In a world drowning in data, a fugitive tries to outrun the forces that want to reprogram him, in this smart, edgy novel by a Hugo Award–winning author.
Constantly shifting his identity among a population choking on information, innovation, and novelty, Nickie Haflinger is a most dangerous outlaw, yet he doesn’t even appear to exist. As global society falls apart in all directions, with corporate power run amok and personal freedom surrendered to computers and bureaucrats, Haflinger is caught and about to be re-programmed. Now he has to try to escape once again, defy the government—and turn the tide of organizational destruction, in this visionary science fiction novel by the author of The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar.
“Brunner writes about the future as if he and the reader were already living in it.” —The New York Times Book Review
“When John Brunner first told me of his intention to write the book, I was fascinated—but I wondered whether he, or anyone, could bring it off. Bring it off he has, with cool brilliance. A hero with transient personalities, animals with souls, think tanks and survival communities fuse to form a future so plausibly alive it as twitched at me ever since.” —Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock
“One of the most important science fiction authors. Brunner held a mirror up to reflect our foibles because he wanted to save us from ourselves.” —SF Site
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The Shockwave Rider
By John Brunner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Brunner Fact & Fiction Ltd.
All rights reserved.
THE BASIC STRAINING MANUAL
A THOUGHT FOR TODAY
Take 'em an inch and they'll give you a hell.
The man in the bare steel chair was as naked as the room's white walls. They had shaved his head and body completely; only his eyelashes remained. Tiny adhesive pads held sensors in position at a dozen places on his scalp, on his temples close to the corners of his eyes, at each side of his mouth, on his throat, over his heart and over his solar plexus and at every major ganglion down to his ankles.
From each sensor a lead, fine as gossamer, ran to the sole object—apart from the steel chair and two other chairs, both softly padded—that might be said to furnish the room. That was a data-analysis console about two meters broad by a meter and a half high, with display screens and signal lights on its slanted top, convenient to one of the padded chairs.
Additionally, on adjustable rods cantilevered out from the back of the steel chair, there were microphones and a three-vee camera.
The shaven man was not alone. Also present were three other people: a young woman in a slick white coverall engaged in checking the location of the sensors; a gaunt black man wearing a fashionable dark red jerkin suit clipped to the breast of which was a card bearing his picture and the name Paul T. Freeman; and a heavy-set white man of about fifty, dressed in dark blue, whose similar card named him as Ralph C. Hartz.
After long contemplation of the scene, Hartz spoke.
"So that's the dodger who went further and faster for longer than any of the others."
"Haflinger's career," Freeman said mildly, "is somewhat impressive. You've picked up on his record?"
"Naturally. That's why I'm here. It may be an atavistic impulse, but I did feel inclined to see with my own eyes the man who posted such an amazing score of new personae. One might almost better ask what he hasn't done than what he has. Utopia designer, lifestyle counselor, Delphi gambler, computer-sabotage consultant, systems rationalizer, and God knows what else besides."
"Priest, too," Freeman said. "We're progressing into that area today. But what's remarkable is not the number of separate occupations he's pursued. It's the contrast between successive versions of himself."
"Surely you'd expect him to muddle his trail as radically as possible?"
"You miss the point. The fact that he eluded us for so long implies that he's learned to live with and to some extent control his overload reflexes, using the sort of regular commercial tranquilizer you or I would take to cushion the shock of moving to a new house, and in no great quantity, either."
"Hmm ..." Hartz pondered. "You're right; that is amazing. Are you ready to start today's run? I don't have too much time to spend here at Tarnover, you know."
Not looking up, the girl in white plastic said, "Yes, sir, he's status go."
She headed for the door. Taking a seat at Freeman's gestured invitation, Hartz said doubtfully, "Don't you have to give him a shot or something? He looks pretty thoroughly sedated."
Settling comfortably in his own chair adjacent to the data console, Freeman said, "No, it's not a question of drugs. It's done with induced current in the motor centers. One of our specialties, you know. All I have to do is move this switch and he'll recover consciousness—though not, of course, the power of ambulation. Just enough to let him answer in adequate detail. By the way, before I turn him on, I should fill in what's happening. Yesterday I broke off when I tapped into what seemed to be an exceptionally heavily loaded image, so I'm going to regress him to the appropriate date and key in the same again, and we'll see what develops."
"What kind of image?"
"A girl of about ten running like hell through the dark."
FOR PURPOSES OF IDENTIFICATION
At present I am being Arthur Edward Lazarus, profession minister, age forty-six, celibate: founder and proprietor of the Church of Infinite Insight, a converted (and what better way for a church to start than with a successful conversion?) drive-in movie theater near Toledo, Ohio, which stood derelict for years not so much because people gave up going to the movies—they still make them, there's always an audience for wide-screen porn of the type that gets pirate three-vee satellites sanded out of orbit in next to no time—as because it's on land disputed between the Billy-kings, a Protestant tribe, and the Grailers, Catholic. No one cares to have his property tribaled. However, normally they respect churches, and the territory of the nearest Moslem tribe, the Jihad Babies, lies ten miles to the west.
My code, of course, begins with 4GH, and has done so for the past six years.
