I earmarked Stand on Zanzibar as a reread for the Letter Z this year, That’s my Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, of course. It’s an old book, written in the 1960s, and nominated several times for awards. I knew I’d read the library book during my John Brunner phase…. but I bought a classic kindle edition, just to make sure.

stand on Zanzibar

Stand on Zanzibar

by John Brunner

Norman Niblock House is a rising executive at General Technics, one of a few all-powerful corporations. His work is leading General Technics to the forefront of global domination, both in the marketplace and politically—it’s about to take over a country in Africa. Donald Hogan is his roommate, a seemingly sheepish bookworm. But Hogan is a spy, and he’s about to discover a breakthrough in genetic engineering that will change the world … and kill him. These two men’s lives weave through one of science fiction’s most praised novels. Written in a way that echoes John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. TrilogyStand on Zanzibar is a cross-section of a world overpopulated by the billions. Where society is squeezed into hive-living madness by god-like mega computers, mass-marketed psychedelic drugs, and mundane uses of genetic engineering. Though written in 1968, it speaks of 2010, and is frighteningly prescient and intensely powerful. [goodreads]

My Review

If I had ever read this before, I had entirely forgotten it. It is marginally possible that I started it and got so confused, I gave up. In fact, I considered abandoning it this time, as I wondered what on earth was going on (but then where would I find a Z for my alphabet reading?).

But gradually the style gets you, shifting between raucous sound bites and commercials to vignettes of different people in different situations. Then to new countries, and social problems caused by the very benefits that advertised…

And suddenly this familiar futuristic world that might actually be real, but is already behind our overpopulated world, has wrapped you up and swallowed you whole.. Problems that are at once very familiar, but give you relief that we haven’t actually gone down that road… yet.

John Brunner writes brilliantly drawn, emotionally deep, characters. His social, economic, technological and political sciences are extremely well defined and developed, and the story winds beautifully through a tapestry of countries and situations.

It’s brilliant, I loved it, and I’m glad I’m old enough to appreciate it. I was too young, once. I see a John Brunner re-readathon coming my way, maybe next year.

Book Review | Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

3 thoughts on “Book Review | Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

  • 22 July, 2023 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Jemima – sounds intriguing … I’ll try and remember to get it out of the library – I’ve noted. Have you read ‘Binti’ – my last post in June gives a review … it might interest you – I read the trilogy … brings it all together. Sounds an ideal companion … I’ll be remembering – cheers Hilary

  • 24 July, 2023 at 12:45 pm

    I read an excerpt in a ‘Best of Year’ collection many years ago. That didn’t encourage me to get the book, but your review shows me that an excerpt is not the way to go with this work. I’ll look for it in the library.

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