The Shockwave Rider

Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 3, 2010

The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Ten people attended this meeting at the North Village library. Our topic was The Shockwave Rider. Published in 1975, this book examines the projected impact of computers and other emerging social and technological trends on society in the early 21st century. The main character is one of the first depictions of a computer hacker in science fiction. The book was heavily influenced by Alvin Toffler’s nonfiction book Future Shock. Seven of us had read Brunner before. All ten of us started the book, and eight finished it.

One reader commented that the book holds up surprisingly well and that we can still learn from it. She felt the “plugin lifestyle” was a novel idea. Her major complaint was that she did not enjoy the slang terms Brunner invented for the book.

Another person enjoyed the book and noted that while the technology is not what we have today, somehow it feels current. He can see why this book is considered a predecessor of cyberpunk.

Many of us were impressed by Brunner’s worldbuilding and forecasting. His future includes home computers, reality shows, trojans, worms, and credit ratings. One person was “creeped out” by how accurately this book predicted the structure of the future.

One reader felt the protagonist’s method of changing identities was novel. The novel’s circular narrative structure drove her nuts. She appreciated the examination of privacy issues in the future. Her favorite character was the mountain lion, whose story had a happy ending.

Another commented that The Shockwave Rider does a good job communicating Future Shock’s paranoia. He liked that the book differentiated between intelligence and wisdom. He appreciated the unusual approach to utopia as a “free market anticapitalism mutualism.”

Several of us were impressed by Brunner’s writing style. Many feel that he is one of the best New Wave writers.

One person said that this book shows that the author thoroughly thought through his ideas and their consequences. He noted that this book buys into the central cyberpunk thesis of the magic of writing code.

This discussion was so lively that we ran 15 minutes late. After the meeting, many of us had a nice dinner at Waterloo Ice House.

—A. T. Campbell, III