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The Jagged Orbit Paperback – 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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About the Author

John Brunner (1934-95) published his first novel when he was seventeen and also made his first sale to US magazines at the same age. After serving in the RAF, he worked for a while as a technical abstractor and a publisher's editor before becoming a full-time writer in 1958. Among his many novels are The Squares of the City, The Telepathist, The Sheep Look Up, The Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar, universally recognized as his magnum opus.

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Product Details

  • Series: Gollancz Collectors' Editions
  • Paperback: 397 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz (2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575070528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575070523
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,731,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Battaglia on February 28, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback
If you've at all heard of John Brunner, it's probably by way of his masterpiece (and masterpiece of 1970s SF) "Stand on Zanzibar", which managed the neat trick of creating a book about overpopulation that actually felt clastrophobic while taking a cross-section of its overstuffed expanse and spraying it at the reader all at once. It remains an extraordinarily visceral experience and probably works better as a multi-faceted depiction of a broken world than its more famous cousin Harry Harrison's "Make Room! Make Room!" (the basis for a movie about the most notorious food ever). But Brunner didn't limit himself to just discussing one way we could mess up the world in the future, he decided to depress even further and force us to make our children feel guilty for years to come with three other novels along the same trajectory. The best of those "other ones" is probably "The Sheep Look Up", which I remember finding brutally savage and unsettling (plus the original cover of the people with sheep heads wearing gas masks I found inexplicably frightening, something the new "Doctor Who" television show would take advantage of years later) but I recall "The Shockwave Rider" being pretty decent. Which only leaves one more.

So here we are. Unlike the other novels, this one doesn't seem utterly obsessed with a single dire topic, instead propelling us to a future where pretty much everything is going wrong on various levels. In the not too distant future we've experienced some variation of race riots (somewhat quaint now, with divisions seemingly more centered around religious differences) so that black and white people have sectioned themselves off into various cities, with very little crossover between the two and what does exist winding up being newsworthy.
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Format: Paperback
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it seemed to me that you could tell which "oh my god we're all going to die" best seller John Brunner had just read, because every year he cranked out another fictional adaptation of the previous year's coming-disaster best seller. This book is his take on the predictions (in the wake of the Martin Luther King assassination and resulting riots in the US) that rising crime and increasing racial tensions would lead to a breakdown of society, and a general war of all-against-all.

Now, obviously that didn't happen, and the jargon used to describe racial issues seems awfully dated at this late a date, but the rest of this story is the fascinating part, and why it's still one of my favorites of his, and why so much of it now seems eerily prescient. The lead character mentioned above, Matthew Flamen, is a "spool pigeon." What they don't tell you above is that a "spool pidgeon" is a gossip columnist and political analyst who specializes in creating fake digital film footage of real news figures doing and saying what he thinks they said or did; even if the film couldn't possibly have been really shot, in his world he can't get sued if the event (or something substantially similar) actually happened. And if the network's computerized analysis of the news and other gossip sources says that the probability of his guess being right is at 90% or higher and he does get sued, they'll pay for it out of their lawsuit insurance.

The charlatan state mental health director mentioned above? The big revalation about him is that he considers all of society to be insane in some way or other, and aspires to have the entire state of New York (and eventually the world) under psychiatric treatment and control.
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Format: Paperback
I cannot recall what I was reading at the time, but the gist of it was that Brunner wrote four challenging and experimental novels in the late 60s/early 70s. Of those four, I had read three and considered two of them to be among my top 20 of all time (Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up; the other that I had read was The Shockwave Rider, which I like and which should be mandatory reading for cybergeeks, but I don't think if has the same impact of the other two). The fourth was this novel, The Jagged Orbit.
Of the four it is by far the weakest and suffers much by time. However, you can see in the characters of Matthew Flamen and Elias Mogshack the seeds of later ones, especially Chad C. Mulligan of Stand on Zanzibar. (I also sense a similarity with Norman Spinrad's Jack Barron, but I cannot recall who come first.) The stylistic changes from his earlier work, and that would make Stand on Zanzibar such a landmark work in SF, are present here mainly in the chapter titles and the structure of the beginning and end. While I hesitate to recommend this to anyone, it proved interesting to me.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Jagged Orbit would be a frightening book if it were written now; that it was written 30 years ago ays a lot for Brunner's exceptionalism. Like the sheep look up and stand on zanzibar, Brunner cuts to the heart of society, with a style all of his own. I love Brunner, and would recommend him to anyone who can read.
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