The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“Agreed. But on the other hand making yourself conspicuous before a three-vee audience… ?”

“Yes. Yes, there was that.”

THE MEDIUM IS THE MESS-UP Traditionally one had defaced or scrawled on posters and billboards, or sometimes—mainly in rural areas—shot at them because the eyes or nipples of a model formed convenient targets.

Later, when a common gadget around the house was a set of transparent screens (like those later used for the electronic version of fencing) to place over the TV set for mock-tennis and similar games, strangely enough the viewers’ ratings for commercials went up. Instead of changing channels when advertising began, people took to switching in search of more of the same.

To the content of which they were paying no attention. What they wanted was to memorize the next movement of the actors and actresses and deform their gestures in hilarious fashion with a magnetic pencil. One had to know the timing of the commercials pretty well to become good at the game; some of the images lasted only half a second.

With horror the advertisers and network officials discovered that in nine cases out of ten the most dedicated watchers could not recall what product was being promoted. For them, it wasn’t “that Coke ad” or “that plug for Drano”—it was “the one where you can make her swipe him in the chops.” Saturation point, and the inception of diminishing returns, was generally dated to the early eighties, when the urban citizen of North America was for the first time hit with an average of over a thousand advertisements per diem.

They went right on advertising things, of course. It had become a habit.

SWORD, MASK AND NET Chuckling, Shad Fluckner laid aside his magnetic pencil. The commercial break was over and the circus program was due to resume. Employees of Anti-Trauma Inc. were more than just encouraged, they were virtually compelled, to watch the broadcasts from Circus Bocconi in Quemadura. Sponsoring circus was one of the best ways the corporation had found to attract new clients. Precisely those parents who spent most time indulging violence on the vicarious level were those most afraid of what would happen if their children’s aggression were to be turned on them. In fact, the more circus the parents watched, the sooner they were inclined to sign the kids up for a course of treatment. The relationship could be shown to be linear plus or minus fourteen percent.

It was no sweat for him. He’d always enjoyed circus anyhow. But if they knew, at Anti-Trauma HQ, what one of their employees had figured out to do to their latest commercial, feathers would well and truly fly. Ho-ho! It was a shame he couldn’t share his discovery with anyone; his colleagues would interpret it as disloyal except for those who’d decided it was time to move to another job, and… Well, he had the same idea in mind himself, and might reach the decision before the lifetime of the commercial expired. Meanwhile it was great fun to fool with.

Still grinning, he composed himself to watch the final segment of the show, the bit where Al Jackson allegedly issued an open challenge to members of the audience. Rigged for sure, this deal, but occasionally…


Not so heavily rigged, this one. Not unless they decided to surple Al and—Goddamn, he’s screaming! He really is screaming! This is great stuff for once.

This is really very sick indeed. This is muchissimo. Hmm… yes!

Eyes bulbing, he leaned closer to the screen. No fake, that blood. Nor the howls of agony, either! Say, who could this poker be who was making mincemeat of Bocconi’s star turn — ?

“But it’s Lazarus,” he said suddenly to the air. “Beard or no beard, I’d know that shivver anywhere. And he gave me the slip before and this time—oh, this time… !”

NEXT IN LINE “And once he was recognized on three-vee it was only a matter of time,” Hartz said, leaning back behind his desk. It was captioned Deputy Director. Thumbing one of many switches, he shut off the rolling replay of the Haflinger tapes.

“Yes, sir,” Freeman said. “And the FBI was very quick to corner him.”

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Categories: John Brunner