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 hacking 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.
It also introduces the concept of a Delphi pool, perhaps derived from the RAND Corporation’s Delphi method
A futures market on world events which bears close resemblance to DARPA’s controversial and cancelled Policy Analysis Market.
The title derives from the futurist 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.
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.
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.
The theme of patterns in perception runs through the entire novel. Future shock arises when reality and change disrupt patterns. People respond by falling into strong patterns within human nature, particularly tribalism. Others try to convince themselves that all change is good, adopting the “plug in” lifestyle where they feel able to relocate to another city and insert themselves into a new social niche with a minimum of inconvenience. Their mobility is, however, a reflection of the failure of the lifestyle to satisfy them, resulting in more moves.
In this world of confusion, there are also companies specializing in psychological intervention. One such is “Anti-Trauma Inc.” who are hired to “normalize” children, although what they do is more
akin to “deprogramming”, as performed on children retrieved from cults.
They do significant harm to their charges, although as so often happens in Brunner’s interconnected society, they also spend much money and time covering up their failures.
Brunner’s concept of the “computer worm” was inspired by analogy with the tapeworm, a digestive parasite. A biological tapeworm consists of a head attached to a long train of reproductive segments, each of which can produce more worms when detached.Brunner’s “data-net tapeworm” consists of a head followed by other segments, each being some kind of code which has effects on databases and other systems. Several are unleashed in the book. Besides the two Hearing Aid tapeworms, and Nick’s ultimate tapeworm, there is a “denunciation tapeworm” created as revenge by a representative of “Anti-Trauma Inc.” whom Nick insults and curses. At the time Nick was playing the role of a priest in a revivalist church. The intent was to destroy the church by canceling all its utility services. Nick in turn sends a worm into the network to destroy this one.
-According to recent report, there were so many worms and counter-worms loose in the data-net now, the machines had been instructed to give them low priority unless they related to a medical emergency. – from the novel.