October 23, 2008
Review By: Mr. Roboto
Author: John Brunner
Category: Cyberpunk Books; Proto-Cyberpunk Media
Cyberpunk before cyberpunk. Before the word was ever coined, John Brunner created a world so close to what we now consider to be ‘cyberpunk’ that it needed to be read to be believed. It has a computer network that virtually… and literally… permeates American society, while secret government projects try to squeeze the best minds for all their knowledge to try to monitor a society uprooted by a massive west-coast earthquake. About all that’s missing are the cybernetic implants, although there are bio-engineered people and animals that seem to behave almost human.
What you have is THEE definitive blueprint of cyberpunk, even though nobody knew it for another decade.
Synopsis: The Pacific coast finally experiences “The BIG One” that kills millions and displaces millions more leaving them with nothing to live on except welfare. Meanwhile, the rest of the nation is experiencing their own kind of “overload” as varying levels of data access has left some without a permanent residence while the “privileged” live in their own kind of haven. To help cope (or, more like, to exploit) this flux, the US Government, under control of criminal elements, began programs to identify potentially “gifted” students to cultivate their “wisdom” to further the Government’s cause.
Nicholas Kenton “Nickie” Haflinger is the product of this program. His talents were being wasted in a failed education system where intelligence made you a target of gang violence. At the novel’s start, Nickie is back at his old academy at Tarnover where he is about to undergo a form of interrogation where his memories are replayed on a data-analysis system while he is unconscious. When Nickie was awake, he was subjected to further questioning and moral arguments with Paul T. Freeman, who is another of the program’s “graduates” from a place called “The Electric Skillet.”
Between the regression flashbacks and the moral point/counterpoints, we see how Nickie managed to elude the authorities while making a living (several, actually) using the skills he learned at Tarnover… and why he ran away to begin with.
Now for the good stuff! So, how did Nickie manage to elude capture for so long? Among his skill-set is the ability to program the data-net using nothing more than a touch-tone phone (PHREAKY!). That, and a high-level access code he stole. With these tools, Nickie was able able to quickly change identities to avoid being captured by creating… wait for it…
That’s right, worms! Those self-propagating programs that hog bandwidth are the result of this book. Nickie programmed his worms to erase all traces of his old identity and to create new ones when needed. He also creates a “super worm” that discloses information that the government has been trying to keep secret.
Another proto-cyberpunk classic for your bookshelf. Make some space next to True Names in your library. The Shockwave Rider is a book that must be in your collection.