The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“So you’ve proved it is cheaper to operate on an ecofast basis!” Sandy leaned forward eagerly.

“You noticed? Very interesting! Most people have preconceived ideas about ecofast building; they have to be factory products, they come in one size and one shape and if you want a bigger one you can only stick two together. In fact, as you say, once you really understand the principle you find you’ve accidentally eliminated most of your concealed overheads. Been to Trianon, either of you?”

“Visiting friends,” Kate said.

“They boast about running at seventy-five percent energy utilization, and they still have to take an annual subsidy from G2S because their pattern is inherently so wasteful. We run at eighty to eighty-five percent. There isn’t a community on the planet that’s doing better.” Horovitz appended a half-embarrassed smile to the remark, as though to liberate it from any suspicion of conceit.

“And you’re responsible for that?” Sandy demanded. “The woman we met—Polly—said you do most of the building.”

“Sure, but I can’t claim the credit. I didn’t figure out the principles, nor how to apply them. That was—”

Kate butted in. “Oh, yes! The railcar-driver said this is the original Disasterville U.S.A.!”

“You heard about that deal?” Horovitz had been loading his pipe with coarse dark tobacco; he almost dropped the pouch and pipe both. “Well, hell! So they haven’t managed to clamp the lid down tight!”

“Ah… What do you mean?”

A shrug and a grunt. “The way I hear it, if you punch for data about the Disasterville study, or about anything to do with Claes College, over the regular continental net, you get some kind of discouragement. Like it’s entered as ‘of interest only to specialist students,’ quote and unquote. Any rate, that’s what I heard from Brad. Brad Compton, our librarian.”

“But that’s awful!” Kate stared at him. “I never did actually punch for those data—my father had a full set of Disasterville monographs, and I read them in my early teens. But… Well, isn’t it important that one of the projects they dreamed up at Claes turned into a functional community?”

“Oh, I think so. What sheriff wouldn’t, with a crime fate of nearly zero?”

“Are you serious?”

“Mm-hm. We never had a murder yet, and it’s two years since we had anybody hospitalized after a fight, and as to robbery—well, stealing just ain’t a habit around here.” A faint grin. “Occasionally it gets imported, but I swear there’s no future in it either way.”

Kate said slowly, “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Is this place the reason why Claes went under? Did the really bright people stay on here instead of going home?”

Horovitz smiled. “Young lady, you’re the first visitor I’ve met who got that without having to be told. Yup; Precipice skimmed the cream off Claes, and the rump that was left just faded away. As I understand it, that was because only the people who took their own ideas seriously were prepared to face the responsibility entailed. And ridicule, too. After all, at the same time other refugee settlements were at the mercy of crooks and unscrupulous fake evangelists—like we were just talking about—so who was to believe that some crazy mix composed of bits of Ghirardelli and Portmeirion and Valencia and Taliesin and God knows what besides would turn out right when everything else went wrong?”

“I think you must like us,” Sandy said suddenly.

Horovitz blinked at him. “What?”

“I never saw a façade fall down so fast. The homey-folksy bit, I mean. It didn’t suit you anyhow; it’s no loss. But on top of being a builder and a sheriff, what are you? I mean, where did you start?” Horovitz pulled the corners of his mouth down in a lugubrious parody of dismay.

“I plead guilty,” he said after a pause. “Sure, I regard myself as local, but I have a doctorate in social interaction from Austin, Texas, and a master’s in structural technology from Columbia. Which is not something I customarily admit to visitors, even the bright ones—particularly not to the bright ones, because they tend to come here for all possible wrong reasons. We’re interested in being functional, not in being dissected by in-and-out gangs of cultural anthropologists.”

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