The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

“I recall a point made in one of the Disasterville monographs. I think it was number 6. Stripped of the material belongings which had located them in society, a lot of refugees who formerly held responsible, status-high positions broke down into whining useless parasites. Leadership passed to those with more flexible minds—not only kids who hadn’t ossified yet, but adults who previously had been called unpractical, dreamers, even failures. The one thing they had in common seemed to be a free-ranging imagination, regardless of whether it was due to their youth or whether it had lasted into maturity and fettered them with too great a range of possibilities for them to settle to any single course of action.”

“How well I know that feeling. And wouldn’t an injection of imagination be good for our society right now? I say we’ve had an overdose of harsh reality. A bit of fantasy would act as an antidote.”

Near Cincinnati, Ohio, Helga Thorgrim Townes, dramatist, and her husband Nigel Townes, architect, had house guests and were debbed for an exceptional amount of time rented on the data-net. Slight snow was falling in the region, but as yet had not settled to any marked extent.

“I’m not sure that if I hadn’t met people from Tarnover I would believe you. If I can judge by them, though…”

“Be assured they’re typical. They’ve been systematically steered away from understanding of the single most important truth about mankind. It’s as though you were to comb the continent for the kindest, most generous, most considerate individuals you could find, and then spend years persuading them that because such attitudes are rare, they must be abnormal and should be cured.”

“What most important truth?”

“You tell me. You’ve known it all your life. You live by its compass.”

“Anything to do with my reason for getting interested in you in the first place? I noticed how hard you were trying to conform to a stock pattern. It seemed like a dreadful waste.”

“That’s it. One charge I made against Freeman which I won’t retract: I accused him of dealing not in human beings but in approximations to a preordained model of a human being. I really am glad he decided to give it up. Bad habit!”

“Then I know what you’re talking about. It’s the uncertainty principle.”

“Of course. The opposite of evil. Everything implied by that shopworn term ‘free will.’ Ever run across the phrase ‘the new conformity’?”

“Yes, and it’s terrifying. In an age when we have more choice than ever before, more mobility, more information, more opportunity to fulfill ourselves, how is it that people can prefer to be identical? The plug-in life-style makes me puke.”

“But the concept has been sold with such persistence, the majority of people feel afraid not to agree that it’s the best way of keeping track in a chaotic world. As it were: ‘Everybody else says it is—who am I to argue?’ “

“I am I.”

“Tat tvam asi”

During the six weeks that the process took, approximately thirteen percent of households owning domestic computer terminals made above-average use of the machines in excess of the normal variation plus-or-minus ten percent. This was up by less than one percent over last year’s figures and could be ascribed to the start of the academic year.

SHADOWS BEFORE “Hey, those odds… they doubled kinda fast, didn’t they?”

“What do you mean you can’t raise him? He’s a five-star priority—his phone can’t be out. Try again.”

“Christ, look at this lot, will you? Can’t the twitches keep their minds made up two days together?”

“Funny to get this on a weekend, but… Oh, I’m not going to complain about the chance to pick our new location from a list this long. Makes a change, doesn’t it, from all the time going where we’re told and no option?”

“But—but Mr. Sullivan! You did authorize it! Or at any rate it has your code affixed!”

HOMER “It feels so strange,” Kate said as the cab turned the corner of her home street. Her eyes darted from one familiar detail to another.

“I’m not surprised. I’ve been back to places, of course, but never to resume the same role as when I was there before… nor shall I this time, of course. Any objections?”

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