Brain Wave by Poul Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Great concept, troubling conclusions. I mean, isn't this what a lot of great SF is all about? A great idea to explore and get really excited about, coupled with a great story for the personal impact?
We've got half of this. I almost squeed like a little girl with the idea that EVERYTHING on the planet got intelligent practically overnight. All the animals jumped in intelligence as well as all the people. We've got the ultimate What If, laying the foundation for the later brilliant book by Keyes, Flowers for Algernon or even the Smart Barkley in ST:TNG to a fairly epic level right off the bat, even laying the epic foundation for Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought, the places in the galaxy where intelligence slows or speeds up to godlike levels depending on where you are, praying that you remain safe.
So what's my problem? Nothing too extreme, but each piles up and annoys until I just had to drop a few stars. Probably the worst is just a feature of 1950 when this came out, namely the assumption and portrayal of women being idiots or lazy or hopelessly enamoured and stymied because of inaccessible men. It drives me crazy. It also happened in Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, which was also a great novel in all respects except this.
Smaller issues? Oh, like the assumption that with great intelligence the desire to prolong your own survival goes away. You know, like maintaining simple commerce or getting things done. I mean, come on, don't you think that if we got smarter we'd see right through that bullshit and roll up our sleeves? I mean, if everyone has broken the scale in intelligence, it's not like there would be anyone TO EXPLOIT. It should be a no brainer that if you want to survive, then get to work.
Oh yeah, and desiring to return to the way things were before? Good grief. Intelligence does not equal unhappiness. I could make a good case that unhappiness in the very intelligent comes from being alone and unfulfilled. So what if the new standard is higher across the board? It means that we're all in the same boat as before, still needing to find meaning and connection in our lives. It doesn't change just because of our IQ.
Other than that, I do think the basic premise is pretty damn awesome and I'd love to see a whole team of authors from all over the world try to tackle this issue seriously and creatively, not just an admittedly awesome author writing from 1950 from a narrow cultural viewpoint.
I'd love to see what everyone else might come up with, because the idea is still fantastic and there can be a ton of really great play, here. :)
I might even say that this novel deserves a full 5 stars just for the concept and its robust beauty and how it continues to spark the imagination. :)
...But the story kinda drags it down, alas. Ooh, the opportunity!
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