John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar & What Do We Want?

I’ve been reading science fiction.

After the Today Book Club fiasco (If you recall, I couldn’t read The Bone Season), I wanted to read something good.

Stand_on_Zanzibar_workingI just finished John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), a post-modern science fiction classic.  Set in 2010, it is a brilliant book, the story of a future dominated by a giant too-smart computer, geneticists’ control of reproduction, and miserable citizens who hate their work.   Women don’t always have permanent homes: “shiggies” stay with men who pick them up, sometimes for a night, sometimes longer.  “Dicties” (addicts) wander the streets, and “muckers” kill people at random.

The  narrative is broken up by quotations from radical sociologist Chad Mulligan (who is rather like Marshall McLuhan) and TV blurbs from news and rumors on Scanalyzer.

Here is one of the definitions from Chad Mulligan’s book, The Hipcrime Vocab:

Hipcrime:  you committed one when you opened this book.  Keep it up.  It’s our only hope.

Here is an excerpt from Brunner’s futuristic New York Times editorial:

Like living creatures, automobiles expired when their environment became saturated with their own excreta.  We ourselves are living creatures.  We don’t want the same to happen to us.  That’s why we have genetic legislation.

The novel follows two main threads: Norman, an African-American executive in New York, is wretched and lonely.  But eventually he is chosen to rule Benini, an African country whose president, Obami (I am not kidding!), is dying and wants to hand this small, peaceful country over to someone who can unite it with the West.

Donald’s fate is much worse.  He is a spy paid to read obscure journals and books to spot trends.  Finally he is activated to be a killing machine and assassinate an Asian  geneticist who has threatened the Western world by scientific discoveries.

I’m not going to write about this at length:  it is a very complicated book.  But if you like science fiction, you will be impressed by Brunner’s writing.  Some of it is very like our present.

IN WHICH WE DECIDE WHAT WE WANT AND WHEN WE WANT IT.

What do we want? Peace!
When do we want it? Now!

I was listening to Woodstock when my friend Janet dropped in. Pure nostalgia: Arlo Guthrie, Jefferson Airplane.  I was too young for Woodstock, but did you see Ang Lee’s movie, Taking Woodstock, about the making of the rock festival?

I was still in my pajamas.  Do you have days like that?  I had showered, but then jumped into a pair of FRESH pajamas.

It’s the weekend.

Husband outside, doing husband things.  Woman inside, reading.

There might have been cat hair on my pajamas.

DID my hair stick up as I suspected?

HAD I shaved my legs this month?

“Come in,” I said sleepily.  “Have breakfast.”

She helped herself to tea while I changed into something less comfortable (jeans).  I made faces in the mirror.

“Well–l-l,” I said.

I had been doing the dishes in shifts:  glasses last night, dishes this morning.  Janet was laughing at me.  “No bowls?  How can I eat cereal?”

“I’ll wash you a bowl.”

anne taintor-i-believe-we-have-an-opportunity-to-make-somShe doesn’t clean much either.  She works, goes to the opera, and has a poetry group.  She is going to the Poetry Sucks! event at The Southern Festival of Books next month.

She begged me to attend Poetry Sucks! with her.  Her boyfriend, whom she broke up with after the cross-state bike ride in July, was supposed to go.

“Please.  You’ll love it,” she said.

I can’t go to Poetry Sucks!  I went to the Southern Festival of Books one year and I loved it, but you don’t want to go to an event like that with Janet.  Within two hours she will have taken up with a man. This has happened many, many times.  There you are, in a bar alone.  And you go back to the hotel and God knows where she is.

“Janet, no.”

“I  might read at Open Mic.”

“No.”

“No, really, I’m chaste now,” she said abruptly. “I’m even menopausal.  And I’ve stopped dyeing my hair.”

Hm.  A few gray hairs.  That WAS new for Janet.  She has been dyeing her hair since I’ve known her.  But frankly what does that mean?  Gray hair, menopause.  It’s all the same.  You do not lose your sex.

“Well, how about your poetry group?” I said vaguely.

“No, they’re worried about the same thing you’re worried about.”

I got the blueberries out for the cereal and sat down.  “Granola, anyone?”

I want a peaceful weekend.

5 thoughts on “John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar & What Do We Want?

  1. It’s always fun to read a futuristic Science Fiction novel which was written several decades ago about the future in 2010 which is now already past. A lot of them imagine all kinds of space travel etc., but few predict the Internet or video streaming.

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  2. The book sounds amazing! As for your poor friend Janet – sounds like she will give you a less than peaceful time if you go with her…..!

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It is a difficult book, very unusual.
    Yes, Tony, he did seem to predict much of what has happened (though not all). And how about a president named Obami?

    Kaggy, I can’t go to Poetry Sucks!

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  4. Pingback: Is That a Hint? & THE List! | mirabile dictu

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