John Brunner: The ‘Club of Rome’ Quartet 1975

John Brunner was one of the new generation of sci-fi writers who emerged in the late 1960s, and whose work was show-cased by Michael Moorcock in New Worlds Science Fiction. This new wave was characterised by innovations in form and in content. Brunner had spent his early career writing space-opera style sci-fi, whereas from 1967-68 onwards he focused on issues relating to the very sad state that the world had found itself in. By this time, the issues of over-population, pollution, the nuclear arms race and the power of the military industrial complex had become a major concern to the world’s youth. Brunner was to tackle these issues, incorporating them into his partially non-linear writing structure, in books that were later described as his ‘Club of Rome‘ Quartet.

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Brunner’s Club of Rome Quartet: Stand on Zanzibar (1968), Jagged Orbit (1969), The Sheep Look Up (1972) and The Shockwave Rider (1975)

The Club of Rome was a group of academics, providing research and investigation into global issues, and attempting to catalyse a change in our thinking, and by 1972 they had commissioned a detailed computer simulation of the world, its resources, its population, and run simulated projections to determine the impact of diminishing resources and increasing population. The projection was called ‘Limits to Growth‘. The simulator was based on Jay Forrester’s World Dynamics model evolved in the late 1960s from his earlier development of System Dynamics.

The Club of Rome stated its objectives as early as 1968: “The club states that its mission is “to act as a global catalyst for change through the identification and analysis of the crucial problems facing humanity and the communication of such problems to the most important public and private decision makers as well as to the general public.”

The Limits to Growth report, coming a decade after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) – the book that alerted us all to concerns about what we were doing to our environment -in a sense catalysed 10 years of mind-change. By the early 1970s Richard Buckminster Fuller had already begun his World Resources Inventory, and described his World Game idea (1964). Stewart Brand had piublished his Whole Earth Catalog (1968). All these were attempts to raise public awareness of these pressing environmental issues – as was the creation of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace over this period (1969-72). Brunner was incorporating these concerns in his zeitgeist books. The final book in this Quartet, The Shockwave Rider dealt more with the emerging trends in world communications networks, phone phreaking, computer virus’ (Brunner called them Worms), hacking and online identity-shifting. Shockwave Rider (inspired by Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock 1972) became the definitive British contribution to the Cyberpunk genre of science-fiction, a genre characterised by Venor Vinge’s True Names (1978), William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1983), and Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net (1988).

William Gibson describes Brunner’s work: “No one except possibly the late John Brunner, in his brilliant novel The Sheep Look Up, has ever described anything in science fiction that is remotely like the reality of 2007 as we know it.”[1]

Shockwave Rider had a major impact on me and my generation.

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