March 2011 SF BotM: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Hobbit, Feb 28, 2011.

  1. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    This month's SF BotM is an SF classic:

    [​IMG]

    According to Wikipedia:

    Discuss!

    Mark
     
  2. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    I read Stand on Zanzibar in 2006. My main thoughts on it were that the story plot line takes second place to the style and structure, which aims to build up a complete and realistic vision of the future (although it is set in a year now past, or very close, I think) as one who lives/lived there might experience it. The chapter titles link the separate attempts to build up the whole through different media, such as adverts, random conversations, news footage and a rather forgettable storyline. I say forgettable because I can remember very little about it without looking it up, save that it was something to do with a computer (one of only a handful in existence in the entire world) and terrorism.

    As with many classics of the genre, in some ways it is hopelessley dated but in others it is still relevant and was almost prescient. For example, the problems in Benin affecting the rest of the world and global over population (hence the title - there being enough people to stand on Zanzibar and totally fill it) still strike a chord. Brunner's use of made up conversational slang irritated me after a few pages though.

    Overall, it wasn't a book I particularly enjoyed reading but it certainly showed the way for many (and better) imitators, so it's an important piece of SF history.
     
  3. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    No one else got any thoughts on this book? Even if you haven't read it for a while, it is surely the sort of book that makes an impression..
     
  4. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    LOL. Yes. It's been a while, but I agree with you that it was an ambitious work, and also for me it was one of style over substance. Though an audacious work, in the end there's not a lot of importance to remember, filled with pseudo-psychological navel gazing that reflects its origins in the 1960's. Gay marriage, psychedelia, terrorism, African multinationals.... and a spy plot. How 60's!

    For me, anyway. :)

    Here's what Geoff Ryman at SFX thought about it: http://media.sfx.co.uk/files/SFX168standonzanzibar.pdf

    Mark
     
  5. Flatlander

    Flatlander Registered User

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    Agree with the above comments about the style being the most important part of the novel - it's an exercise in worldbuilding as opposed to a straightforward novel. The one thing I would add is that the segments which are there to advance the plot are more like a sequence of linked short stories than a straightforward novel.

    Despite this, I've read it several times now and enjoyed it every time - although the last couple of times I haven't paid as much attention to the main story as I have to the extra snippets which are there to build up the whole.
     
  6. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    It just goes to show that one person's 'style over substance' is another's classic.

    I don't have a problem with the book being a bit of a front for, what were at the time, some quite novel ideas on presentation and literary technique, especially in SF. I think I would have preferred it however if it had just been that, without the story thread running through it. Then it really would have been like a 'magazine' snapshot of the future.
     
  7. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    I find myself agreeing with pretty much everyone here to some degree or another. I'd agree that's it's in some ways style over substance, but in this case I think that's maybe the point and for me it worked. The magazine snapshot of 2010 really worked for me, particularly as there were little threads of narrative running through those sections (or commentary on other sections through these).

    As to Hobbit's navel-gazing comment. Didn't bother me at all. Coming off of Heinlein last month, and comparing to that, I found this to be expertly done, actually. I didn't feel spoon-fed or preached at at all here.

    And Ropie, I think I would go beyond "almost prescient" and commit to it totally. There were a remarkable number of things mentioned here that could only have been speculation at the time but are so spot-on to today's world situation and social structure that I thought it was pretty uncanny - comments he had to make about the way news and television relate and what is happening to print media and fact checking and such. It's as if he saw CNN coming three decades before it actually happened. There were a lot of little things like that stashed in the various threads of the book that I wish I had taken down notes or page numbers for. I feel like he had a window into a 2010 that was very much like our own.

    There was one slang word in there for which I just couldn't figure out an origin or meaning. What did "shiggy" or "shig" mean? Like "shag"? Or is there some other word I'm not catching onto that it represents. All the other future slang was fine for me, but I never deciphered that one.
     
  8. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    Pretty much, Id've thought. From: http://recollectionbooks.com/bleed/Encyclopedia/BrunnerJohn/Shiggy%25_Circuit.htm:

    When I originally read it, I thought of 'shacked up' and 'jiggy' to make 'shiggy'. But then that might be just me....

    Mark