Brain Wave [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Poul Anderson
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: What if we're all designed to be smarter than we actually are? That is, in short, the premise of master science fiction novelist Poul Anderson's 1954 debut work, Brainwave. Unbeknownst to its inhabitants, the solar system has, for millions of years, been caught in a force field that has had the effect of suppressing intelligence. When, in the course of normal galactic movement the solar system finally breaks free of the force field and its inhibiting effects, a remarkable change begins to sweep across the earth. In fact, the entire world is turned upside-down, and Anderson's novel is devoted to detailing the sometimes-surprising, sometimes-chilling aftereffects of this watershed event. In one of the novel's opening scenes, Archie Brock, a mentally disabled man, finds himself suddenly awash in new kinds of thoughts as he looks up at the night sky. In another scene, a young boy on summer break works out the basic foundations of calculus before breakfast. Human life is dramatically transformed, as people with IQ's of 400 find themselves living within social structures and institutions designed for people of considerably less intelligence. There are also those who refuse to accept what has happened and band together to rebel against the new order. In another interesting twist, human relationships with other creatures on the planet are also thrown into upheaval, as animals rediscover their native intelligence. Archie Brock, for instance finds working on a farm with intelligent animals a frustrating, comic and confounding experience, as some animals band together and escape while others befriend their former masters. A fascinating "what if" novel, Brainwave is really an exploration into the ways human society is organized and the assumptions that are made about how life is valued. It is also a novel about equality and what happens when the hierarchical structures by which we arrange our daily lives disappear.
eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2002
55 Reader Ratings:
Summer waned as the planet turned toward winter. On a warm evening late in September, Mandelbaum sat by the window with Rossman, exchanging a few low-voiced words. The room was unlit, full of night. Far below them the city of Manhattan glowed with spots of radiance, not the frantic flash and glare of earlier days but the lights of a million homes. Overhead, there was a dull blue wash of luminance across the sky, flickering and glimmering on the edge of visibility. The Empire State Building was crowned with a burning sphere like a small sun come to rest, and the wandering air held a faint tingle of ozone. The two men sat quietly, resting, smoking the tobacco which had again become minutely available, Mandelbaum's pipe and Rossman's cigarette like two ruddy eyes in the twilit room. They were waiting for death.
"Wife," said Rossman with a note of gentle reproach. It could be rendered as: (I still don't see why you wouldn't tell your wife of this, and be with her tonight. It may be the last night of your lives.)
"Work, city, time," and the immemorial shrug and the wistful tone: (We both have our work to do, she at the relief center and I here at the defense hub. We haven't told the city either, you and I and the few others who know. It's best not to do so, eh?) We couldn't have evacuated them, there would have been no place for them to go and the fact of our attempting it would've been a tip-off to the enemy, an invitation to send the rockets immediately. Either we can save the city or we can't; at the moment, there's nothing anyone can do but wait and see if the defense works. (I wouldn't worry my Liebchen -- she'd worry on my account and the kids' and grandchildren's. No, let it happen, one way or the other. Still I do wish we could be together now, Sarah and I, the whole family -- ) Mandelbaum tamped his pipe with a horny thumb.
(The Brookhaven men think the field will stop the blast and radiation), implied Rossman. We've had them working secretly for the past month or more, anticipating an attack. The cities we think will be assailed are guarded now -- we hope. (But it's problematic. I wish we didn't have to do it this way.)
"What other way?" We knew, from our spies and deductions, that the Soviets have developed their intercontinental atomic rockets, and that they're desperate. Revolution at home, arms and aid being smuggled in to the insurgents from America. They'll make a last-ditch attempt to wipe us out, and we believe the attack is due tonight. But if it fails, they've shot their bolt. It must have taken all their remaining resources to design and build those rockets. "Let them exhaust themselves against us, while the rebels take over their country. Dictatorship is done for."
"But what will replace it?"
