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Stand on Zanzibar (1968)

by John Brunner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,793423,771 (3.93)145
"Originally published in 1968, Stand on Zanzibar was a breakthrough in science fiction storytelling technique, and a prophetic look at a dystopian 2010 that remains compelling today. Corporations have usurped democracy, ubiquitous information technology mediates human relationships, mass-marketed psychosomatic drugs keep billions docile, and genetic engineering is routine. Universal in reach, the world-system is out of control, and we are all its victims...and its creator"--Cover p. [4].… (more)
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English (39)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
After reading and being thoroughly drawn into "The Sheep Look Up," I decided to pick up some of Brunner's other books; "Stand on Zanzibar" seemed to be the most prominent of his works.

In this one, the title refers to a projection that in the year 2010, the population of the world would be such that they could all stand, shoulder to shoulder, on the island of Zanzibar. In the novel, eugenics has been practiced for many years now, with rigorous genetic screening done before and after conception -- things like a family history of schizophrenia, diabetes, or blood disorders immediately disqualifies people from having children. Sterilization is mandated for carriers of serious genetic mutations, and even healthy adults are limited to three children, though the pervasiveness of hereditary problems makes this a rarity. The story follows two men, roommates in a New York apartment, one an African-American ("Afram") working as a vice president for the General Technics corporation, and one an independently wealthy WASP who spends his days fiddling around in the library gathering seemingly useless bits of information.

Overall, I didn't find this one to be as compelling as "Sheep." I did appreciate how the book kept cycling back to recap what had happened to each of the initially named characters from the beginning of the book, a tactic which helped to keep track of the many different players. I got a little lost in the middle with all the political machinations regarding Beninia; I found the interactions with the computer named Shal more and more intriguing as the book went on. The book is peppered with vignettes of society: a transcript of the news, description of a church service, conversations overheard at a party, excerpts from the works of a sociologist named Chad Mulligan -- who becomes an important character in the story; these short glimpses into a dystopian society are perhaps the most interesting parts of the book. Certainly many of them reflect attitudes and ideas that are present today.

"My education has turned me, and practically everyone else I know, into an efficient examination-passing machine. I wouldn't know how to be original outside the limited field of my own speciality, and the only reason I can make that an exception is that apparently most of my predecessors have been even more blinkered than I am. I know a thousand per cent more about evolution than Darwin did, that's taken for granted. But where between now and the day I die is there room for me to do something that's mine and not a gloss on someone else's work? Sure, when I get my doctorate the spiel that comes with it will include something about presenting a quote original unquote thesis, but what it'll mean is the words are in a different order from last time!" (48) ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
2010's world of 7 billion humans as seen from 1968.

This tour de force of world building combines broad strokes through media snapshots and a focus on a few characters. Much of John Brunner's vision has come true and much has not, and it's worth pondering what trends continued into the present confirming his predictions and what trends suffered discontinuities.

It's in the relationships between the main characters and particularly between the main characters and their "shiggies" that the difference between the prediction and the reality is most glaring but nevertheless, I am glad to have revisited this book because despite the gloomy atmosphere, it is fun. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Nov 5, 2020 |
A preliminary review - I am half way through this. To be updated.

I read this book a few years after it was published. I was a teenager and had been at least partly stewed in the more consciously 'literary' sf that had become prominent at the time, but my memory is that I found this book a real mind-blower, formally, and loved it overall.

Reading it some 45-ish years later is a different experience, of course. While still dipping into what I might call collage technique, the formal daring of the book is not nearly as evident (it's possiblemy perception of daring was mostly due to me not being that well read; however, I'd guess even many contemporary readers will find chunks of this novel oblique). The main narrative is fairly straightforward -- there's just a lot of ancillary matter that mostly fills out the world surrounding the main narrative.

Where the novel has most suffered, of course, has been in the straight "prediction" department. At the time, Brunner was extrapolating into the near future, and as this book has aged, so its image of what the 1970s, then 1980s, then 1990s and so on would be has proved inaccurate. It's hard to accuse him of committing "howlers" of prediction -- Brunner was a smart man -- but I doubt his correctness average is any better than, well, average: you won't find the Internet in this book, nor cell phones, nor ... and you WILL find a lot of stuff that never showed up. If this kind of thing bothers you, you might not have a very good time with this novel.

It's possible, of course, to read it as an "alternate history" of what the 1970s, et seq. COULD have been, though it was (as far as I know) never intended to be that.

Brunner's handling of dialogue has some ... oddities that I can't quite characterize yet and which make me less than happy. When I update this review I will try to touch on these more.

UPDATE: I have little to add upon finishing this novel. In re: the 'predictions' I've mentioned, while it is true that Brunner's future still contains phone booths, he quite correctly envisioned a united Europe (perhaps this was already in the air in the 1960s: I confess I have no knowledge of the history here).

