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Stand On Zanzibar

by John Brunner

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Although written over twenty years ago, long before the label "cyberpunk" gained currency, "Stand on Zanzibar" shares much of the outlook of novels like Gibson's "Neuromancer." The book focuses on the effects of overpopulation and resource depletion as Brunner's trademark prismatic style takes the reader from New York to the Bight of Benin to Southeast Asia, stopping along the way for dips into the lives of a score of minor characters, social theory and observation, advertisements, political terrorism, and more.

While the world we see in "Stand on Zanzibar," and some aspects of the writing style, are similar to later c-punk, the emotional tone here is not the cool amoral cynicism of "

," but a passionate contempt for and condemnation of the folly and the moral blindness of the characters. Brunner presents an irredeemably bleak world, in which eugenic legislation prevents most couples from conceiving and where a women who carries a fetus that might be "defective" must report to a government center for mandatory abortions; in which an ongoing, senseless war takes countless young men not rich or influential enough to escape; and in which the society has lost its cohesiveness so completely that venturing outside one's own neighborhood is considered "incitement to riot". There are no cowboys in this book: only cold bureaucrats, bumbling citizens whose vague sense of something wrong isn't enough to save them, and social climbers oblivious to the fact that the ladder they're moving up has already fallen apart. And, in a backward African nation, a discovery that may save the world...if it's worth saving.

(J. DeVoto)

The year is 2010. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and there are more of both - especially the poor. Is the world too crowded? Depends on how you look at it. If the whole human race got together, they could all stand on the island of Zanzibar. Some of them are getting a little crazy, but these things happen.

"Convulsively he opened the valve on the end of the pipe and held it to a count of three.

"There was a hiss, and snow fell, and something laid white ice on the axe, and the hand holding it, and the arm above the hand. There was an endless instant of nothing happening.

"And then the weight of the axe broke the girl's hand off her arm."

This was an unusual book when it appeared in 1968. The modern reader won't immediately realize HOW unusual, but "Stand on Zanzibar" ran point for several trends we take for granted today . . . not just in its c-punkish themes, but in its presentation.

"For toDAY third of MAY twenty-TEN ManhatTEN reports mild spring-type weather under the Fuller Dome. Ditto on the General Technics Plaza.

"But Shalmaneser is a Micryogenic¨ computer bathed in liquid helium and it's cold in his vault."

It was unusual first for its sheer size. "Stand on Zanzibar" is 650 pages long. In this day of mega-novels that's no big deal, but when it appeared it intimidated some reviewers by its great length.

Second is its construction. Brunner jumps between dozens of protagonists and several different storylines . . . some of them eventually merge, while others remain unconnected - and many of the stories are told a paragraph at a time, with those paragraphs scattered dozens of pages apart. Sure, that's old stuff nowadays - but Brunner was doing it more than 20 years ago, and doing it well. He repeated the technique in the dystopic (and considerably shorter) "The Sheep Look Up," but "Stand on Zanzibar" was perhaps the first really successful use of jump-cutting in science fiction. The technique is very appropriate for the book's depiction of television as a frantic, customized, tightly-managed supermedium.

"Stock cue SOUND: presenting SCANALYZER, Engrelay Satelserv's unique thrice-per-day study of the big big scene, the INdepth INdependent INmediate INterface between you and your world!"

Third, it dropped the reader headfirst into a screaming dazzle of new terminology - not a new idea, but rare in 1968, and arguably the most successful use of the technique since Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange."

"Stock cue VISUAL: cliptage, splitscreen, cut in bridge-melder, Mr. & Mrs. Everywhere depthunder (today MAMP, Mid-Atlantic Mining Project), spaceover (today freefly-suiting), transiting (today Simpson Acceleratube), digging (today as everyday homimage with autoshout)."

So what's it about? The usual. Genetic optimization, media manipulation, the urban jungle, mental reprogramming, megacorporate scheming and artificial intelligence and cutting-edge fashion and the transformation of the human race. It works. Read it.

(S. Jackson)

Stand On Zanzibar
John Brunner
Ballantine Books,1968

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Stand On Zanzibar:

the happening world (2):

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Donald Hogan sat among 1235 other people any or all of whom might be consulting the same book or magazine as he was at any given instant. It was highly improbable, thought, that anyone else would consult two consecutive items the same as his choice. His search pattern had been scrambled by Shalmaneser, and as an added precaution the transcript of it he carried with him had been copied in Yatakangi--a difficult and unpopular language resembling Japanese in that it contained a welter of Chinese ideograms with two complete syllabaries, not, however, home-grown like the Japanese katakana but a bastard offshoot of Arabic script imported to the islands of South-East Asia in the late middle ages by Muslim proselytisers.

SUMMARY The authors describe a number of cases of debatable genealogy encountered by the New Jersey State Eugenics Processing Board. A successful method of detecting the genes responsible for recessive dichromatism is


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DEFORMATION OF SUBJECTIVE PERCEPTS. It covers: opium and derivatives; coca and derivatives; peyote and derivatives; cannabis and derivatives; pituri, caapi, etc.; synthetics from lysergic acid to Yaginol¨ and Skulbustium¨. Includes a specially written appendix on Triptine¨. One spool micro: $75 to the medical profession only.


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SUMMARY When ugly, frustrated dropout HANK OGMAN raped his mother and made her pregnant with what was almost certain to be a phocomelic fetus owing to her Yaginol addiction, things looked pretty black for responsible blockfather WALT ADLESHINE. However, thanks to nick-of-time intervention by gorgeous passion-panted surgeon IDA CAPELMONT, the tragedy was averted. "How can I ever repay you?" Walt asked, and she named a price that

Donald Hogan, yawning, vacated his chair. It never took him more than three hours to get through the day's assigned schedule. He pocketed the notebook in which he kept the search pattern and wandered towards the elevator.

Just ahead of him, two girls paused to examine a display in the window of a store. They were both in the height of fashion, one wearing a radio-dresslet whose surface pattern formed a printed circuit so that by shifting her belt buckle to right or left she could have her choice of broadcasts fed into the earpiece nestling under her purple hair, the other in a skintight fabric as harshly metallic as the case of a scientific instrument. Both had chromed nails, like the power terminals of a machine.

The display that had caught their attention was of genetically moulded pets. Processes that already worked well with viruses and bacteria had been applied to their germ-plasm, but on this more complex level the side-effects were excessively random: each pet on show probably stood proxy for five hundred that never left the lab. Even so, the solemn, over-sized bushbaby in the window looked miserably unhappy for all the splendor of its purple pelt, and the litter of bright-red Chihuahua pups below staggered continually as though on the verge of epilepsy.

All that seemed to concern the girls, however, was that the bushbaby's colour almost exactly matched the hair of the one in the radio-dresslet.


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