Review of 'Stand on Zanzibar'

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

A “classic” of the SF-genre. Set in the 21st century in a time when it was a long way away Stand on Zanzibar (a reference to the idea that the population of the planet could fit on the island of Zanzibar) shows a world of intelligent computers, wide-spread prostitution (“shiggies”), psychedelic drugs and advances in gene research. To be honest, not much different than the age we live in now (ok, with the exception of the legal drugs bit). The story itself starts with the story of two room-mates. One, Norman House, is employed by General Technics (GT) as the token “black” employee but who proves himself and is put in charge of a large project to convert a small African country, Beninia, whose leader is in failing health, into a massive production factory for the company using their Shalmeneser super-fast computer to guide their efforts. The other room-mate, Donald Hogan is a spy sent to the communist country of Yatakang to seek out Doctor Sugaiguntung who appears to have found a way of genetically engineering disease-free children.

All of this sounds quite familiar (ok, the conversion of Beninia into a tool for a country is slightly far-fetched) which is why, I suppose, I had a hard time reading this. The terminology used is intentionally “techy”, for example, the use of “poppa-momma” for PM I found particularly disruptive to reading (“what was poppa-momma again? oh yes, PM”). The characters are very believable and very human in settings that are a bit…unusual. Chapters here are either narrative, bits of unconnected information, poetry, songs and other forms that Brunner plays with. This does not really impose a great flow for reading, however, and took some time to get used to.

I did find the inclusion of Africa quite interesting particularly in the context of the future as this was done with great sensitivity and with remarkable insight. Perhaps this is just my experience of living in Africa for three years but it is quite unusual to see it feature so prominently in SF works.

An intriguing read but not one I would want to necessarily go through again though, flipping back in retrospect, it is obvious to see how the disjunctive narrative at the beginning feeds the main story line and climax at the end…perhaps I just need to pay more attention when reading? Maybe it is just me but I am not sure I should have to remember so much “noise” in order to understand what is actually happening in a story…Maybe it is just me?

Rating: “A bit better than average”

Review Date: 2014-03-09

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date: 1968