Tal Cohen's Bookshelf: A Collection of Personal Opinions about Books
Stand on Zanzibar / John Brunner
Reviewed by Tal Cohen Monday, 19 January 1998
This book is an amazing story on the status of mankind in the relatively-near future, and it is Brunner’s most acknowledged masterpiece. The author uses writing techniques which are hard to find elsewhere to give the reader a strong impression of the era -- everything from chapters containing only newspaper headlines to extracts from various books.

(From the book) Fighting in an army is a psychotic condition encouraged by a rule-of-thumb psychological technique discovered independently by every son-of-a-bitch conqueror who ever brought a backward people out of a comfortable, civilized state of nonentity (Chaka Zulu, Attila, Bismark, etc.) and started them slaughtering their neighbors. I don’t approve of people who encourage psychoses in their fellow human beings. You probably do. Cure yourself of that habit.

from You: Beast by Chad C. Mulligan

Another technique used is keeping up with dozens of different minor characters, most of whom meet a tragic end sooner or later. One of the most noticeable characters is Chad C. Mulligan, a sociologist who’s books are most often quoted, with titles like The Hipcrime Vocab, You’re an Ignorant Idiot, Better? Than? and You, Beast. Later in the book, Mulligan moves from being a source for quotes to a round character. Another dominant figure is a super-computer, the mighty Shalmaneser. His closing words are something no reader will forget soon.

Brunner deals with many different moral issues in the book, including subjects like war (with the expected anti-war message), artificial intelligence (via Shalmaneser), population control, and genetic engineering. It is interesting to note, though, that a book written in the 1960s generally regards Russia in the early 21st century as a Western nation, while the totalitarian enemy is China (and the imaginary country of Yatakang).

(From the book) It’s supposed to be automatic but actually you have to press this button.

One of the most interesting technologies presented is Engrelay Satelserv’s “Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere”. Engrelay Satelserv is the “English Language Relay Satellite Service”, a leading media company. “The Everywheres” are a pair of computerized characters that, in different episodes, travel around the world, visiting different places. The special thing about them is that people at home can, at a price, have the Everywheres look and sound exactly like they do. So in effect, people sit in front of the TV and watch themselves travel all over the globe and generally enjoy life. People are expected to update their image (for use by the TV system) on a yearly basis, but many prefer to keep the old images, so after years they still see themselves as a young couple touring the world.

The effects of the Everywheres are not so surprising: people tend to believe things that they hear their own selves saying on TV. Thus the Everywheres are used by the powers-that-be to shape public opinion in a manner without precedent. (In his book The Squares of the City, Brunner deals with another method for mass control of public opinions, namely subliminal perception.)

My only disagreement with Brunner is that I think if such a service will ever be established, the personalization of the service (using your own images to replace the “default” ones) will not cost a prohibitive price; in fact, I believe it will be free (or even mandatory with the purchase of a TV). Certainly there will be people willing to spend a lot of money to gain such a level of influence over other minds.

Stand on Zanzibar is not an easy book to read, both technically (the nonstandard writing style) and intellectually. In fact, due to the huge amount of information (events, people, technologies, etc.) that the book refers to constantly, most readers will have to read the book at least twice in order to fully understand what’s going on. But the experience is definitely worth the effort.

(From the book) But the whole of modern so-called civilized existence is an attempt to deny reality insofar as it exists. When did Don last look at the stars, when did Norman last get soaked in a rainstorm?

Chad C. Mulligan

When this page was first published, I asked if anyone knows the source for the book’s name. Three people were kind enough to supply me with the answer: Michel (who didn’t include a last name), Mikey Inkster, and Mark Baker. Thanks, people. Some while after, I discovered that the answer was in fact printed on the back cover of the original hardcover edition of the book. Later paperback editions simply didn’t bother to include this information.

(From the book) There’s a belief still current among British schoolchildren that you could stand the entire human race on the 147-square-mile Isle of Wight, elbow to elbow and face to face.

Well, that may have been true around the time of World War I although nobody was keeping records accurate enough for us to be certain. However, right now in the 1960’s you'd have a tough job packing us on the 221-square-mile Isle of Man.

And by 2010 -- the time this book takes place, you'd need an altogether larger island -- something like the 640-square-mile surface of Zanzibar!

The American Trilogy is not a trilogy in the normal sense of the word. It is a collection of three books that are only loosely related; one might claim the events do not really take place in the same universe. But the three books present a very similar story, each time from a different angle and using different characters.

Continued in the review of The Sheep Look Up.

Find this book
Chad Mulligan’s bold view of the world (and what’s wrong with it) is presented to the reader as a collection of short clips from his books. Here are a few definitions from Mulligan’s The Hipcrime Vocab:
Member of a subgroup of the human race who hails, or whose ancestors hailed, from a chunk of land nicknamed -- not by its residents -- Africa. Superior to the Caucasian in that negroes did not invent nuclear weapons, the automobile, Christianity, nerve gas, the concentration camp, military epidemics, or the megalopolis.
A great British writer once said that if he had to choose between betraying his country and betraying a friend he hoped he would have the decency to betray his country.
Papa Hegel he say that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. I knew people who can’t even learn from what happened this morning. Hegel must have been taking the long view.
Human Being
You’re one. At least, if you aren’t, you know you’re a Martian or a trained dolphin or Shalmaneser. (If you want me to tell you more than that, you’re out of luck. There’s nothing more anybody can tell you.)
The principle governing human intelligence. Its nature may be deduced from examining the two following propositions, both of which are held by human beings to be true and often by the same people: “I can’t so you mustn’t,” and “I can but you mustn’t.”
You weren’t paying attention to the other half of what was going on.

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Tal Cohen writes:
Mii too!
When playing with a Nintendo Wii, with its Mii avatars, one can't help thinking that the days of Mr. and Mrs. Everywhere are near...
[208] Posted on Saturday, 25 August 2007 at 6:44 GMT [Reply to this] [Permalink]

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