On John Brunner, prophet

You know, I have been recently rereading some scifi classics I read as a kid and boy, was I really not ready for some of them back then. Not sure I’m ready for some of them now. Solaris, Left Hand of Darkness, Steel Beach, A Canticle for Leibowitz, etc. But I think the best among them instilled my liberal values. The Sheep Look Up is one I am just about to come back to (having read it when I was maybe about 17?) and I found this BBC piece from last year declaring Brunner a prophet for our (pre-Covid) times.

In 1972, he published one of his most pessimistic novels, The Sheep Look Up, which prophesies a future blighted by extreme pollution and environmental catastrophe. And his 1975 novel, The Shockwave Rider, created a computer hacker hero before the world knew what one was. It also envisaged the emergence of computer viruses, something that early computer scientists dismissed as impossible. He even coined the use of the word ‘worm’ to describe them.

Today, his name is little known beyond sci-fi aficionados, and he’s chiefly remembered for Stand on Zanzibar. Big, ambitious and formally experimental, it’s a science-fiction thriller that depicts a world confronting population control. By 2010, Brunner declared, the world’s population would top seven billion (he was a year out – this actually happened in 2011), and in his fictional world, governments have responded globally with draconian eugenics laws, harnessing genetics to determine who can and cannot be allowed to have children.

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