The Shockwave Rider

by John Brunner
Reviewed date: 2007 Oct 19
Rating: 4
280 pages
cover art

The world of The Shockwave Rider is dominated by the plug-in lifestyle. Citizens live fast-paced, high-tech lives, never putting down roots. People change jobs, change apartments, change friends as easily and as thoughtlessly as they change their clothes. One man, Nickie Haflinger, is a natural genius at writing worms. He can log into the net from any v-phone and punch in a worm to change his identity, or to manipulate the stock markets. His ability is critical, because he is running from the big bad government.

Interestingly, although John Brunner got a lot of things right, he got it wrong when it comes to surveillance: we don't need to be worried about the government as much as we do about private businesses. In The Shockwave Rider, the only malevolent force is the corrupt government. In the real world, corruption exists everywhere that power exists--government and private industry.

Further, Brunner falls back on his familiar socialist propaganda. Nickie Haflinger outwits the government hounds by writing a worm to reveal all the government's corruption. That's fair enough. But he's not content to stop there: Nickie offers the citizens two propositions:


#1: That this is a rich planet. Therefore poverty and hunger are unworthy of it, and since we can abolish them, we must.

#2: That we are a civilized species. Therefore none shall henceforth gain illicit advantage by reason of the fact that together we know more than one of us can know.

Brunner would have you believe the correct vote to both propositions is Yes. But it isn't. Proposition #1 states that "this is a rich planet," which is a meaningless statement. A planet cannot be rich. Earth has many natural resources, but none of these are useful or valuable until an industrious, enterprising man figures out how to make good use of them. That is the source of property--and hence, ownership. A better proposition would be "That we are an industrious and enterprising people." But that doesn't segue into the whole socialist agenda of eliminating poverty and hunger, because it requires that each man work for his own living.

The second proposition is basically asking the people to choose between secrecy and transparency. I would choose transparency, but it's phrased in such a way as to make business seem an evil endeavor. Brunner's collectivist leanings betray themselves again.

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