The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

A shoddy little makeshift, memorial to the collapse of his plans about converting the congregation into his own tame CIMA pool and giving himself the place to stand from which he could move the Earth. He knew now he had picked the wrong pitch, but there was still a faint ache when he thought back to his arrival in Ohio.

At least, though, what he had done might have saved a few people from drugs, or suicide, or murder. If it achieved nothing else, a Delphi certificate did convey the subconscious impression: I matter after all, because it says right here that hundreds of people have worried about my troubles!

And he had made a couple of coups on the public boards by taking the unintentional advice of the collective.

The day’s work was over. But, moving into the trailer’s living zone, he found he did not feel at all sleepy. He considered calling up somebody to play a game at fencing, then remembered that the last of the regular local opponents he’d contacted on arrival had just moved out, and at 2300 it was too late to try and trace another player by calling the Ohio State Fencing Committee.

So the fencing screen stayed rolled in its tube along with the light-pencil and the scorer. He resigned himself to an hour of straight three-vee.

In an excess of impulsive generosity, one of the first people to join his church had given him an abominably expensive present, a monitor that could be programed with his tastes and would automatically select a channel with a suitable broadcast on it. He slumped into a chair and switched on. Promptly it lit the screen, and he found himself invited to advise the opposition party in Jamaica what to do about the widespread starvation on the island so as to depose the government at the next election. Currently the weight of opinion was clustering behind the suggestion that they buy a freight dirigible and airlift packages of synthetic food to the worst-hit areas. So far nobody seemed to have pointed out that the cost of a suitable airship would run into seven figures and Jamaica was as usual bankrupt.

Not tonight! I can’t face any more stupidity!

But when he rejected that, the screen went dark. Could there really be nothing else on all the multifarious channels of the three-vee which held any interest for the Reverend Lazarus? He cut out the monitor and tried manual switching.

First he found a coley group, all blue-skin makeup and feathers in their hair, not playing instruments but moving among invisible columns of weak microwaves and provoking disturbances which a computer translated into sound…hopefully, music. They were stiff and awkward and their coordination was lousy.

His own amateur group, composed of kids fresh out of high school, was better at keeping the key and homing on the tonic chord.

Changing, he found a scandal bulletin, voicing unprovable and slanderous—but by virtue of computerized editing not actionable—rumors designed to reassure people by convincing them the world really was as bad as they suspected. In El Paso, Texas, the name of the mayor had been mentioned following the arrest of a man running an illegal Delphi pool taking bets on the number of deaths, broken limbs and lost eyes during hockey and football games; it wasn’t the pool per se that was illegal, but the fact that it had been returning less than the statutory fifty percent of money staked to the winning bettors. Well, doubtless the mayor’s name had indeed been mentioned, several times. And over in Britain, the secretary of the Racial Purification Board had invited Princess Shirley and Prince Jim to become joint patrons of it, because it was known they held strong views on immigration to that unhappy island. Given the rate at which poverty was depopulating all but the areas closest to the Continent, one could scarcely foresee Australians or New Zealanders being impressed. And was it true that last week’s long-range rocket attack on tourist hotels in the Seychelles had been financed by a rival hotel chain, not by irredentist members of the Seychellois Liberation Party? The hell with that.

But what he got next was circus—as everybody called it, despite the official title ‘experiential reward and punishment complex.’ He must have hit on a field-leader—perhaps the most famous of all, which operated out of Quemadura CA taking advantage of some unrepealed local statute or other—because it was using live animals. Half a dozen scared wide-eyed kids were lining up to walk a plank no more than five centimeters wide spanning a pool where restless alligators gaped and writhed. Their eager parents were cheering them on. A bold red sign in the corner of the screen said that each step each of them managed to take before slipping would be worth $1000. He switched once more, this time with a shudder.

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