The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner

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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The upbeat ending of the novel is a wish-fulfillment fantasy that expresses John Brunner’s apparent desire to overcome the dystopian materials of his story. Chapter 1, titled “Put Yourself in My Place,” consists of the single word “I-.” The second chapter, called “Chapter One Continued,” contains the word fragment “-solationism.” The concluding chapters, 99 and 100, respectively titled “Put Myself in Your Place” and “Chapter Ninety-nine Continued,” consist of only the respective word fragments “You-” and “-nification.” This device, with its “perfect” chapter numbering, cyclical form, and implied replacement of absolute individualism by social integration, neatly thematizes the plot. The story ends with a restored marriage, a new partnership that transcends racial boundaries, a renewed zest for teaching on Conroys part, and an apparent new tilt toward the public interest by one government agency.

This ending is a somewhat groundless declaration of victory over the novels overwhelmingly dystopian premises and materials. The happy resolution of the plots difficulties depends crucially upon the intervention of a deus ex machina, the intrusion into the present of a future state of the Gottschalk computer, which in effect destroys itself to save the company. This event cannot be explained scientifically. The computer obeys its prime directive by transcending its own abilities and tapping into paranormal states that the text implies are magical and beyond rational explanation. The plot works on these terms, but it is significant that the resolution depends on such a “miracle” rather than following logically from the human, social, or scientific worlds of the novel.

Those worlds are bleak. From his own time, using the collage technique found in other Brunner novels, the narrator interpolates selections from news stories dealing with racial polarization, social disintegration and isolation, and growing reliance upon personal weapons. Clearly, readers are to view the world of 2014 as a straight-line extrapolation of the world of 1969, and...

(The entire section is 481 words.)