John Brunner Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Brunner, John 1934–

Brunner is a British author of science fiction novels, short stories, and poetry. His themes are humanistic, centering on the continuity of the human condition, and the psychological and physical survival of ordinary man. Brunner is a satirist, utilizing humor that is both playful and sardonic. Even at his most bitter or ironic, the events, atmospheres, and attitudes he describes have definite parallels with reality. Formerly a pilot, Brunner participated for several years in the British nuclear disarmament movement, an experience which has colored some of his works. Brunner is occasionally criticized for letting social protest override his literary sensibility, but he is generally recognized as one of science fiction's most controlled and realistic writers. (See also CLC, Vol. 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

James Blish

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The protagonist [of The Whole Man] is a man who, though physically handicapped himself, has telepathic powers which he uses for healing other people…. [The] novel showed powers of insight and compassion previously unsuspected … in this author—the powers of an artist, not just the technician….

These powers were promptly shown again in almost unbearably concentrated form in "The Totally Rich," a novelette…. Ostensibly the story's subject is longevity vs. death, but filtered through the Brunner sensibility it turns out to be about love, and the overall effect almost approaches high tragedy. (p. 5)

These same powers are now abundantly evident in his recent work, and...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

William P. Brown

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Government is a key ingredient in Brunner's recent work. He develops his major theme, human survival, around it. He directly comments on it as part of his social criticism and frequently makes it a determining factor in his novels. This is certainly the case in [his most politically orientated novels,] The Squares of the City, Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, and The Sheep Look Up. All are first-rate political novels because they tell the reader something significant about politics—the activity of government….

Brunner's use of politics differs from more typical political novels like The President, All the King's Men, and Advise and Consent. They deal with the...

(The entire section is 2103 words.)

Michael Goodwin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Far too often, SF writers with no taste for homework set their cautionary tales in so distant a future that the process of shattering an ecosphere becomes a side issue.

John Brunner never tells us exactly when The Sheep Look Up is taking place, but it seems to be no later than 1980 or 1990—the very point at which all the "minor" environmental crises are beginning to converge into a disaster. It's the process that concerns Brunner, because an ongoing process can be stopped. Sheep has more political punch than any other ecological disaster novel I've read, precisely because its concrete details suggest concrete action.

Brunner has done his homework, and the...

(The entire section is 253 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

John Brunner's best work is related to the tradition of literary naturalism. His fictions offer projections into the relatively near future—a few decades—of trends that are clearly detectable in the present. He works with large canvasses, building worlds out of many individual lives. He himself has expressed his indebtedness to John Dos Passos for his naturalistic blend of fiction and documents from the communications media, but he has altered the technique of Dos Passos in several crucial ways. First, by attempting to "document" the future he has set himself a task which is more demanding and more interesting than documenting the present. Put simply, documenting the future requires imagination as well as some...

(The entire section is 491 words.)