The Shockwave Rider

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The Shockwave Rider is a science fiction novel by John Brunner, originally published in 1975. It is notable for its hero's use of computer cracking skills to escape pursuit in a dystopian future, and for the coining of the word "worm" to describe a program that propagates itself through a computer network.[1][2] It also introduces the concept of a Delphi pool,[3] perhaps derived from the RAND Corporations' Delphi method - a futures market on world events which bears close resemblance to DARPA's controversial and cancelled Policy Analysis Market.


Origin of the title

The title derives from the futurological work Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. The hero is a survivor in a hypothetical world of quickly changing identities, fashions and lifestyles, where individuals are still controlled and oppressed by a powerful and secretive state apparatus. His highly developed computer skills enable him to use any public telephone to punch in a new identity, thus reinventing himself, within hours. As a fugitive, he must do this from time to time in order to escape capture. The title is also a metaphor for survival in an uncertain world.

Plot introduction

Based on the ideas in the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, the novel shows a dystopian early 21st century America dominated by computer networks, and is considered by some critics to be an early ancestor of the "cyberpunk" genre.[4] The hero, Nick Haflinger, is a runaway from Tarnover, a government program intended to find, educate and indoctrinate highly gifted children to further the interests of the state in a future where quantitative analysis backed by the tacit threat of coercion has replaced overt military and economic power as the deciding factor in international competition. In parallel with this, the government has become a de facto oligarchy whose beneficiaries are members of organized crime.

Nick's talent extends to programming the network using only a touch tone telephone. One of his handlers at Tarnover explains that this is like a classical pianist being able to play entire sonatas and concertos from memory. However Nick also has some personality flaws, amounting almost to a deathwish. These become manifest in exhibitions of his abilities, revealing his identity to his pursuers.

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