Stand On Zanzibar – John Brunner – Book Review

I have to say, I don’t love this book.  I try to put things in context with the sci-fi books, when and where it was written, norms at the time, etc. etc. etc.  but I just don’t get this one.

If you’d like a more positive review, the excellent Extra Credits Youtube channel has a good one.  You can see it here – The Extra Credits Youtube review

For myself, the characters are hard work, unlikeable, idiotic and the author seems to want it that way.  I don’t get why I am meant to want to follow these people on their journey through the book.  The structure is interesting and a lot has been made of this, breaking down the book into chapters with four different styles.

Context – Short notes from newpapers etc  illustrating the social mores of the time.

Continuity – the main story happens in these chapters

Tracking With Close-ups – scene setting not related to the main story but mainly involving characters we have met,

The Happening World – Disjointed examples of the world being built.

I am not sure where this book goes wrong for me, I normally like to have to work while reading, but I struggle to get through this.  The “Hipcrime Vocab” references don’t seem as clever as the author thinks they are, and that the reader is meant to treat with awe.  When I didn’t buy into that, I think the character who wrote it (Chad C. Mulligan) holds less interest.  He is a commentator, not someone who is going to make things change.  Every time he (as opposed to his quotes) turns up in a scene, I am just left thinking how much I dislike and distrust him.  Maybe, when it was written, it was remarkable, but I am evidently soured on “clever” snarky comments made by people with a a pulpit.

The plot is interesting as well, worldwide overpopulation, corporate scheming, benevolent intentions all build a world that is fairly recognisable today, not a bad trick for a book written in 1968 and set in 2010.  However, we are meant to side with the “baddies”, commiserate with the evil influencers and dislike the public being affected by the dystopic world.

The two main characters, Donald Hogan and Norman House, sharing an apartment due to general overcrowding despite being successful in their roles and taking pains not to annoy each other as much as possible, are as disjointed as everything else.  They both stumble into situations they dont understand and cause death and mayhem as a result.  This seems to be OK.

Ive tried to get on with this book and it could be my fault that I dislike it intensely, I just do.  I give it a try every couple of years, I know there is something in there, Im just not getting it.  Nothing seems to develop fully and that may be the point of the book, I am really not sure.  Having just read it for probably the fifth time, I still dont care about the outcome (no spoilers), the characters, the future or whether there is a solution to the central problem.

Please, let me know if I really have missed the point.  It is bugging me.