"I don't know. When the rockets come, it seems to me they'll be the last gasp of animal man. Didn't you once call the twentieth century the Era of Bad Manners? We were stupid before -- incredibly stupid! Now all that's fading away."
"And leaving -- nothing." Rossman lit a fresh cigarette and stubbed oat the old one. The brief red light threw his gaunt, fine-boned face into high relief against darkness.
"Oh, yes," he went on, "the future is not going to look anything like the past. Presumably there will still be society -- or societies -- but they won't be the same kind as those we've known before. Maybe they'll be purely abstract, mental things, interchanges and interactions on the symbolic level. Nevertheless, there can be better or worse societies developed out of our new potentialities, and I think the worse ones will grow up."
"Hm." Mandelbaum drew hard on his pipe. "Aside from the fact that we have to start from scratch, and so are bound to make mistakes, why should that necessarily be so? You're a born pessimist, I'm afraid."
"No doubt. I was born into one age, and saw it die in blood and madness. Even before 1914, you could see the world crumbling. That would make a pessimist of anyone. But I think it's true what I say. Because man has, in effect, been thrown back into utter savagery. No, not that either; the savage does have his own systems of life. Man is back on the animal plane."
Mandelbaum's gesture swept over the huge arrogance of the city. "Is that animal?"
"Ants and beavers are good engineers." Or were. I wonder what the beavers are doing now. "Material artifacts don't count for much, really. They're only possible because of a social background of knowledge, tradition, desire -- they're symptoms, not causes. And we have had all our background stripped from us.
"Oh, we haven't forgotten anything, no. But it's no longer of value to us, except as a tool for the purely animal business of survival and comfort. Think over your own life. What use do you see in it now? What are all your achievements of the past? Ridiculous!
"Can you read any of the great literature now with pleasure? Do the arts convey anything to you? The civilization of the past, with its science and art and beliefs and meanings, is so inadequate for us now that it might as well not exist. We have no civilization any longer. We have no goals, no dreams, no creative work -- nothing!"
"Oh, I don't know about that," said Mandelbaum with a hint of amusement. "I've got enough to do -- to help out with, at least -- for the next several years. We've got to get things started on a worldwide basis, economics, politics, medical care, population control, conservation, it's a staggering job."
"But after that?" persisted Rossman. "What will we do then? What will the next generation do, and all generations to come?"
"They'll find something."
"I wonder. The assignment of building a stable world order is herculean, but you and I realize that for the new humanity it's possible -- indeed, only a matter of years. But what then? At best, man may sit back and stagnate in an unchanging smugness. A horribly empty sort of life."
"Science -- "
"Oh, yes, the scientists will have a field day for a while. But most of the physicists I've talked to lately suspect that the potential range of science is not unlimited. They think the variety of discoverable natural laws and phenomena must be finite, all to be summed up in one unified theory -- and that we're not far from that theory today. It's not the sort of proposition which can ever be proved with certainty, but it looks probable.
"And in no case can we all be scientists."
Mandelbaum looked out into darkness. How quiet the night is, he thought. Wrenching his mind from the vision of Sarah and the children: "Well, how about the arts? We've got to develop a whole new painting, sculpture, music, literature, architecture -- and forms that have never been imagined before!"
"If we get the right kind of society." (Art, throughout history, has had a terrible tendency to decay, or to petrify into sheer imitation of the past. It seems to take some challenge to wake it up again. And again, my friend, we can't all be artists either.)
"No?" (I wonder if every man won't be an artist and a scientist and a philosopher and -- )
"You'll still need leaders, and stimulus, and a world symbol." (That's the basic emptiness in us today: we haven't found a symbol. We have no myth, no dream. 'Man is the measure of all things' -- well, when the measure is bigger than everything else, what good is it?)
"We're still pretty small potatoes." Mandelbaum gestured at the window and the bluely glimmering sky. (There's a whole universe out there, waiting for us.)
"I think you have the start of an answer," said Rossman slowly. (Earth has grown too small, but astronomical space -- it may hold the challenge and the dream we need. I don't know. All I know is that we had better find one.)