While falling well short of my awed teenaged experience, my re-read of this book was for the most part an enjoyable experience. Decades of living have made me more sensitive to matters of gender inequality, and I have to confess Brunner doesn't strike me as particularly enlightened in that realm; moreover, it's difficult to really tease out the author's attitudes regarding race -- it's true that what amounts to a next step in human evolution occurs in a small African country, and that one of the two main characters is a brilliant and somewhat-well-fleshed-out character who happens to be "Afram," but ... well, I'd have to read it one more time, I think, before I could say much there.

Do I recommend it? Cautiously. Because the bulk of the book's impact as a "groundbreaking" work has, well, softened, I think the fact that the main stories -- there are two -- are embedded in such a welter of other stuff is more problematic, to me anyway, than it once was. The dazzling predictions, now revealed as having been just wrong, run the great risk of seeming quaint and even boring. Perhaps more editing would have made a better book? Certainly a different one. ( )
  tungsten_peerts | Sep 23, 2020 |
Some novels should only be read once. On my second read, I wanted to downgrade my estimation of the novel by a star.

I felt sad.

Sure. Shalmaneser was and still is my go-to model for a hell of a kick-ass supercomputer developing true intelligence and will, with all of it's concomitant problems, such as addiction and hallucination. (How very 1969 of a novel, Mr. Brunner.)

And yes, when I first read this back in 1990, I was surprised and oh so pleased by all the counterculture, drug use, clandestine exploration of assassination techniques, and heavy exploration of genetics within a sociological backdrop.

And now?

I'm only reminded of the great effort that I had to put into reading it. Both times.

I can honestly say that I'll be giving Brunner props forever for all the effort he put into all the digressions, the advertisements, the worldbuilding, and the dystopian outlook of an extremely overpopulated world. I can't say that I particularly liked its readability, though. It annoyed. Greatly. But I can step back and admire it from afar and pray I'm never called on to read the novel again.

On the other hand, I did get into Donald's story easier this time, and Norman with Chad C. Mulligan kicks all sorts of ass from the beginning to almost the very last line in the novel. (What can I say? I prefer letting the computer get the last laugh. It usually does, anyway.)

My hat goes off to the novel, once again, but I'm now hesitating as to whether I'd put this at the top or even in the top twenty novels that I've loved. Even though, in memory, I always put it there before.

Hell, the novel was one of the first fifty novels that cemented my love of SF, and it certainly pushed me off the bridge to go on a hell of a John Brunner spree where I wouldn't touch any other novelist for eight months. I can stand in awe of Stand on Zanzibar all I want, but honestly, I think I LOVED The Sheep Look Up and Shockwave Rider MUCH better. There's a great deal to be said about readability and adventure. Just having a great premise doesn't always mean you've got a truly timeless story.

(I'm speaking to you, Mr. Love Aerosol.)

"God damn you for crazy idiots! All of you! You're not fit to manage your silly lives! I know you're fools- have you watched you and wept for you. And... Oh my god!"

His voice cracked to a breathing moan. "I love you! I've tried not to, and I can't help it. I love you all..." ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I love the idea of it, the format really excited me before I read it, and seemed like such an ingenious idea for world building. But in reality it just made the book long. By half way through the book I was skimming the "Happening World" and the "Context" parts, and by the end I was outright skipping them. I liked the plot, but I would have liked it 100% more if the book had been 100 pages shorter. ( )
  Fardo | Oct 15, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brunner, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brin, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gómez García, JesúsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hasted, MichaelCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McMurray, JacobIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pemerle, DidierTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pukallus, HorstTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robinson, Kim StanleyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
S. A. Summit IncCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tinkelman, MurrayCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"There is nothing wilful or arbitrary about the Innis mode of expression. Were it to be translated into perspective prose, it would not only require huge space, but the insight into modes of interplay among forms of organisation would also be lost. Innis sacrificed point of view and prestige to his sense of the urgent need for insight. A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding. As Innes got more insight he abandoned any mere point of view in his presentation of knowledge. When he interrelates the development of the steam press with the 'consolidation of the vernaculars' and the rise of nationalism and revolution he is not reporting anybody's point of view, least of all his own. He is setting up a mosaic configuration or galaxy for insight... Innes makes no effort to 'spell out' the interrelations between the components in his galaxy. He offers no consumer packages in his later work, but only do-it-yourself kits..." - Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy
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"Originally published in 1968, Stand on Zanzibar was a breakthrough in science fiction storytelling technique, and a prophetic look at a dystopian 2010 that remains compelling today. Corporations have usurped democracy, ubiquitous information technology mediates human relationships, mass-marketed psychosomatic drugs keep billions docile, and genetic engineering is routine. Universal in reach, the world-system is out of control, and we are all its victims...and its creator"--Cover p. [4].

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