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Brief Summary of Book: Age of Miracles by John Brunner
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In Age of Miracles Brunner confronts his characters with an alien transportation system produced by unknown creatures clearly superior in knowledge and application of science. While human characters do learn to make some limited use of the system, their position at the end is comparable to that of rats on a sea-going ship, and, as the characters themselves indicate, their future use of the network is predicated on just how annoying these human rats become to the aliens: “…since we quit pilfering live artefacts, the aliens have shown no sign of noticing us. I suspect they can’t be bothered. We’ve put up with rats and mice for thousands of years, and we only take steps against them when they cause great harm” (Ch28). While Age of Miracles doesn’t present readers with a unique situation—given the hundreds of works based on confrontation of humans and superior aliens—there are two passages toward the end of the novel which show some highly significant developments in sf writing which can be considered characteristic of more recent interests within the genre. Such passages, as a matter of fact, provide a strong clue as to Brunner’s use of the image of the dystopia. For what has happened in his later work is simply a matter of one image in sf, the superior alien, being replaced by a new image, the dystopia. The 1st passage is a full accounting of what the discovery of the transportation network means for humans. Waldron states: “We’ve been desperately trying to make the world seem familiar again. We’ve been using comparisons and analogs: Den with his rats and mice, Orlando with his bushman in a modern city and so on. Finally we have begun to admit that this isn’t the same as anything we’ve run across before. It isn’t even like anything else. How could it be? We’ve been tossed without any warning clear over the horizon of our own past. We calculated the odds were against our being alone in the galaxy. Now we know we’re not. We deduced that other stars must have planets. Now we can go and walk on them. It’s a clean break. It’s killed our past. We can’t live in it or by its standards any more. All that counts from now on and forever is the future.” Superficially, this passage can be seen as typical of any number of sf works in which man leaves behind the past and faces a brave new tomorrow. There is, however, a twist in the Age of Miracles which is rare. Man is forced to leave his past not because of his own actions, but because the future is imposed upon him. It’s not man the seeker of new frontiers who here changes his destiny, but man the non-seeker who has his destiny change him. What makes this twist even rarer, destiny wasn’t even looking for him. Mankind’s whole orientation is changed by alien intelligences who have no, or almost no, awareness of its existence. Mankind may have great new worlds now open to it, but they’re worlds that have been opened as a side-effect and man can only enjoy these new worlds at a cost of self-esteem. The implications of this passage are very unlike much of the sf of the 30s, 40s and even 50s. Justifiably or not, when one considers the nature of most sf works, one tends to see these works as optimistic about the future. The future implies progress, and progress implies a healthy, growing race. There are numerous short stories and novels that see humans as a vital race able to triumph over far more sophisticated and knowledgeable aliens because of this vitality. Frequently, humanity is portrayed as an upstart race that sweeps all others aside because of its energy and impatience to keep on the move. Such a view, however, isn’t to be found in Age of Miracles. Denying Age of Miracles lacks the optimism of other works doesn’t necessarily mean characterizing it as pessimistic. There’s a 2nd passage, also a speech by Waldron, that merits consideration when discussing the 1st. Waldron is about to join a colony on another planet, a colony made possible by the use of the alien transportation system. Realizing all new colonies owe their existence to an artifact which is a painfully solid symbol of man’s inferior position, Waldron “leaned back in his chair and thought: so rats get on ships…True. and what I’m going to do is much the same. But I’m not going to do it as a rat. I’m going to do it as a man” (Ch28). Such a statement is optimistic, but its optimism is of a different sort than that which has just been characterized. Brunner’s optimism stems from an individual, not from the race as a whole. When Waldron states he’ll act as a man, he’s actually stating he will act according to what he conceives of as best in mankind; that is, being a man is not innately noble. It’s behaving as a good man would behave that creates the nobility. One feels that a story about a rat that somehow had won thru to a sense of “rathood” and then acted upon that sense would equally impart a tone of optimism for the rest. It’s the experience of self-affirmation that’s important here, a self-affirmation which enables the character to tell all that he is what he is. There are two points to be gained from reading Age of Miracles with implications for all of Brunner’s work. The 1st point is concerned with the future. He doesn’t assume a future of promise and glory. The optimism of a manifest destiny isn’t part of the world he creates. Instead, he’s far more likely to question the future and man’s place in it. The 2nd point is, in many ways, a consequence of the 1st. Since mankind has no manifest destiny, how is man to determine his place in the future if he has any voice in it at all? In Age of Miracles the answer is given: man’s place in the future will be determined by individuals who call themselves men. In other words, the future of the race is an open question and the solution to that question depends on the people who are part of the race. Three of Brunner’s novels are particularly concerned with exactly this issue. Each of these novels, Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up and The Shockwave Rider, substitutes the image of a dystopia for the alien in Age of Miracles, but the problem remains the same: man must take responsibility for himself and his race.–Stephen H. Goldman (edited)
Age of Miracles by John Brunner – eBook Details
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- Full Book Name: Age of Miracles
- Author Name: John Brunner
- Book Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction
- ISBN # 9780886770242
- Date of Publication: 1965–
- PDF / EPUB File Name: Age_of_Miracles_-_John_Brunner.pdf, Age_of_Miracles_-_John_Brunner.epub
- PDF File Size: 932 KB
- EPUB File Size: 240 KB
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