Stand on Zanzibar: ** (out of 4)
How did I miss this until now?
I suppose that I had at least heard of the Stand on Zanzibar in the past; after all, it won the Hugo in 1969, so I had seen it on that list a few times. But for whatever reason, I had never read it, or even considered it. Perhaps it was the relatively obscure title, or the fact that I hadn't really read anything about or by John Brunner either. I picked up a copy at the monthly Palo Alto Library book sale a while back, on the strength of that Hugo Award. And I suppose that it was a bit of a tip-off that 3-4 people spotted it on a shelf or sitting around and made a point to say "...that's a really good book."
Still, I had no idea what I was in for, and as a result I got ambushed by it.
Zanzibar is nominally a story about overpopulation that takes place circa 2010, 40 years after it was written - ie, now. The biggest pressure on the world is overpopulation, which has led to a variety of societal changes meant to relieve the pressure. Technology has run rampant, corporations are as powerful as nations, the people are ever more powerless and have begun to fight back in destructive but ineffective ways. The rise of eugenics and artificial intelligence continue to push the world in new and scary ways. And there is no sign that the world will get better before it gets far, far worse.
It took me nearly 500 pages to recognize this for what it is: cyberpunk. In 1969.
I emphasize this for one simple reason: it was probably the only one of the
shocks that I can write about that doesn't spoil any of the other shocks.
There were perhaps a half dozen times during the book when I sat back and asked "how the hell did he guess that?". I'd rather not ruin these moments for others like me.
(There were another half dozen times when I was struck by connections that I had never had the opportunity to understand before; it wasn't that nobody had read the book, just that I hadn't.)
It may be that I am a bit over-enamored with this book, and that the shock will wear off. But for now, I can recommend this book to anybody that likes older science fiction for the sake of older science fiction, and probably a whole lot of others besides.