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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