The Shockwave Rider Critical Essays

John Brunner


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Brunner, a British author not only of science fiction but also of poetry, began publishing in the early 1950’s. The Shockwave Rider, coming after earlier, more traditional science-fiction stories, is associated with several of his dystopias, including Stand on Zanzibar (1968), The Jagged Orbit (1969), and The Sheep Look Up (1972).

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were characterized by public discussion of major societal problems including overpopulation, pollution, energy shortages, and political weaknesses. Brunner responded with these dystopias, as a warning. He said that these books, which generally take place in the near future, are intended as signs reading “Do not go this way.” They share a focus on social protest aimed in particular at government, which he believed had failed to keep order and prepare people for the future. The reader encounters self-serving and shortsighted elitists who are unconcerned about citizens, but the masses are guilty as well. They are shown as apathetic, selfish, materialistic people with no moral values and no interest in preserving community or freedom.

What keeps these dystopias from being traditional cranky warnings is Brunner’s style. Like other science-fiction authors included in the New Wave of the 1960’s, Brunner displays a willingness to experiment with style. For example, unlike more traditional science-fiction authors, Brunner mixes fiction with...

(The entire section is 451 words.)