Friday, October 18, 2013

Hugo Winner Review: 1969 Stand on Zanzibar

John Brunner
Read 3/2013, reviewed 4/13/2013, revised 10/18/2013
3 stars

I had a tough time with this book.  I spent the first third of the book figuring out the structure and keeping the characters straight.  This was far too long for me.  During this time, I struggled to simply pick up the book.

Brunner described it as a “non-novel,’ which immediately makes me think that the author is full of himself.  “Hey, I’ve written an awesome book that breaks all the rules!  Read me, I’m important!”  This created an initial bias against the book, and probably accounted for my struggle with it.  With its dystopian premise, it felt a little like I had picked up some hip ‘60s mishmash of Brave New World and Future Shock.  It didn’t feel like fiction, and felt pretty sterile.  I guess that’s why Brunner used the term “non-novel.”

By the time I got to the middle of the book, everything began to come together.  I became less distracted by the non-Continuity chapters, i.e., the chapters that did not advance the plot, and actually got how they provided the appropriate contexts, subplots, and general feel of the society.  The major plot lines had become more interesting as well.  Initially, it seemed to take a long time for the setup.  I couldn’t figure out why I needed to care about the major characters, but by the middle of the book, I did.  I liked Norman and Donald.

There’s one thing about the character of Chad Mulligan.  He reminded me of the near-divine characters of Heinlein:  Jubal Harshaw and Professor de la Paz.  When he’s introduced, he comes off as a bit too omniscient and compassionate.  Granted, we get a taste of his amazing insight and popularity throughout the book, but when we meet him, he just too easily lives up to his hype.

I devoured the second half of the book.  I was glad I read it.  I still only give it three stars because of my difficulty in getting used to it.  I’m not averse to “playing with form,” but this was tough.  I feel like I missed out on enjoying the beginning of the book because of it.  I still highly recommend reading it, at the very least because of the form.  I think everyone should experience a shake-up of the norm.  This book made me interested in reading a similarly unconventional novel, House of Leaves.

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