Bug Jack Barron stirred controversy with its explicit sex scenes and four-letter words, almost unknown in science fiction before this time. A British distributor dropped the magazine in which it appeared, and the Arts Council was criticized in Parliament for supporting the publication of “filth.”
Most reviewers who looked beyond these features praised the novel for its keen depiction of media influence and political manipulation. A minority dismissed it as a bizarre experiment. The vivid and startling images in its characters’ long stream-of-consciousness reflections added to its shock value.
Later critics have noted the accuracy of the book’s premise of talk show hosts shaping public opinion. The split screen and panning techniques Barron uses are classic examples of image manipulation.
Like most science fiction with a near-future setting, Bug Jack Barron makes some wrong guesses. Marijuana was not legalized by the mid-1980’s, and there was no Social Justice party. The book does, however, strike uncannily close to many trends of the late twentieth century. Ronald Reagan is cited as a prime example of the power of media images long before his election to the U.S. presidency in 1980. The rise of black politicians and the development of “vidphones” are other examples of accurate prediction.
Barron’s selling out for material rewards often is said to be a second theme of the book. This...
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