Stand on Zanzibar  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Stand on Zanzibar is a dystopic New Wave science fiction novel written by John Brunner and first published in 1968.

Sometimes described as a "non-novel", Brunner makes use of fictitious newspaper clippings, television announcements, and other "samples" taken from the news and entertainment media of the year 2010.

The book won a Hugo Award for Best Novel at the 27th World Science Fiction Convention in 1969.



Stand on Zanzibar was innovative within the science fiction genre for mixing narrative with entire chapters dedicated to providing background information and worldbuilding, to create a sprawling narrative that presents a complex and multi-faceted view of the story's future world. Such information-rich chapters were often constructed from many short paragraphs, sentences, or fragments thereof—pulled from sources such as slogans, snatches of conversation, advertising text, songs, extracts from newspapers and books, and other cultural detritus.

The narrative itself follows the lives of a large cast of characters, chosen to give a broad cross-section of the future world. Some of these interact directly with the central narratives, while others add depth to Brunner's world. Brunner appropriated this basic narrative technique from the USA Trilogy, by John Dos Passos. On the first page of the novel, Brunner provides a quote from Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy that approximates such a technique, entitling it "the Innis mode" as an apparent label.


The primary engine of the novel's story is overpopulation and its projected consequences.Template:Sfn The title refers to an early twentieth-century claim that the world's population could fit onto the Isle of Wight—which has an area of Template:Convert—if they were all standing upright. Brunner remarked that the growing world population now required a larger island; the 3.5 billion people living in 1968 could stand together on the Isle of Man (area Template:Convert), while the 7 billion people who he (correctly) projected would be alive in 2010 would need to stand on Zanzibar (area Template:Convert). Throughout the book, the image of the entire human race standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a small island is a metaphor for a crowded world.


As in Dos Passos's work, the chapters are headed by one of several rubrics:

  • "Continuity": Most of the linear narrative is contained in these chapters.
  • "Tracking with Closeups": These are similar to Dos Passos's "Camera" sections, and focus closely on ancillary characters before they become part of the main narrative, or simply serve to paint a picture of the state of the world.
  • "The Happening World": These chapters consist of collage-like collections of short, sometimes single-sentence, descriptive passages. The intent is to capture the vibrant, noisy, and often ephemeral situations arising in the novel's world. At least one chapter of the narrative, a party where most of the characters meet and where the plot makes a significant shift in direction, is presented in this way.
  • "Context": These chapters, as the name suggests, provide a setting for the novel. They consist of imaginary headlines, classified ads, and quotations from the works of the character Chad C. Mulligan, a pop sociologist who comments wryly on his surroundingsTemplate:Sfn and in one chapter, actual headlines from the 1960s.


The story is set in 2010, mostly in the United States. A number of plots and many vignettes are played out in this future world, based on Brunner's extrapolation of social, economic, and technological trends. The key main trends are based on the enormous population and its impact: social stresses, eugenic legislation, widening social divisions, future shock, and extremism. Certain of Brunner's guesses are fairly close, others not, and some ideas clearly show their 1960s mind-set.

Many futuristic concepts, products and services, and slang are presented. A supercomputer named Shalmaneser is an essential plot element. The Hipcrime Vocab and other works by the fictional sociologist Chad C. Mulligan are frequent sources of quotations. Some examples of slang include "codder" (man), "shiggy" (woman), "whereinole" (where in hell?), "prowlie" (an armoured police car), "offyourass" (possessing an attitude), "bivving" (bisexuality, from "ambivalent") and "mucker" (a person running amok). A new technology introduced is "eptification" (education for particular tasks), a form of mental programming. Another is a kind of interactive television that shows the viewer as part of the program ("Mr. & Mrs. Everywhere"). Genetically modified microorganisms are used as terrorist weapons.

The book centres on two New York men, Donald Hogan and Norman Niblock House, who share an apartment.Template:Sfn House is a rising executive at General Technics, one of the all-powerful corporations. Using his "Afram" (African American) heritage to advance his position, he has risen to vice-president at age twenty-six.

Hogan is introduced with a single paragraph rising out of nowhere: "Donald Hogan is a spy". Donald shares an apartment with House and is undercover as a student. Hogan's real work is as a "synthesist", although he is a commissioned officer and can be called up for active duty.

The two main plots concern the fictional African state of Beninia (a name reminiscent of the real-life Benin, though that nation in the Bight of Benin was known as the Republic of Dahomey when the book was written) making a deal with General Technics to take over the management of their country, in a bid to speed up development from third world to first world status. A second major plot is a break-through in genetic engineering in the fictional South East Asian nation of Yatakang (an island nation and a former Dutch colony, like Indonesia), to which Hogan is soon sent by the US government ("State") to investigate. The two plots eventually cross, bringing potential implications for the entire world.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Stand on Zanzibar" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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