Jacob Haller (jwgh) wrote,
Jacob Haller
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John Brunner review: Time-Jump

This is the first John Brunner book I ever read and is probably a large part of the reason that I've read so much of his other stuff. I loaned it to a friend last year sometime and only got it back a couple of weeks ago, which is why I haven't gone more in depth on it.

It begins with an introduction in which he offers up a spirited defense of humor in science fiction. (Is this still an issue? Was it ever? It's a nice little essay either way.) Then there are a bunch of short works of fiction.

There are a total of ten pieces in the book. Three of them (the first, fifth, and ninth, so they are evenly spaced) are Galactic Consumer Reports, which are supposed to have come from a magazine called GOOD BUY, which is published by the Consolidated Galactic Federation of Consumer Associations. They were written in 1965, 1966, and 1967 and in their subject matter (reviews of objects that don't exist) and tone they remind me of some of Stanislaw Lem's works (Ion Tichy's discussion of how tourism has affected evolution comes to mind as well as his introductions to and reviews of nonexistent books) and Douglas Adam (in particular the parts of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that are supposed to be excerpts from the Hitchhiker's Guide itself) -- ostensibly straightforward and informative but with a sharp wit behind it. (The bit in the review of Automatic Twin-Tube Wishing Machines that explains that giant factory-sized wishing machines were invented first but that small consumer models were considered to be impossible until someone got the idea of hooking himself up to a big wishing machine and wished for one is quite similar to the story of how the Infinite Improbability Drive was invented in Hitchhiker's.) [In a biography of Douglas Adams I read recently it mentioned that he tried to get Brunner to write for Doctor Who at one point. I gather he was enough of a science fiction fan to be familiar with the major authors of the genre, but probably not enough to wade through the seven million lesser-known books Brunner had already written by the late seventies, so I'm guessing this is three cases of independent invention.]

The Galactic Consumer Reports, especially the first two, are well-written and funny and work both as social satire and as science fiction. The others suffer somewhat by comparison and probably didn't age as well but are still worth checking out. They are:

* Speech Is Silver (1965). A descendent of the 'learn as you sleep' companies invents a computer-generated voice that is optimally effective for subliminal teaching and therapy, then runs a contest to find the real-life people whose voices most closely resemble that voice who will then appear in ads and live promotions for the service. The protagonist is nagged into entering by his wife, is chosen as the male spokesman, and goes into a decline. At the end of the story he breaks into the factory and records some messages of his own. I would be happier with this story if I believed that subliminal teaching actually worked, although I suppose the company could be ripping off its customers ... and there's a sort of misogynistic undertone to this (and, unfortunately, some of Brunner's other writings) that also diminishes my pleasure in this one.

* The Warp and the Woof-Woof (1966). This is told from the point of view of a dog who accidentally foils a Martian invasion. (Did you know that Martians taste like cheese?) The Martians are appropriately bureaucratic, evil, and incompetent.

* The Product of the Masses (1968). A team of sociologists is investigating a planet with large, possibly intelligent life forms. They do this by designing a giant mechanical life form to try to infiltrate the aliens. Hilarity follows. The broad plot arc involves making the lead scientist stop acting like a frigid bitch, which I think I was supposed to find funnier than I did. Sigh.

* Death Do Us Part (1955). A nifty story involving a ghost, a lawyer, an an American. They don't walk into a bar, but there is a lot of drinking that goes on. This was quite good.

* Coincidence Day (1965). Animal rights protesters try to shut down an intergalactic zoo.

* Whirligig (1967). A bandleader of a jazz band describes an unusual show -- IN THE FUTURE! I liked it.

* Nobody Axed You (1965). In the future, overpopulation is such a problem that homicide is encouraged (but not suicide or arson; those would be WRONG!). The protagonist is the producer and lead actor in a television show; tv show ratings are determined by the number of copycat murders that occur after the show. The show's apparently an episodic show like The Twilight Zone or Mystery, where there generally isn't an ongoing plot or any recurring characters. But another show is starting to catch up to his show's popularity, and his wife and costar has just revealed to him that she's pregnant (disastrous PR for someone involved in a show devoted to decreasing the population). It's a nicely written little piece with lots of good details (nursery rhymes devoted to population control, etc.)
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