There was a thin buzz from the telecom unit beside Mandelbaum. He reached over and flipped the switch. There was a sudden feeling of weariness in him. He ought to be tense, jittering with excitement, but he only felt tired and hollow.
The machine clicked a few signals: "Space station robot reports flight of rockets from Urals. Four are due at New York in about ten minutes."
"Ten minutes!" Rossman whistled. "They must have an atomic drive." "No doubt." Mandelbaum dialed for Shield Center in the Empire State Building. "Brace your machinery, boys," he said. "Ten minutes to go."
"Four. They must figure on our stopping at least three, so they'll be powerful brutes. Hydrogen-lithium warheads, I imagine."
"Four, eh? Okay, boss. Wish us luck."
"Wish you luck?" Mandelbaum grinned crookedly.
The city had been told that the project was an experiment in illumination. But when the blueness strengthened to a steady glow, like a roof of light, and the sirens began to hoot, everyone must have guessed the truth. Mandelbaum thought of husbands clutching wives and children to them and wondered what else might be happening. Prayer? Not likely; if there was to be a religion in the future, it could not be the animism which had sufficed for the blind years. Exaltation in battle? No, that was another discarded myth. Wild panic? Maybe a little of that.
Rossman had seen at least a good deal of truth, thought Mandelbaum. There was nothing for man to do now, in the hour of judgment, except to scream with fear or to stoop over those he loved and try to shelter them with his pitiful flesh. No one could honestly feel that he was dying for something worthy. If he shook his fist at heaven, it was not in anger against evil, it was only a reflex.
Emptiness -- Yes, he thought, I suppose we do need new symbols.
Rossman got up and felt his way through the dusk to a cabinet where he opened a drawer and took out a bottle. "This is some '42 burgundy I've been saving," he said. (Will you drink with me?)
"Sure," said Mandelbaum. He didn't care for wine, but he had to help his friend. Rossman wasn't afraid, he was old and full of days, but there was something lost about him. To go out like a gentleman -- well, that was a symbol of sorts.
Rossman poured into crystal goblets and handed one to Mandelbaum with grave courtesy. They clinked glasses and drank. Rossman sat down again, savoring the taste.
"We had burgundy on my wedding day," he said.
"Ah, well, no need to cry into it," answered Mandelbaum. "The screen will hold. It's the same kind of force that holds atomic nuclei together -- nothing stronger in the universe."
"I was toasting animal man," said Rossman. (You are right, this is his last gasp. But he was in many ways a noble creature.)
"Yeah," said Mandelbaum. (He invented the most ingenius weapons.)
"Those rockets -- " (They do represent something. They are beautiful things, you know, clean and shining, built with utter honesty. It took many patient centuries to reach the point where they could be forged. The fact that they carry death for us is incidental.)
(I don't agree.) Mandelbaum chuckled, a sad little sound in the great quiet around him.
There was a luminous-dialed clock in the room. Its sweep-second hand went in a long lazy circle, once around, twice around, three times around. The Empire State was a pylon of darkness against the dull blue arc of sky. Mandelbaum and Rossman sat drinking, lost in their own thoughts.
There was a glare like lightning all over heaven, the sky was a sudden incandescent bowl. Mandelbaum covered his dazzled eyes, letting the goblet fall shattering to the floor. He felt the radiance on his skin like sunshine, blinking on and off. The city roared with thunder.
-- two, three, four.
Afterward there was another stillness, in which the echoes shuddered and boomed between high walls. A wind sighed down the empty streets, and the great buildings shivered slowly back toward rest.
"Good enough," said Mandelbaum. He didn't feel any particular emotion. The screen had worked, the city lived -- all right, he could get on with his job. He dialed City Hall. "Hello, there. All okay? Look, we got to get busy, check any panic and -- "
Out of the corner of one eye he saw Rossman sitting quietly, his unfinished drink on the arm of the chair.
Copyright © 1954 by Poul Anderson