The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Are you talking about the so-called economists, who won’t take advantage of the facilities our technology offers? More fool them; they choose to be stunted.”

“No, I’m talking about the people who are surrounded by such a plethora of opportunity they dither and lapse into anxiety neurosis. Friends and neighbors rally round to help them out, explain the marvels of today and show them how, and go away feeling virtuous. But if tomorrow they have to repeat the process, and the day after, and the day after that… ? No, from the patronizing stage to the persecuting stage has always been a very short step.”

After a brief silence Freeman said, “But it’s easy to reconcile the views I really hold, as distinct from the distorted versions you’re offering. Mankind originated as a nomadic species, following game herds and moving from one pasture to another with the seasons. Mobility of similar order has been reintegrated into our culture, at least in the wealthy nations. Yet there are advantages to living in an urban society, like sanitation, easy communications, tolerably cheap transportation… And thanks to our ingenuity with computers, we haven’t had to sacrifice these conveniences.”

“One might as well claim that the tide which rubs pebbles smooth on a beach is doing the pebbles a service because being round is prettier than being jagged. It’s of no concern to a pebble what shape it is. But it’s very important to a person. And every surge of your tide is reducing the variety of shapes a human being can adopt.”

“Your extended metaphors do you credit,” Freeman said. “But I detect, and so do my monitors, that you’re straining after them like a man at a party who’s desperately pretending that he’s not quite drunk. Today’s session is due to end in a few minutes; I’ll cut it short and renew the interrogation in the morning.”

THE RIGHT-ON THING FOR THE WRONG-OFF REASON The experience was exactly like riding in a car when the driver, seeing ahead a patch of bad road with a lot of potholes, tramps hard on the accelerator in preference to slowing down. There was a drumming sound, and certain landmarks beside the route were noticeable, but essentially it was a matter of being there then and subsequently here now.

Just about enough time was perceived as having elapsed for the passenger to realize he wouldn’t have traveled so fast on such a lousy bumpy bit of road… and ask himself why not, since it gave excellent results.

Then, very abruptly, it stopped.

“Where the hell have you brought me?” Looking around a room with rough brown walls, an old-style spring bed, carpet on the floor which wasn’t even fitted, a view of sunset through broad shallow windows that distracted him before he could enumerate other objects like chairs and a table and so forth. They registered as belonging in the sort of junk store whose owner would label as ANTIQUE anything older than himself.

“You poor shivver,” Kate said. She was there too. “You have one hell of a bad case. I asked you, did you think it was a good idea to head for Lap-of-the-Gods? And you said yes.”

He was sitting on a chair which happened to be near him. He closed his hands on its arms until his knuckles were almost white. With much effort he said, “Then I was crazy. I thought of coming to a town like this long ago and realized it was the first place they’d think of looking.”

Theoretically, for someone trying to mislay a previous identity, no better spot could be found on the continent than this, or some other of the settlements created by refugees from Northern California after the Great Bay Quake.

Literally millions of traumatized fugitives had straggled southward. For years they survived in tents and shanties, dependent on federal handouts because they were too mentally disturbed to work for a living and in most cases afraid to enter a building with a solid roof for fear it would crash down and kill them.

They were desperate for a sense of stability, and sought it in a thousand irrational cults. Confidence-tricksters and fake evangelists found them easy prey. Soon it was a tourist lure to visit their settlements on Sunday and watch the running battles between adherents of rival—but equally lunatic-beliefs.

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