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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    March 2011 SF BotM: Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

    This month's SF BotM is an SF classic:



    According to Wikipedia:

    Stand on Zanzibar is a dystopian New Wave science fiction novel written by John Brunner and first published in 1968. The book won a Hugo Award for Best Novel at the 27th World Science Fiction Convention in 1969.

    A lengthy book, Stand on Zanzibar was innovative within its genre for mixing narrative with entire chapters dedicated to providing background information and worldbuilding, creating a sprawling narrative that presents a complex and multi-faceted view of the story's future world. Such information-rich chapters were often constructed from many short paragraphs, sentences, or fragments thereof - pulled from sources such as slogans, snatches of conversation, advertising text, songs, extracts from newspapers and books, and other cultural detritus. The result is reminiscent of the concept of information overload.

    The narrative itself follows the lives of a large cast of characters, carefully chosen to give a broad cross-section of the future world. Some of these interact directly with the central narratives, while others add depth to Brunner's world. Brunner appropriated this basic narrative technique from the U.S.A. Trilogy of John Dos Passos. On the first page of the novel, Brunner provides a quote from The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan that approximates such a technique, entitling it "the Innis mode" as an apparent label.
    Discuss!

    Mark
    Mark

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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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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.

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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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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..

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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Even if you haven't read it for a while, it is surely the sort of book that makes an impression..
    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
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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.

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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.

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