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November 16, 2009

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El Professore Technico

While not strictly speaking based on a phone phreak theme, the book "The Shockwave Rider," by John Brunner has many proto-phreak, telecommunication, and pre-cyberpunk themes running throughout it.

From: http://www.skypoint.com/members/gimonca/brunner.html

"The book by which John Brunner is best remembered is "The Shockwave Rider", published in 1975. It's often called the first cyberpunk novel, and deservedly so. An Internet-like continental data network is a vital element in the book, and important plot events take place on it. The setting is another near-future world where the stresses of technological change are taking their toll.. The mind/body question, identity and information control are all central themes--themes that would later be taken up by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Rudy Rucker, and other writers of the eighties and nineties.

"Nickie Haflinger, the protagonist, could be called a proto-hacker: an escapee from a U.S. government sponsored human optimization project, manages to move from identity to identity by accessing government databases through telephone keypads. In "Shockwave Rider", the phones are veephones or videophones--you could almost replace them with videoconferencing PCs without harming the story. While telephone "phreaking" had been known in Britain since the early sixties, Brunner shows stunning insight into the potential for one clever person to manipulate computer networks for their own purposes. "He deduced from first principles that there must be a way of allowing authorized persons to drop an old identity and assume a new one, no questions asked. The nation was tightly webbed in a net of interlocking data-channels...confidential information had been rendered accessible to total strangers capable of adding two plus two. (The machines that make it more difficult to cheat on income tax can also ensure that blood of the right group is in the ambulance which picks you up from a car crash. Well?)" The netted world of "Shockwave Rider" is very much our own world of government and business databases--Brunner wasn't predicting, as much as he was warning us about the present."

I just recently re-read it, and it's quite pertinent to your posting and also a very entertaining read for a phormer phreak, hacker type, and SF fan, such as I am.

[Excerpt--goes on for six additional paragraphs. Brunner also wrote "Stand on Zanzibar" which was also quite good, depending on one's tastes in the SF genre. Oddly, Brunner died from suffering a massive stroke while attending the 53rd World Science Fiction Convention (Intersection) on Friday, 25 August, 1995. Must have been the excessive adulation from the fanboys...Heh?!]

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