AHA! The Insightful Fiction Of John Brunner

Copyright 2010-2011, 2018, 2020 by Richard J. Ballard -- All Rights Reserved.

IMO great science fiction emphasizes what if human consequences instead of technology. In 1970 I joined a Science Fiction In The Atomic Age reading class. John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar was the most compelling selection; previously I had not encountered any novel like it. I started reading Brunner's other science fiction novels. Some don't digest properly on first reading, but all are memorable and comprise a (later) nourishing second read. And Brunner's historical novel The Great Steamboat Race IMO is comparable to author Samuel Clemens' (Mark Twain's) autobiographical Life On The Mississippi.


IMO John Brunner's best novels.

Stand On Zanzibar [1969]
Pre-multimedia textual soundbited poortrayall of our chaotic future. 5 STAR!

The Jagged Orbit [1969]
Poortrayall of United States fragmented society careening like an arcade ball within a field of special interest hostile bumpers. Presented in English textual soundbites (digestible mouthfuls). 5 STAR!

The Sheep Look Up [1972]
Poortrayall of United States societal reaction to widespread toxic ecodisaster. 5 STAR!

The Shockwave Rider [1975]
Poortrayall of United States computerized hostile government. 1975 plot includes use of worm cyberweapon against internetworked computers. IMO people who have read Brunner's The Jagged Orbit might recognize Brunner's functional humor incorporating named talking dogs into the The Shockwave Rider's conclusion. Similarity (rogue hacker protagonist) to author William Gibson's award-winning 1984 novel Neuromancer. Similarity (government-trained cyberwarrior fugitive) to the 2000-2002 television series Dark Angel starring Jessica Alba. 5 STAR!

The Great Steamboat Race [1983]
An exceptionally well researched and well written historical novel based upon the July 4th 1870 weekend actual race from New Orleans to St. Louis conducted between the steamboats Natchez and Robert E. Lee. Brunner's novel is remarkable both for its understanding of steamboat navigation upon the 1870s hazardous Mississippi River, and also for its character development spanning the entire range of post Civil War society. IMO the novel's excellence makes it comparable to author Samuel Clemens' (Mark Twain's) autobiographical Life On The Mississippi. 5 STAR!


The Squares Of The City [1965]
Tale of an outsider reduced to a pawn in a political game. While other pieces leave the game board, the pawn advances despite deliberate distraction and threats from forces beyond his control. Allusions to Iran under Pahlevi? 5 STAR!

Traveler In Black [1971]
The tale of a mystical traveler who imposes order upon chaos by enforcing Be careful what you request. Theme similarity to author Ed Simon's 1977 Necronomicon and to author Larry Niven's 1978 The Magic Goes Away. 4 STAR.

From This Day Forward [1972]
This short story collection contains 13 treatments for the Midas plague (too much). 5 STAR!

Polymath [1974]
A space exploration tale about civilized society's thin veneer cracking under poverty. 4 STAR.

Three Complete Novels [1988]
1988's Children of the Thunder poortrays the genesis of persuasive criminality [impoverished amoral adolescents remorselessly pursue simple goals]; 1984's The Tides of Time poortrays faster-than-light astronauts becalmed in time's tidepools [IMO an allusion to civilian mundane life after experiencing (para)military life in the fast lane]; and 1982's The Crucible of Time poortrays an alien society struggling against globally changing climate ... and obsession. This volume reinforces my opinion of John Brunner as a perceptive author, as I have encountered similar circumstances within my own life. 5 STAR!


ACE Double Novels included two complete novels printed back-to-back in a single softcover volume (here paired top and bottom).

Echo In The Skull / Rocket To Limbo by John Brunner / Allen E. Nourse [1959]
Echo In The Skull poortrays a young woman disoriented by sentient alien memories. Rocket To Limbo poortrays Earthmen not trained for their first extraterrestrial encounter. Both novels 3 STAR.

Meeting At Infinity / Beyond The Silver Sky by John Brunner / Kenneth Bulmer [1961]
Technological merchant princes collide against mind over matter in Meeting At Infinity. Technological aquamen battle a shrinking evolving aquasphere in Beyond The Silver Sky (plot similarity to author James Blish's 1952 classic short story Surface Tension). Both novels 4 STAR.

Sanctuary In The Sky / The Secret Martians by John Brunner / Jack Sharkey [1960]
The daily politics of maintaining spaceport neutrality mask a larger issue in Sanctuary In The Sky. An intuitive advertising executive is drafted into interplanetary intrigue in The Secret Martians. Both novels 3 STAR.

Slavers Of Space / Dr. Futurity by John Brunner / Philip K. Dick [1960]
One of Earth's privileged seeks a cure for the steerilized blues in Slavers Of Space; 3 STAR. A 20th Century physician is tossed into a socially-compliant, eugenically-controlled, backward-looking tribal future in Dr. Futurity; 4 STAR.

The 100th Millennium / Edge Of Time by John Brunner / David Grinnell [1959]
Travelers undertake a pastoral quest seeking to avert planetwide tragedy in The 100th Millennium (some similarity to author J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit). Scientists create an accelerated universe and vicariously experience aliens' lives in Edge Of Time (some similarity to author Theodore Sturgeon's 1941 classic short story Microcosmic God). Both novels 4 STAR.


