on the verge of being replaced by machines. Cool to see that we're already there."
01/07/2012 page 150
27.0% "2010-through-the-lens-of-the-1960's: riot it the East Village - people using garbage for weapons and the main character has the latest fist punching technology."
01/09/2012 page 178
32.0% "Nice description: "On the face of almost every building, some sort of advertising display, so that spectators in upper rooms looked out of shabby oceans, the middle of a letter O, or the crotch of a receptive girl. A single exception to the cliff-wall nature of the street was formed by the adventure playground, like the intrusion of Einstein into the ordered world of Euclid.""
01/14/2012 page 240
44.0% "Brunner predicts the Tivo and the collapse of the Detroit auto industry decades before it happened"
01/16/2012 page 320
58.0% "at this point its starting to read like a Pynchon novel but more enjoyable. I love it when he excerpts articles from science news in 1967 and imagines how these "advancements" might play out 2010."
02/24/2012 page 577
100.0% "still wrestling with this monster..."
95.0% "still wrestling with this monster..."
show 6 hidden updates…

No comments have been added yet.