Brain Wave Critical Essays

Poul Anderson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Anderson’s Brain Wave is an interesting attempt at extrapolation in which he introduces one unusual circumstance (Earth escapes a force that has inhibited intelligence) and works out the logical consequences. One reason the novel succeeds is the author’s ability to show the human trauma of such an increase in intelligence. People riot, abandon work, go insane, form odd cults full of fear and hatred, and wish for the “good old days.”

Although the novel shows such trauma, Anderson counters it with positive scenes. People create a starship, oppressive governments are challenged, many stay at their jobs, small towns experiment with various methods of government and work, and language and gestures become more sensitive and more universal. Anderson seems to say that people always will face new challenges, but they can overcome them, given time and patience. As he once said, “To hell with fatuous optimism and fashionable despair. Given guts and luck, we may prevail. Win or lose, the effort is infinitely worth making.”

A key feature in this novel, common to much of Anderson’s work, is the thorough handling of science, not surprising given Anderson’s formal training in physics. In Brain Wave, Anderson discusses neural impulses. He assumes that faster and more intense electrochemical reactions in the neurons would produce a dramatic rise in intelligence. He also spends time exploring the idea of an electromagnetic force...

(The entire section is 463 words.)