The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Sure,” he said at once. “How about conscripts who would rather maim themselves than obey a government order to go fight somebody they never met? Their gifts may have been no more than youth and health, but they were gifts.”

“That’s not being deluded. That’s being compelled. A recruiting sergeant with a gun on his hip—”

“Same thing! They’ve merely brought it into finer focus!” There was a brief electric silence. At length she sighed.

“I give in. I have no right to argue with you about Tarnover—you’ve been there and I haven’t. And in any case it’s too early for a row. Go get showered and shaved, and then we’ll find some breakfast and talk about where we’re going next.”


Did you have trouble last night in dropping off to sleep?

Even though you were tired in spite of doing nothing to exhaust yourself?

Did you hear your heart? Did it break its normal rhythm?

Do you suffer with digestive upsets? Get a feeling that your gullet has been tied in a knot behind your ribs?

Are you already angry because this advertisement hits the nail on your head?

Then come to Calm Springs before you kill somebody or go insane!

COUNT A BLAST “You’re beginning to be disturbed by me,” the dry hoarse voice announced.

Elbows on chair arms as usual, Freeman set his fingertips together. “How so?” he parried.

“For one thing, you’ve taken to talking to me in present-time mode for the last three-hour session every day.”

“You should be grateful for small mercies. Our prognostications show it would be risky to maintain you in regressed mode.”

“Half the truth. The rest can be found in your omission to use that expensive three-vee setup you had installed. You realized that I thrive on high levels of stimulus. But you’re groping your way toward my lower threshold. You don’t want me to start functioning at peak efficiency. You think that even pinned down like a butterfly on a board I may still be dangerous.”

“I don’t think of my fellow men as dangerous. I think of them as capable of occasional dangerous mistakes.”

“You include yourself?”

“I remain constantly alert for the possibility.”

“Being on guard like that itself constitutes aberrant behavior.”

“How can you say that? So long as you were fully on guard we failed to catch you. In terms of your purposes that wasn’t aberrant; it was functional. In the end, however… Well, here you are.”

“Yes, here I am. Having learned a lesson you’re incapable of learning.”

“Much good may it bring you.” Freeman leaned back. “You know, last night I was thinking over a new approach—a new argument which may penetrate your obstinacy. Consider this. You speak of us at Tarnover as though we’re engaged in a brutal arbitrary attempt to ensure that the best minds of the current generation get inducted into government service. Not at all. We are simply the top end of a series of cultural subgroupings that evolved of their own accord during the second half of last century. Few of us are equipped to cope with the complexity and dazzling variety of twenty-first-century existence. We prefer to identify with small, easily isolable fractions of the total culture. But just as some people can handle only a restricted range of stimuli, and prefer to head for a mountain commune or a paid-avoidance area or even emigrate to an underdeveloped country, so some correspondingly not only cope well but actually require immensely strong stimuli to provoke them into functioning at optimum. We have a wider range of life-style choices today than ever before. The question of administration has been rendered infinitely more difficult precisely because we have such breadth of choice. Who’s to manage this multiplex society? Must the lot not fall to those who flourish when dealing with complicated situations? Would you rather that people who demonstrably can’t organize their own lives were permitted to run those of their fellow citizens?”

“A conventional elitist argument. From you I’d have expected better.”

“Elitist? Nonsense. I’d expected better from you. The word you’re looking for is ‘aesthetic.’ An oligarchy devoted by simple personal preference to the search for artistic gratification in government—that’s what we’re after. And it would be rather a good system, don’t you think?”

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