What if we were all designed to be smarter than we actually are? That is the premise of master science fiction novelist Poul Anderson's 1954 debut work, Brain Wave. Unbeknown to its inhabitants, the solar system has for millions of years been caught in a force field that has had the effect of supressing intelligence. When in the course of normal galactic movement the solar system breaks free of the force field that has held it in its sway for so long, gone are the inhibiting effects and a remarkable change begins to sweep across the earth.
In fact, the entire world is turned upside-down and Anderson's novel is devoted to detailing the sometimes surprising, sometimes chilling aftereffects of this watershed event. In one of the novel's opening scenes, Archie Brock, a mentally disabled man, finds himself suddenly awash in new kinds of thought as he ponders the night sky. In another scene, a young boy on a summer break works out the basic fundamental foundations of calculus before breakfast. Human life is dramatically transformed, as people with IQs of 400 find themselves living within social structures and institutions designed for people of considerably lower intelligence. There are others who refuse to accept what has happened and instead band together in a rebellion against the new order.
In another interesting twist, human relationships with other creatures on the planet are likewise thrown into upheaval, as animals likewise rediscover their native intelligence. Archie Brock, for instance, finds working on a farm with intelligent animals a frustrating, comic and confounding experience, as some animals band together and escape while others befriend their former masters.
Brain Wave is a fascinating "what if" novel and an exploration into the ways in which human society is organized and the assumptions that are made about how we value life. It is also a novel about equality and what happens when the hierarchical structures that we know and arrange our lives by finally disappear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Acclaimed science fiction writer Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania. After earning a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota, he moved to San Francisco where he lived with his wife and writing partner, Karen.
Anderson was a prolific writer with more than one hundred titles to his name. He wrote from a unique position and point of view having a deep understanding of science as well as a keen interest in Norse mythology. While Anderson had written some fantasy novels, including The Broken Sword (1954), Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961), and A Midsummer Tempest (1974), his reputation rests primarily on the strength of his science fiction.
Anderson's first science fiction novel was the 1954 Brain Wave, and it is considered by most to be a classic in the genre. Anderson liked to write series of novels, including his popular Time Patrol works beginning with 1981's Guardians of Time. He also wrote novellas and many short stories.
To his credit, Anderson has numerous science fiction awards including three Nebula awards, seven Hugo awards and the SFWA Grand Master Award (1997). But it is perhaps for the 1970 novel Tau Zero that Anderson will be best remembered. Anderson's last novel, Genesis (2000), won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2001) for best science fiction novel of the year.