Humans in the Shadow World

First you use machines, then you wear machines, and then…?
Then you serve machines.  It was obvious.–John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar

Stand_on_Zanzibar_workingA few days ago I mentioned I had spent half a day online.

Half a day. That’s a lot of hours.

It upset me.

There I was, teary-eyed because I couldn’t get offline.

Ridiculous, I know.

I don’t look like an addict.  I don’t/can’t drink.  I don’t/can’t take drugs.

I’m now like a character in an SF novel.

Suddenly the computer takes over and….

No, it’s not 1968, the year John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar was published, but everyone should read this postmodern science fiction classic.

As Brunner knew, the computer can be used for the good or the bad.

And so I went offline for several hours yesterday to read.

I almost finished Miklos Banffy’s They Were Counted, a Hungarian classic written in the ’30s, the first of the Transylvanian trilogy. Set in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this brilliant novel shimmers with vividly detailed descriptions of parties (one lasts 100 pages), hunts, gambling, politics, and adulterous love.  It is reminiscent of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina, two of my favorite books, yet somehow I hadn’t made much progress this month.  It was all the online stuff.

I read 100 pages.

I am relieved.

I am still here.

Yes, the same person I always was.  A reader.

I value my online friends, their emails, and their blogs, but being online can be addictive.

When you’ve been off the computer for a day, you know what hurts your eyes?  Twitter.

It looks like this:

Europa Editions ‏@EuropaEditionsOur first ever hardcover at @banksquarebks in CT–looks delicious! Also catch @JonCG at @TheIvyBookshop tonight!

What the f___ does that even mean?  (though I love you, Europa Editions!)

FOR GIRLS ONLY.  My vivacious cousin the librarian has gone on four dates this month.

taintor magnets-fortunately-for-him-she-had-just-that-minuteShe has gone out three times with a guy who used to be “in the military.”

“What does that even mean?” I ask.

“He’s 40, a retired…officer?”

We dragged in a table from the porch and I arranged my plants on it.

There!  A Christmas cactus and three geraniums.

Having the plants there makes me want to look at the computer screen less.

“He’s very reliable…seems to be…and pays for everything…but…”

There is always a “but…”

“But he was half an hour late and…there was lipstick on his shirt.”

Probably his own lipstick, I thought despondently.

“And then he admitted he had been on another date…”

I knew this story wasn’t going anywhere I wanted it to go.

“Well, at least he was honest.”

“Honest?  Do you like him?”

She was quiet.  No, not that much obviously…it’s October…find someone now or you’re alone all winter.

“Honey, no!”  I said absent-mindedly.

Story, characters, sadness. That’s not what we’re all about in my family.

And we’re not really much about the military, either.

We looked at her latest email.

“You have 16 new matches…  Because you interacted with ____, _____, and _____, we think you may like these matches.”

“It’s better than hanging around in a bar,” she said in a quavering voice.

Is it?  Yes, of course it is.

We start reading profiles.

“Maybe I’ll just have a tiny drink,” she says.

I forbid drink, but give her an oatmeal cookie.

4 thoughts on “Humans in the Shadow World

  1. Huh. I have had “Stand on Zanzibar” by John Brunner on my bookshelf since high school; yeah, that would be about 1968. I have never read it yet. It seems I keep on buying more books, and then getting side-tracked for a few years. Maybe this is the year that I finally read it, yes-no?
    I used to feel a bit of a failure if I quit a book midway through it for lack of interest, and would skulk guiltily around the house. Thank goodness I outgrew that silly notion. Then for several years I gave a book the “100 page test”; if it hadn’t grabbed my interest by then, so sorry, adios. And now that time is running out for me (and for us all, obviously), now my book selections only get the “50 page test”. I will give an author a sporting chance, but let’s not get nuts about it. So many books, so little time.


    • Steven, it took me three tries to read Stand on Zanzibar. Finally it all came together for me last month, and I am thrilled to have discovered Brunner (and should read something else by him). He’s not quite a great writer, but I would say the first half of this book IS great, and the rest of it is great for sociological reasons. So entertaining, too!

      Yes, I buy too many books. Fifty pages? I’m more like one page! No, I exaggerate. I probably give a book 15-25 pages.

      Definitely we have to use our time wisely! I very much feel that with my books. I really must get another bookshelf for the Unread Books on the coffee talbe, but don’t know where I’d put one. Throw out the TV? Not a bad idea!


  2. Interested to hear what you say about They Were Counted, as this one has come onto my radar recently – maybe this will have to be another big read.

    Oh, your poor cousin – tell her to ditch the lipstick guy. I do hope she has more luck soon……


  3. I love They Were Counted. I haven’t read anything quite like it, though it reminds me a bit of Tolstoy–only it’s later, of course. The intro compares it to Proust, but I don’t quite see that. I’m so glad I discovered it (by accident)!


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