The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“So you’re impressed by what’s been happening in other countries. Why don’t you want your own homeland to benefit from—shall we call it a shot in the arm of wisdom?”

“My homeland? I was born here, sure, but… Never mind; that’s a stale argument these days, I guess. The point is that what’s being peddled here as wisdom isn’t.”

“I sense a long debate ahead. Perhaps we should start again tomorrow.”

“Which mode are you going to put me in?”

“The same as today. We’re drawing closer to the point at which you ultimately overloaded. I want to compare your conscious and unconscious recollections of the events leading up to the climax.”

“Don’t try and bleat me. You mean you’re bored with talking to an automaton. I’m more interesting when I’m fully awake.”

“On the contrary. Your past is far more intriguing than either your present or your future. Both of those are completely programed. Good night. There’s no point in my saying ‘sleep well’—that’s programed too.”

KNOWN FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO HAFLINGER’S DESERTION The shy, quiet, reserved boy who came to Tarnover had spent so much of his childhood being traded from one set of “parents” to the next that he had developed a chameleon-like adaptability. He had liked almost all his “fathers” and “mothers”—small wonder, given the computerized care with which child was matched to adult—and he had been, briefly, exposed to an enormous range of interests. If his current “dad” enjoyed sports, he spent hours with a baseball or a football; if his “mom” was musical he sang to her accompaniment, or picked his way up and down a keyboard… and so on.

But he had never let himself become deeply engaged in anything. It would have been dangerous, as dangerous as coming to love somebody. At his next home it might not have been possible to continue.

At first, therefore, he was unsure of himself: diffident with his fellow students, among whom he was one of the youngest—most were in their mid-teens—and excessively formal when talking to members of the staff. He had a vague mental picture of government establishments, which was based on three-vee and movie portrayals of cadet schools and army bases. But there was nothing in the least military about Tarnover. There were rules, naturally, and among the students some customary traditions had already grown up although the place had been founded a mere decade earlier, but they were casually observed, and the atmosphere was—not friendly, but comradely. There was a sense of people banded together for a common purpose, undertaking a shared quest; in sum, there was a feeling of solidarity.

It was so novel to Nickie that he took months to realize how much he liked it.

Above all, he relished meeting people, not only adults but kids too, who obviously enjoyed knowing things. Accustomed to keeping his mouth shut in class, to imitating the sullen obstinacy of his fellow pupils because he had seen what happened to those who showed off their knowledge, he was astonished and for a while badly disturbed by this. Nobody tried to push him. He knew he was being watched, but that was all. He was told what was available for him to do, and his instructions stopped there. Provided he did one of the dozen or twenty choices, that was enough. Later he wouldn’t even be obliged to choose from a list. He could make his own.

Suddenly he clicked on. His mind buzzed like a hive of bees with new and fascinating concepts: minus one has a square root, there are nearly a billion Chinese, a Shannon tree compresses written English by fifteen percent, so that’s how a tranquilizer works, the word “okay” comes from the Wolof wawkay meaning “by all means” or “certainly”…

His comfortable private room was equipped with a computer remote; there were hundreds of them around the campus, more than one for each person living there.

He used it voraciously, absorbing encyclopedias of data.

Very quickly he became convinced how necessary it was for his country and no other to be the first to apply wisdom to the running of the world. With change so radical and swift, what else would serve? And if a repressive, unfree culture got there ahead…

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