John Brunner — Stand on Zanzibar

I’m cur­rent­ly read­ing John Brun­ner’s Stand on Zanz­ibar. I man­aged to get my hands on a first edi­tion in fair con­di­tion. Paper wasn’t acid-free in those days, so the paper is get­ting a lit­tle soft, but it is still very read­able. First off it remind­ed me a bit of Samuel R. Delany’s Dhal­gren.

Stand on Zanz­ibar isn’t as abstract­ed or lit­er­ary as Dhal­gren, but from what I’ve read so far, it is def­i­nite­ly a type of sci­ence fic­tion of which I would like to see more. It is yet anoth­er 1960s book about a future dystopia, but I buy into this one a bit more because the world it cre­ates is sol­id and inter­re­lat­ed. Over­pop­u­la­tion is the main prob­lem, and through a gloss of ter­ri­to­ri­al­i­ty and pri­va­cy behav­ior we under­stand that the world is on a break­ing point because most indi­vid­u­als are them­selves on a break­ing point. Stiff eugen­ics leg­is­la­tion has been passed [even mak­ing col­or-blind­ness ille­gal] in order to help curb the pop­u­la­tion explo­sion. The effects of free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism on the West have served to make every­thing dis­pos­able, which plays out in two dif­fer­ent ways.

First, nat­ur­al resources are run­ning extreme­ly low, which has led to a Mid-Alan­tic Min­ing Project to exploit resources of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Sec­ond­ly, peo­ple no longer even have a sense of self that can be asso­ci­at­ed with things they own, because of the enor­mous pres­sure to always have the newest thing. The Jone­ses are gone. Now peo­ple try to keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Every­where. The way Brun­ner describes things, we def­i­nite­ly get the feel­ing that under­neath a veneer of com­fort, every­one is a rabid­ly unhap­py beast.

So social and eco­nom­ic sides of things are then merged with the polit­i­cal, where post-colo­nial Africa is still striv­ing for some sort of equi­lib­ri­um and the coun­try of Beninia is going to be sold into a sort of cor­po­rate slav­ery to Gen­er­al Tech­nics, a cor­po­ra­tion with a prof­it mar­gin 50 times that of Beninia. It makes for a very busy world that seems more real­is­tic for its busi­ness. I for­got to men­tion, Brun­ner appar­ent­ly fore­saw erec­tion drugs [which he calls stiff­en­ers] because they are used recre­ation­al­ly all the time. Free love abounds, anoth­er pre-AIDS nov­el.

The con­tents pages of the book are some­what con­fus­ing. It makes me think the book can be read 5 dif­fer­ent ways. The chap­ters aren’t much longer than a few pages each and are grouped under head­ings with names like ‘track­ing with close­ups’. But then They are all sort of shuf­fled togeth­er. So chap­ters from three oth­er head­ings will come between each instance of ‘track­ing with close­ups’.

So that is where I am in the book right now, about halfway through, and always await­ing new snarky def­i­n­i­tions from The Hipcrime Vocab. I’ve bare­ly even told you any­thing about the plot! Too bad for you.

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