AKA John Kilian Houston Brunner
Birthplace: Oxfordshire, England
Location of death: Glasgow, Scotland
Cause of death: Stroke
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: The Shockwave Rider
Military service: British Royal Air Force (1953-1955)
Prolific science fiction author John Brunner is best known for his novels The Sheep Look Up (1972), The Jagged Orbit (1969), Stand on Zanzibar (1968), and The Shockwave Rider (1975). Brunner was noted for his cynical insight into the workings of society and the human psyche as well as for his eerily accurate forecasts of technological and social trends. He is especially credited with having predicted the Internet and for having originated the term "data worm". This and other forecasts about computers, coupled with his predictions of bioengineering, have ranked him as the literary predecessor to cyberpunk authors such as Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. Brunner's famous cynicism meanwhile led him to rail against assorted pseudoscience hucksters, among them Erich von Däniken, T. Lobsang Rampa, and L. Ron Hubbard.
Brunner was born at Preston Crowmarsh, in Oxfordshire, England in 1934. He began submitting sci-fi short fiction in his teens, receiving his first rejection notice at age 13. He published his first novel, Galactic Storm (1951), when he was only 17 years old, under the pen name Gill Hunt. Brunner distinguished himself early on as a talented and prolific writer, but he nonetheless found it hard to make a living for himself as the field paid poorly, especially in the early years. By the mid-1950s he was supporting himself by working full time at a publishing house, and his literary output necessarily fell off somewhat. He nonetheless managed to produce some 70 novels, in a career that spanned roughly 45 years. In addition to science fiction, his output included a number of thrillers and mainstream novels as well as five chapbooks of poetry.
Much of Brunner's science fiction has been described as "classy space opera", but his best known works show a remarkable gift for seeing through cultural assumptions, status quo, and the shared fantasies of the gullible. It has been speculated that his inability to find thorough acceptance within the lucrative U.S. science fiction market (so much larger than that in the U.K.) helped fuel the emerging cynicism so pervasive in his dystopic masterpieces of the late 60s and the 70s.
Brunner was also distinguished, among his generation, for his outspoken, often leftist leanings, in the areas of social and military policy. For example, Brunner, who had served in the British Royal Air Force as a young man, joined the National Council for the Abolition of Nuclear Tests in 1957. He participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations with wife Marjorie. Ever quick to criticize fuzzy thinking and the influential spin jockeys who promoted it, he denounced the notion that nuclear proliferation was the way to world peace, and in his novel The Stone That Never Came Down he speaks through one of his characters to point out the ironic observation that all weapons of mass destruction were invented by professedly Christ-loving nations.
Still, despite the pithy social commentary of The Sheep Look Up and Stand On Zanzibar, it is for his cyber seminal novel The Shockwave Rider (1975) that he is presently best remembered. The Shockwave Rider introduces characters surfing a continent wide data network and setting loose data "tape worms" to hack information, diddle accounts, and wreak their vengeance on each other, while in secret labs, government researchers dabble in chilling works of genetic engineering. All of this was written several years before William Gibson first coined the term "cyberspace". Meanwhile, out in the real world, it was only a mere four years later before John Shoch and Jon Hupp, of the Xerox Research Center in Palo Alto, wrote the first worm-like program (intended to search networks for computers with idle processor time). And in 1988, twelve years later, Robert Morris, Jr. unleashed his infamous Morris Worm, which brought down thousands of systems.
In the 1980s, John Brunner's health began to fail, and in 1986 his wife and personal business manager Marjorie Brunner passed away. It has been said that, in addition to the personal loss, his career suffered further decline without her to act as intermediary with publishers. In any event, at present very little of his work is in print. Brunner did remarry, in 1991, to Chinese immigrant LiYi Tan, and some of his last work consisted of fabulist short fiction set in China. In 1995, John Brunner died of a stroke while attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, Scotland. During the convention's award ceremony, friend and fellow author Robert Silverberg suggested that a last round of applause would be more fitting, and more appreciated, than a moment of silence. The resulting standing ovation lasted four minutes.
Such outpourings of sentiment aside, during his lifetime, John Brunner received scarce acknowledgement for his accomplishments, financially or critically. However, he did receive the 1971 British SF Award for Jagged Orbit. And Stand On Zanzibar garnered the 1969 Hugo Award, the 1970 British Science Fiction Award, and the 1973 Prix Apollo Award (for the French translation). In 1973 The Sheep Look Up was nominated for the Nebula, but lost the award to Isaac Asimov's The Gods Themselves. Brunner served as Chairman of the British Science Fiction Association in 1972, and he was writer in residence at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
An archive of his notes and manuscripts (1954-95) is held in the Special Collections and Archives department of the University of Liverpool Library.
Wife: Marjorie Rosamond Sauer (m. 12-Jul-1958, d. 1986)
Wife: LiYi Tan (m. 27-Sep-1991)
High School: Cheltenham College
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Hugo 1969 Best Novel, for Stand on Zanzibar
Author of books:
Galactic Storm (1951)
The World Swappers (1959)
Sanctuary in the Sky (1960)
The Skynappers (1960)
Slavers of Space (1960)
The Dreaming Earth (1963)
The Evil that Men Do (1966)
Stand on Zanzibar (1968)
The Jagged Orbit (1969)
The Gaudy Shadows (1970)
The Dramaturges of Yan (1971)
The Wrong End of Time (1971)
The Sheep Look Up (1972)
The Stardroppers (1972)
The Stone That Never Came Down (1973)
Total Eclipse (1974)
Web of Everywhere (1974)
The Shockwave Rider (1975)
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