Memo to selves: find out whether there's been any change in the status of a 4GH, and particularly whether something better has been introduced ... a complication devoutly to be fished.
She ran, blinded by sorrow, under a sky that boasted a thousand extra stars moving more swiftly than a minute hand. The air of the June night rasped her throat with dust, every muscle ached in her legs, her belly, even her arms, but she kept right on as hard as she could pelt. It was so hot, the tears that leaked from her eyes dried as they were shed.
Sometimes she went on more or less level roadway, not repaired for years but still quite sound; sometimes she crossed rough ground, the sites perhaps of factories whose owners had transferred their operations up to orbit, or of homes which had been tribaled in some long-ago riot.
In the blackness ahead loomed lights and illuminated signs bordering a highway. Three of the signs advertised a church and offered free Delphi counseling to registered members of its congregation.
Wildly glancing around, blinking her eyes to clear perception, she saw a monstrous multi-colored dome, as though a lampshade made from a puffer-fish were to be blown up larger than a whale.
Pacing her at a discreet distance, tracking a tracer concealed in the paper frock which was all she wore except sandals, a man in an electric car fought his yawns and hoped that on this particular Sunday the pursuit would not be too long or too dull.
MINOR PROFIT IN THE BELLY OF THE GREAT FISH
As well as presiding at the church, Reverend Lazarus lived in it, his home being a trailer parked behind the cosmoramic altar—formerly the projection screen, twenty meters high. How else could a man with a minister's vocation afford so much privacy and so much space?
Surrounded by the nonstop hum of the compressor that kept his polychrome plastic dome inflated—three hundred meters by two hundred by ninety high—he sat alone at his desk in the nose compartment of the trailer, his tiny office, comping the take from the day's collections. He was worried. His deal with the coley group who provided music at his services was on a percentage basis, but he had to guarantee a thousand, and attendance was falling off as the church's novelty declined. Today only about seven hundred people had come here; there had not even been a jam as they drove back on to the highway.
Moreover, for the first time in the nine months since the church was launched, today's collections had yielded more scrip than cash. Cash didn't circulate much any more—at least not on this continent—except in the paid-avoidance areas, where people drew a federal grant for going without some of the twenty-first century's more expensive gadgetry, but activating a line to the federal credit computers on a Sunday, their regular down-time day, meant a heavy surcharge, beyond the means of most churches including his. So churchgoers generally remembered to bring coins or bills or one of the little booklets of scrip vouchers issued to them when they joined.
The trouble with all this scrip, though—as he knew from sad experience—was that when he presented it to his bank tomorrow at least half of it would be returned marked void: the bigger the sum pledged, the more likely. Some would have been handed in by people already so deep in pointless debt the computers had banned expenditure on nonessentials; any new church inevitably attracted a lot of shock victims. But some would have been canceled overnight as the result of a family row: "You credded how much? My God, what did I do to deserve a twitch like you? Get that scrip deeveed this minute!"
Still, some people had been ignorantly generous. There was a stack of over fifty copper dollars, worth three hundred to any electronics firm, asteroid ores being poor in high-conduction metals. It was illegal to sell currency for scrap, but everybody did it, saying they'd found old saucepans in the attic of a secondhand house, or a disused cable while digging over the back yard.
Riding high on the public Delphi boards right now was a prediction that the next dollar issue would be plastic with a one- or two-year life. Well, plus ça small change plus c'est biodegradable....
He tipped the coins into his smelter without counting them because only the weight of the eventual ingot mattered, and turned to the other task he was obliged to complete before he quit work for the day: analysis of the Delphi forms the congregation had filled out. There were many fewer than there had been back in April; then, he'd expected fourteen or fifteen hundred, whereas this week's input was barely half that. Even seven hundred and some opinions, though, was a far wider spread than most individuals could hope to invoke, particularly while in the grip of acute depression or some other life-style crisis.
By definition, his congregation all had life-style crises.
The forms bore a series of bald statements each summarizing a personal problem, followed by blank spaces where any paid-up member of the church was invited to offer a solution. Today there were nine items, a sad contrast with those palmy days in the spring when he'd had to continue on the second side of the form. Now the word must be out on the mouth-to-mouth circuit: "Last time they only gave us nine things to delph, so next Sunday we're going to ..."
What's the opposite of a snowball? A thawball?
Despite the failure of his old high hopes, though, he determined to go through the proper motions. He owed it to himself, to those who regularly attended his services, and above all to those whose heart-cries of agony had been eavesdropped on today.
Item A on the list he disregarded. He had invented it as a juicy lure. There was nothing like a scandal of the kind that might eventually make the media to grab people's attention. The bait was the vague hope that one day soon they might notice a news report and be able to tell each other, "Say, that bit where the poker got shot for messing with his daughter—remember we comped that one at church?"
A link with yesterday, tenuous, but to be prized.
Wryly he re-read what he had dreamed up: I am a girl, fourteen. All the time my father is drunk and wants to plug into me but he creds so much for liquor I don't get none to pay my piece when I go out and they repossessed my ...