The Whole Man [1964, USA]
Telepathist [1965, England]
A somber poortrayall of telepathic empathy and rethinking yourself. Published in USA in 1964 as The Whole Man; published in England in 1965 as Telepathist. 4 STAR.

Catch A Falling Star [1968]
An expansion of John Brunner's 1959 novel The 100th Millennium: a tale of travelers on a pastoral quest seeking to avert planetwide tragedy (some similarity to author J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit). 4 STAR.

Players At The Game Of People [1980]
A curious tale of empowered vicarious employment. 3 STAR.

A Maze Of Stars [1991]
Novel about a sentient starship studying intragalactic cultures while socializing with short hop passengers (i.e., birds of passage) during its voyage. (Poor Stripe!) IMO resembles a (so-called psychic) vampire pondering his near-immortality amidst mortal passing acquaintances. Some theme similarity to author Larry Niven's 1976 A World Out Of Time. 4 STAR.


The Atlantic Abomination [1960]
Tale about oceanographers unknowingly awakening an ancient alien monster. Theme similarity to author Larry Niven's 1966 World of Ptavvs. And in Issac Asimov's award-winning 1952 novel Foundation And Empire, a human mutant calling himself The Mule (a Missouri favorite) exerts total emotional control over other humans. 4 STAR.

The Long Result [1965]
A bureaucratic detective story that questions xenophobia and unwarranted pride within an affluent society. 3 STAR.

Double, Double [1969]
A tale about hunting a fissioning shapechanger. IMO the environment deliberately is depicted as drab and dull. IMO this novel (and especially its ending) is a valid allegory for recent arrivals' behavior within a resource-depleted environment (and misery loves company). 3 STAR.

Dramaturges Of Yan [1972]
Human colonists struggle to understand a post-industrial fulfilled alien race; IMO allusions to conflict between Western and Oriental cultures. IMO similarities to author James Tiptree Jr.'s 1985 novel Brightness Falls From The Air (a real pain in the neck) and to author Roger Zelansky's 1963 classic short story A Rose For Ecclesiastes. 4 STAR.

Age Of Miracles [1973]
Tale poortraying global chaos following an alien successful invasion. Extensive depiction of human reaction to indifferent alien superior technology. 5 STAR!


The World Swappers [1959]
Tale of technological elite's (possesses matter transporter and derivitive immortality) struggles against a domineering commercial autocrat, while preparing human society for alien first contact. IMO plot and style similar to Isaac Asimov's award-winning 1951 novel Foundation. 4 STAR.

Born Under Mars [1967]
Tale about a Martian flight engineer drawn forcibly into an intrigue involving his former mentor. IMO Martian culture is depicted as similar to Australian culture. [Brunner depicts Australian culture as different in several of his novels (e.g., Entry To Elsewhen (later).] 3 STAR. (IMO this novel has a weak ending.)

Quicksand [1967]
A psychiatrist plods through the delta of his own misgivings while he treats a remarkable young woman patient. The woman patient's confusing naivete differentiates Quicksand from Vladimir Nabokov's classic novel Lolita. 3 STAR. (In retrospect a good story, but IMO the psychiatrist's nearly continuous internal dialogue constitutes burdensome reading.)

Bedlam Planet [1968]
When Jack is an outsider, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. A tale about instinct rescuing logic (follow your gut). 4 STAR.

Times Without Number [1969]
A historical treatment of privileged insiders who never learn [some plot similarity to author Philip K. Dick's 1960 novel Dr. Futurity (earlier)]. 5 STAR!

The Avengers Of Carrig [1969]
Space invaders enslave a backward planet for its mineral riches while the Corps Galactia schemes to turn the tide. 3 STAR.


The Stardroppers [1972]
A cultish fad develops around a personal appliance that purportedly allows people to eavesdrop on star conversations. Then cultists publicly begin popping out of existence. Some similarity to author Lewis Padgett's 1943 classic short story Mimsy Were The Borogoves. 4 STAR. (FWIW Brunner's novel emphasis on steam-powered cars also reminds me of musician Donald Fagen's 1993 album Kamakiriad.)

Entry To Elsewhen [1972]
Contains three separate stories about military domination and about deliberate suppression of initiative within oppressed populations. Host Age: How do you defeat an extra-terrestrial Terminator? Lung Fish: A spaceship's crew learns the limitations of psychological manipulation. No Other Gods But Me: Good will and genetic serendipity battle a conqueror's bravado. 4 STAR.

The Stone That Never Came Down [1973]
Unemployment is epidemic ... Infrastructure lies unfinished or crumbling ... Neighborhood zealot bands demand tithes while forcing proper social behavior ... Troops are dispatched as general strikes paralyze entire cities ... Italy closes its borders ... Sabers rattle throughout Europe. Can a laboratory's experimental drug that facilitates informed unbiased decision-making turn the bellicose tide? 5 STAR!

The Webs Of Everywhere [1974]
Tale about society transmuting after it loses both its privacy and its history. 4 STAR.

Total Eclipse [1974]
On a distant planet an international team of human archeologists try to comprehend the rise, fall and extinction of a technologically-advanced alien civilization. Back on Earth, nations squabble about economics and the value of space exploration. 3 STAR. (IMO the protagonist's gifted intuition is not wholly believable.)

The Infinitive Of Go [1980]
Technology implements a zero sum game having an infinite number of outcomes. Some outcomes differ subtly, some outcomes are insane and some outcomes are alien. 4 STAR.

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