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Wednesday, 06 December 2006 00:00

Recommended diversions

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Stand on Zanzibar

In 1968, a British science fiction writer named John Brunner wrote a novel, a 50-year projection into the future entitled Stand on Zanzibar.

Already the noted author of such books as The Crucible of Time and The Sheep Look Up, Brunner won the Hugo award, one of science fiction’s major yearly awards, for Stand On Zanzibar.

I was living in a friend’s attic in the early 70’s, and the walls of this dusty garrett were covered with paperbacks, almost all of them speculative fiction. (We HATE the term sci-fi!) I plowed through a lot of them over the next two years, and was introduced to many of my favorite writers.

This was when I first read Zanzibar, and after 30 years and at least that many re-reads, I am still blown away by the breadth of Brunner’s vision and his uncanny ability to predict trends and outcomes.

There are many sub-plots and characters running through the book, but one of the main threads is a major multinational, General Technics, trying to secure a beachhead in Africa as an offloading port for it’s seabottom mining operations. In effect, they offer to practically buy a country on the west coast of Africa and bring it up to 21st century standards, i.e. new infrastructure, schools, agriculture, government, and everything else needed to bring an entire PEOPLE to literate self-sufficiency.

But that is only the beginning! Every aspect of human society is examined and extrapolated on, from a 1968 perspective, and he hits the bulls-eye so often from a present day perspective, that I can’t help but wonder if Brunner didn’t either come from far in the future or have access to it.

There is genetic engineering, there are people who go crazy and kill hundreds, there are random and senseless acts of terrorism, artificial intelligences, religious cults looking for world domination, racial tensions... the list goes on and on, and each time you read one you will be stunned at Brunner’s prescience, and be a little frightened as to what might possibly come next.

By the way, the title comes from the idea of everybody in the world standing on the island of Zanzibar, an island off the east coast of Africa, now part of Tanzania, and how long it would be before there was no more room.

In a related note, another of my favorite authors, David Brin, wrote his own 50-year projection, entitled Earth. It was written in 1988, and he acknowledges a debt to John Brunner. Brin’s perspective is very good, but he doesn’t yet have the stamp of veracity that the passage of time has given to Brunner.

Read both of these books, but especially Stand on Zanzibar.

50 years is really no time at all...

— By David Cohen

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