A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
This was the most precious of all freedoms… Freedom to become the person you chose to be instead of the person remembered by the computers… It was the enchanted sword, the invulnerable shield, the winged boots, the cloak of invisibility. It was the ultimate defense. Or so it seemed.
John Brunner’s 1975 novel The Shockwave Rider is the best kind of prescient Science Fiction. While it gets many of the details wrong it manages to get all the big ideas right. Sure, you might smirk to yourself when Brunner’s millennials dial in to the web on their touch tone phones, but its not so funny when we see them deal with identity theft, online surveillance, government data leaks, and so on.
The story begins inside Nickie Haflinger’s brain. He’s a rogue data specialist whose been captured by the mysterious institution that educated him. Now they’re picking away at his mind to discover all the identities he’s assumed and all the damage he’s done. The novel unfolds in short fragmented chapters. Some of them are just info-dumps, thought-provoking quotes, or seemingly random asides, but most leap back and forth from Nickie’s past lives to his current interrogation. A convincingly dystopian world is slowly built and Nickie becomes its heroic hacker rebel.
The story drags just a little in spots. The characters are mostly stock. The conclusion, while thrilling, is a bit too optimistic. But none of that really detracts from Shockwave Rider‘s power. There are some truly brilliant chapters, some clever plotting and structure, and it will certainly prompt some heavy thoughts on issues that matter now more than ever.
Review by Matthew