Forgotten Books: The World Swappers by John Brunner

A couple years ago I reconnected with a friend that I had met on tour a few years prior to that in Portland, OR, via Facebook. Since then she had relocated to Maine (yeah, quite a relocate), but was still haunting dingy rock clubs seeking interesting new music. She requested some of my band’s music, which I was happy to send her. She reciprocated by sending me a slightly battered copy of this little book, which was first published in 1959. Frankly, I think I came out ahead in the deal, because this is a fun piece of work, and I love that I have it on my shelf. And here I am writing about it, and she probably hasn’t listened to any of my band’s music since (then again, neither have I, really). Nonetheless, people who share books with me would have to do something really heinous to fall off my list of Great People.

British author John Brunner was quite prolific in a career that stretched from the 50s into the 90s, plus a couple posthumous publications (he died in 1995). This book precedes his award winning novel Stand on Zanzibar by almost ten years (it won the 1968 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel), and presumably his writing improved in that span of time. I’ve not read that book, but hope to.

The World Swappers is a fun book — a science fiction yarn of powerful men engaged in a chess match for interstellar resources, the ramifications of First Contact hanging in the balance, and nothing less than the rule of the galaxy at stake. It’s a little hokey at times, but one must remember that it was written in 1959. I mean, the guy wrote it without ever having the luxury of seeing Star Wars or Starship Troopers! The ideas about how humanity has spread into other galaxies are fairly interesting — the special devices used by the “good guys” to ZAP! effortlessly from world to world ala Star Trek beaming people around are pretty fun, and really make me wish I had one — as is how a certain group of humans have managed to live longer than normal lives. The way Brunner portrays how humans would react to contact with aliens is also believable (when in doubt, send in the most beautiful and intelligent woman in the universe to negotiate). The main force for good is led by a man named Counce, who is a kind of Doc Savage character in that he is super smart, super smooth, has a cast of brilliant support people in his inner circle, always does the right thing, and is a reasonably nice guy to boot. It’s a quick read, and I went cover-to-cover with a smile on my face. Hardcore fans of science fiction who like to nitpick about whether things could happen a certain way or not may not care for this book, but people who enjoy stories of adventure set in the wider universe should be able to have a couple hours of fun with it. I certainly did.

One thing I love about these old editions — I’m guessing mine is from the 60s — is how different they are from books published today. They are less . . . slick, more raw. That makes them enjoyable to me. I love the order forms in the back of the book, and the hyperbole around the sales pitches. Okay, maybe the hyperbole hasn’t changed much over the years, but the pricing structure sure has (If your newsdealer is out of stock on any of these books, they may be purchased by sending 50 cents per copy, plus 5 cents handling fee for each book)!

The author bio is great, and makes me think John Brunner was my kind of guy. From the book:

JOHN BRUNNER writes of himself:

“Biographical data? Born, I believe. Married, 12th July 1958; dead, not yet. I’ve been reading science-fiction since I was seven and writing it since I was nine — but I didn’t actually collect my first rejection slip till I was 13. . . .

“I don’t regard myself in any sense as a quote creative writer unquote. I prefer to communicate with my audience, not make them puzzled, and consequently am not all that fond of literary obscurities such as typify modern, recognized, ‘literature.’

“My wife and I live in a three-room apartment in West Hampstead, London; we share it with a friend, three guitars, a banjo, a nine-foot grand piano, a recorder, a stack of records, couple of radios, tape recorder (the previous recorder is the kind you blow through), a dog and more books than I can be bothered to count.

“Out of sympathy with: intolerance of all kinds, the beat generation, angry young men, and angry old women. In empathy with: the human race — it’s in a hell of a mess.”

If you can find a copy of The World Swappers, it’s worth reading. I’d be curious to read more of Brunner’s work.

For a complete list of this week’s forgotten books, click HERE!

7 thoughts on “Forgotten Books: The World Swappers by John Brunner”

  1. >I'm glad you're joking about that 1959 crack, Chris…there was a hell of a lot of work of pretty staggering sophistication written in the 1950s…and Even Before! However, it wasn't until about the time of STAND ON ZANZIBAR that Brunner's work took a quantum leap (sorry to drag out that hack phrase, but it's more true of Brunner than almost anyone else) and while his writing was still a good experience, instead of hokey fun your doors are going to start being blown off by his major and even some of his less heralded work (THE JAGGED ORBIT, THE STONE THAT NEVER CAME DOWN…). And I believe STARSHIP TROOPERS the novel (hun?) came out in 1058, no? But more importantly, Ms. Leigh Brackett, who wrote the first draft of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (and the scripts for THE BIG SLEEP and THE LONG GOODBYE, among ohers), was writing the kind of space opera/planetary romance that STAR WARS is the kiddy dumb-down of starting in the '40s…

  2. >I was actually being facetious about the Star Wars (since so many people today seem to think that's where science fiction begins) and Starship Troopers (referring again to the movie, which is generally reviled by just about everyone) comments. I'm no sci-fi expert, but I'd say the stuff I have read from the early days of the form generally eclipses the stuff that has come later (with notable exceptions, of course). I really need to spend more time swimming in that pond.I'm glad you reinforced my suspicions re: Stand on Zanzibar as well. Makes me want to read it even more!

  3. >I'll probably have to duck to avoid the rocks thrown my direction after I say this, but I prefer THE SHEEP LOOK UP to any other Brunner I've read. STAND ON ZANZIBAR was pretty good too, but SHEEP just clicked with me at the time I read it (long ago). I'll also admit those are the only things I've read by Brunner, so I have little basis of comparison.Thanks for this review, Chris.

  4. >Huh? Of course this science fiction stuff started with STAR WARS! Everyone knows that. Just like TWILIGHT was the first vampire movie, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was the first war movie.

  5. >Wow, Stand on Zanzibar. That's a book I haven't thought of in a very long time. It seems like another life time ago when I read that book. And this book does sound fun. Thanks for the great review.

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