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Reviews of Shockwave Rider, the (1975)

Review by Johnny_Fusion (2003-03-08)

Remember this thing from a few years back, a computer worm, released on the Internet that brought to a halt over 6000 computers, and the Internet itself? This was 1988, 6000+ computers where a lot, and then Internet was still the Inter-what? to most. That little piece of code was written by Robert T. Morris, there is a belief among some, that John Brunner’s novel, The Shockwave Rider was his inspiration. (To learn all about the Worm visit

The Shockwave Rider has been described by RTM’s mother as, “her teen-age son’s primer on computer viruses and one of the most tattered books in young Morris’s room.” I would bet dollars to donuts that RTM’s copy is in infinitely better condition than my own. Today, looking at it, my copy of TSR is in 5 distinct and separate pieces: the cover, the first page, the title page to page112, page 113/114, and pages 115 to 280. I never wrote a program that brought the Internet to a screaming halt (and neither would have RTM if he didn’t miss a small error in his code), but if I ever would, I’m sure this book would get the blame once again.

I’ve been often heard saying the past few years, “The Geek is humanity’s dominant evolutionary force.” TSR gives us in the person of Nickie Haflinger the personification of the ULTIMATE GEEK. Forget Uber-Geek, this guy makes today’s Uber-Geek look like a coder kiddie poking around with a slide rule and abacus. This guy even makes me look bad.

If you have ever watched The Pretender, you know the basic plot of TSR. The hero is a man on the run, evading the government think tank that raised him by adopting a series of new identities. Unlike The Pretender, our hero lives in a near future where everything is monitored by the ‘net, and changing identities and professions is a little more complicated. But our hero, Geek and Hacker extrodinaire is up to the challenge. By tapping into the Continental Network, he is able to rewrite himself from any telephone.

TSR was published in 1975, and amazingly enough paints a picture that is accurate with the world we know today, and that is just around the corner in the years of the early 21st century. This is no small wonder, since the novel was in turn based on Alivin Toffler’s excellent work, Future Shock. Among the things he got right (or damn near close) are the use of a vast computer network in everyday life, laser printers, a huge earthquake in California (ok safe bet there), and the Philippine’s first woman president.

TSR also has many things that will appeal to the geek reader. This book has more great quotes for a .signature than a Dave Barry column. (I used, “There are two kinds of fool. One says, ‘This is old, and therefore good.’ And one says, ‘This is new, and therefore better.’” for a few years.) The book is interlaced with short passages that help flavor the work and allow us to vicariously live in the near future that Brunner has imagined, and each passage, long and short are headed with snappy titles like, “PARADOX, NEXT STOP AFTER THE BOONDOCKS”, “LET NOT THY WRONG HEAD KNOW WHAT THY RIGHT HEAD DOETH”, and, “AN ALARMING THING TO FIND ON YOUR OVERNIGHT MAIL-STORE REEL”. Included in the text of the books are the detailed rules to an “imaginary” game known as “Fencing” just waiting for someone to actually code the thing and make it a reality.

The Shockwave Rider, is not just a good book, it is an excellent book, and I cannot give a higher recommendation.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2012
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