The responses were drearily predictable. The girl should apply to the courts and have herself declared of age, she should tell her mother at once, she should denounce her father anonymously, she should get a doc-block put on his credit, bale out of home and go live in a teener dorm—and so forth.
"Lord!" he said to the air. "If I programmed a computer to feed my confessional booth, people would get better advice than that!"
Nothing about this project was working out in the least as he had hoped.
Moreover, the next item enshrined a genuine tragedy. But how could one help a woman still young, in her thirties, a trained electronics engineer, who went to orbit on a six-month contract and discovered too late that she was subject to osteochalcolysis—loss of calcium and other minerals from her skeleton in zero-gee conditions—and had to abort the job and now was in danger of breaking bones if she so much as tripped? Without chance of appeal her guild had awarded her contract-breaker status. She couldn't sue for reinstatement unless she worked to pay the lawyer, she couldn't work unless the guild allowed it, she ... Round and round and round.
There's a lot of brave new misery in our brave new world!
Sighing, he shook the forms together and piled them under the scanner lens of his desk computer for consolidation and a verdict. For so few it wasn't worth renting time on the public net. To the purr of the air compressor was added the hush-hush of the paper-sorter's plastic fingers.
The computer was secondhand and nearly obsolete, but it still worked most of the time. So, provided it didn't have a b-d overnight, when the shy kids and the worried parents and the healthy but inexplicably unhappy middlers and the lost despairing old 'uns came back for their ration of spiritual reassurance, each would depart clutching a paper straw, a certificate redolent of old-fashioned absolute authority: its heading printed in imitation gold leaf declaring that it was an authentic and legal Delphi assessment based on contributions from not fewer than ____* hundred consultees (* Insert number; document invalid if total fails to exceed 99) and delivered under oath/deposition in presence of adult witnesses/notary's seal ** (** Delete as applicable) on ____ (month) _____ (day) 20_____ (year).
A shoddy little makeshift, memorial to the collapse of his plans about converting the congregation into his own tame cima pool and giving himself the place to stand from which he could move the Earth. He knew now he had picked the wrong pitch, but there was still a faint ache when he thought back to his arrival in Ohio.
At least, though, what he had done might have saved a few people from drugs, or suicide, or murder. If it achieved nothing else, a Delphi certificate did convey the subconscious impression: I matter after all, because it says right here that hundreds of people have worried about my troubles!
And he had made a couple of coups on the public boards by taking the unintentional advice of the collective.
The day's work was over. But, moving into the trailer's living zone, he found he did not feel at all sleepy. He considered calling up somebody to play a game at fencing, then remembered that the last of the regular local opponents he'd contacted on arrival had just moved out, and at 2300 it was too late to try and trace another player by calling the Ohio State Fencing Committee.
So the fencing screen stayed rolled in its tube along with the light-pencil and the scorer. He resigned himself to an hour of straight three-vee.
In an excess of impulsive generosity, one of the first people to join his church had given him an abominably expensive present, a monitor that could be programed with his tastes and would automatically select a channel with a suitable broadcast on it. He slumped into a chair and switched on. Promptly it lit the screen, and he found himself invited to advise the opposition party in Jamaica what to do about the widespread starvation on the island so as to depose the government at the next election. Currently the weight of opinion was clustering behind the suggestion that they buy a freight dirigible and airlift packages of synthetic food to the worst-hit areas. So far nobody seemed to have pointed out that the cost of a suitable airship would run into seven figures and Jamaica was as usual bankrupt.
Not tonight! I can't face any more stupidity!
But when he rejected that, the screen went dark. Could there really be nothing else on all the multifarious channels of the three-vee which held any interest for the Reverend Lazarus? He cut out the monitor and tried manual switching.
First he found a coley group, all blue-skin makeup and feathers in their hair, not playing instruments but moving among invisible columns of weak microwaves and provoking disturbances which a computer translated into sound ... hopefully, music. They were stiff and awkward and their coordination was lousy. His own amateur group, composed of kids fresh out of high school, was better at keeping the key and homing on the tonic chord.
Excerpted from The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner. Copyright © 1975 Brunner Fact & Fiction Ltd.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This one was a bit of a struggle for me, I really didn't engage with the characters until near the end. I was glad I persevered. The commentary on a government who controlled the ideas of a world and tried to adapt the people to how they wanted them to be instead of letting them live their own lives was compelling and interesting. The characters were a bit flat but the ideas were good and the resolution was very interesting. Although it was written in the 70's a lot of the predictions aren't that far off.Nickie Halfinger had lived a score of lifetimes but didn't really exist. A fugutive from a secret government agency who had educated him he had broken his code and escaped. His education had prepared him to attack systems but what his controllers didn't realise that they had also created a weapon to destroy them, this is the story of them trying to chase him down to stop him before he forced society to change.
Bizarre story painting a world where imagination has been stifled and our hero attacks the status quo. Sometimes wordy and difficult to follow but all tied together at the end.
A different way to change the world; thur total honesty
Written back in the 70's the Shockwave rider gives a phrophetic vision of the world not long from now, with it's visions of an iPhone connected society, green living and information overload, the Shockwave Rider takes us through this world throught the eyes of a man who can be anyone.