The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

She shook her head. “Think about that in the morning. It has to be somewhere else, that’s definite. But this town is already halfway right… No, too much has happened today. Let’s overload it and sleep it out and worry about decisions afterwards.” With abrupt tigerish violence, as though she had borrowed from Bagheera, she clamped her arms around him and sank her sharp tongue—sharp as her gaze—between his lips.

A LOAD OF CRYSTAL BALLS In the twentieth century one did not have to be a pontificating pundit to predict that success would breed success and the nations that first were lucky enough to combine massive material resources with advanced knowhow would be those where social change would accelerate until it approximated the limit of what human beings can endure. By 2010, in the wealthiest countries, a classic category of mental patient was composed of boys and girls in their late teens who had come back for a first vacation from college to discover that “home” was unrecognizable, either because the parents had moved into a new framework, changed jobs and cities, or simply because—as they’d done a dozen times before—they had refurnished and redecorated… without realizing they were opening a door to what came to be termed the “final straw syndrome.” It was also not difficult to forecast that no matter how well endowed they were with material resources those countries where the Industrial Revolution arrived late would change proportionately more slowly. After all, the rich get richer and the poor get children. Which is okay so long as lots of them starve in infancy.

What many otherwise well-informed people apparently preferred to overlook was the phenomenon baptized by Angus Porter “the beetle and wedge,” which retained its name long after even the poor nations found it uneconomic to split logs with a hammer and a chunk of steel. Even if your circular saws were pedal-driven, they were much less wasteful. Moreover, you could dictate a neat dividing line.

Beetling forward at full pelt split society. Some did their utmost to head the other way. A great many more decided to go sideways. And some simply dug in their heels and stayed put. The resultant cracks were unpredictable.

One and only one thing preserved even the illusion of national integrity. The gossamer strands of the data-net proved amazingly strong.

Unfortunately nothing came along to reinforce them.

People drew comfort from knowing there were certain objects near at hand, in the U.S.A. or the Soviet Union or Sweden or New Zealand, of which they could boast, “This is the biggest/longest/fastest frammistan on Earth!” Alas, however, tomorrow it might not be. Paradoxically, therefore, they derived even more emotional sustenance from being able to say, “This is the most primitive potrzebie, you know, still at work in any industrialized country!” It was so precious to be able to connect with the calmer, stabler past.

The cracks spread. From national level they reached provincial level, from provincial they reached municipal, and there they met cracks going the other way, which had begun in the privacy of the family.

“We sweated blood to put the son-of-a-bitch through college! He ought to be paying us back, not sunning his ass in New Mexico!” (For New Mexico read, at will, the Black Sea resort of Varna—or the beaches of Quemoy and Matsu where young Chinese by the thousand were content to pass their time practicing calligraphy, playing fan-tan, and smoking opium—or any of fifty other locations where la dolce-far-niente vita had spilled the contents of its seine-net after trawling through a nation, an ethnic grouping, or in the case of India a subcontinent. Sri Lanka had had no government to speak of for a generation.) As much as anything else, it was the sense of exploitable talent going to waste that prompted the establishment of genius centers like Tarnover, funded on the scale previously reserved to weaponry. It was beyond the comprehension of those raised in traditional patterns of thinking that resources of whatever kind should not be channeled and exploited to dynamize ever-faster growth.

Secret, these centers—like the unseen points claimed in a fencing field—provoked consequences that now and then turned out to be disastrous.

SCENT REFUGE Even after two solid days in his company Ina Grierson couldn’t get over how closely the man from Tarnover resembled Baron Samedi—very dark, very thin, head like a skull overlaid with parchment—so that one constantly expected a black tribe to march in and wreck the place. Some of his time had been devoted to Dolores van Bright, naturally, but she had admitted right away her attempt to help Sandy Locke by warning him there’d be an extra member of the interview board, and after that not even the influence of G2S was going to keep her out of jail.

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