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.
This book takes place in several
different ways. Context is given from future encyclopedias, or other
writings. The happening world places this world in, not context, but in
an emerging flow of information, which generally manages to give immense
texture to the world while being entirely devoid of plot. I kept going
back to the first happening world section whenever a new character was
introduced. Brunner also zeroes in on individual characters in small
portraits, most of them inconsequential to the main narrative but not,
naturally, to themselves. And then there are the continuity chapters,
where the main story takes place.
This mishmash takes some getting used to, but is used brilliantly, and I felt energized every time I sat down to read it.
(the happening world)
Stand on Zanzibar was published in 1968.
Lady Bic Pens: Shiggies don't know how to write otherwise!
Umm...I'm trying, but I don't think I can emulate Brunner's style. So let's have some:
characters stand at the centre of this story, one, a black executive
named Norman House, and a white dilettante, Donald Hogan. They share an
apartment, as living space is expensive, and taking up more space a mark
of extreme privilege.
Both find their view of the world
upended: Norman, when he finds something that is more important than his
personal advancement. Donald, when he finds out that signing up for
government work might mean that they could scoop out his self and
replace it any old time they wanted. Norman tries to plot the course for
an entire country. Donald tries to divert the course of another.
(tracking with closeups)
seems to stand firmly in the New Wave Science Fiction camp, if we're
still using such terms, for its experiments in form, movement towards
less hard science, and, I think, in theme.
living space, you see, are key, and these seem like common themes from
the time period, one I've run into in several previous books. Add to
this a direct suspicion of urban living, and I think you have a main
motif that several writers drew upon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Urban living, in these books, was literally driving us mad. We weren't
meant to be living in such close quarters with others. We couldn't
adapt. The impossibility of adapting would make us crazy, and this would
be acted out violently, starting a cycle where the cities devolved into
(Think late Heinlein books set on earth, Alfred Bester in The Stars My Destination, Spider Robinson in several books, Robert Silverberg. I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that popped to mind.)
Looking at it from several decades distance, this unspoken conviction that human beings could not
live in cities and stay sane, and yet must, because there are too many
humans, stands out sharply. We have overpopulation concerns now, but
urban living in and of itself doesn't seem to be a focus of fear in the
Brunner's world is heavily
overpopulated, and most countries have coped with that by passing
heavily restrictive eugenics legislation, with enforced abortion of
defective children, and sterilization of those carrying undesirable
genes. Few people seem to be fighting this in any organized way,
although individuals rebel.
This is a world gone mad, where lack
of ability to have children has driven some into despair, where urban
living drives many to numbness, where modernity is coped with with
drugs, where violence spawns randomly and terrifyingly. Two small
countries may offer very different ways to change the world radically.
Some, naturally, have an investment in the world as it is.
sheer complexity of the book awes me, and the way in which Brunner
paints such a rich portrait using unconventional techniques is
If you just want to read the continuity chapters,
it's an excellent tale of politicking, spying, and jockeying for the
future of the world. If you embrace the book as a whole, it is so much
more. But it will not hold your hand. It will, in fact, take you out in
the middle of the woods and deliberately abandon you there, and wait to
see if you can find your own way out, or if you'll close the book and
throw it across the room.
I liked being in those woods. I was sorry to come out.
I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees