Science Fiction Though the Decades

Sunday, May 20, 2012

1954: Brain Wave (Anderson, Poul)

Linguistic and scientific advances in IQ advanced humans (4/5)
From May 25, 2009

This was my seventh Anderson book, a book which I had heard much about and was easy to find as there were many editions published. Typically, this is a signifier indicating the quality of the work, but my doubts were banished with the trust I held in Anderson writing a smart, spanning novel. Reading an Anderson novel is rarely a miss (i.e. The Day of Their Return [1974] and Orbit Unlimited [1961]) and usually a success (i.e. Tau Zero [1970] and Three Worlds to Conquer [1964]). This is one of Anderson's earliest long works, but it doesn't have the implied sense of immaturity or silliness. Rather, this is one of Anderson's strongest works for its creativity and follow-through.

Rear cover synopsis:
"'Imagine that an I.Q. of 500 becomes commonplace, a moron has the thinking capacity of yesterday's intellectual, and animals begin to pass the mental levels of humanity. This is the provocative and absorbing thesis upon which Poul Anderson has based his novel; and his plausible exploration of the theme makes for an unusually stimulating book, admirably balanced between the logical world-changes and the intimate human story of some individuals. Few novels have revealed more skill simultaneously in scientific speculation and in fictional warmth and feeling.' - New York Herald Tribune"

A "brain wave" sweeps across the path of earth's galactic orbit and changes the intellect of all life. The brain wave is described as being, "a gyromagnetic action within the atomic nuclei near the center of the galaxy which has inhibited certain electromagnetic and electro-chemical processes." Once earth had passed out of this cone of influence, all the sudden the brains of earth life increased in efficiency as did electrical conductivity in metals. The novel follows the stories of two men: Archie Brock, the farmhand who isn't the sharpest pitchfork in the shed and Peter Corinth, the New York City physicist who is the bee's knees of intellectualism.

Within Archie's story, we find him reluctant to leave the farm after others there had already left to find more mental stimulation elsewhere. Archie then houses other sub-intellectual individuals (including an elephant and chimps) who help around the farm. Archie confronts his newly-found intelligence and leadership skills against the bucolic life in upstate New York.

Peter, on the other hand, stands witness to the monumental intellectual growth (and seething animal instinct) that humanity is experiencing during this blossoming of IQ. He and his peers add their discoveries to the plethora of new technologies and wares which propel humanity into an entirely new era. But can he maintain a relationship with his simpleton housewife amidst these a-changing times?

Poul takes an inventive look at how a more mature, intelligent humanity may hone their language into something more logical and context-rich. Poul tends to explore languages in his novels, but here he takes it to a whole new realm. Along with the linguistic discoveries, Poul takes us for a little side trip to look at space technologies, a brisk walk through weather control, and even a glimpse of alien civilizations--he spans a vast array of scientific curiosities.

One additional note: the cover itself lends to a time of reflection after finishing the novel. Did the cover artist just want a semi-lame cover for the novel? Or did the cover artist (Phil Kirkland) convey a deeper sense he probed within the novel? It's quite different, that's obvious, and garners some attention after completion of the novel.

1 comment:

  1. I recently covered this story, myself. It's still one of my very favorites by Anderson, a fellow with a rather uneven track record.