Brain Wave by Poul Anderson

  • Started on: 2018-06-03
  • Finished on: 2018-06-04
  • Read in: English
  • Rating: “****-”
  • Genre(s): Science Fiction


A couple of months ago I won tickets to the Dag van het Fantastische Boek (Day of the Fantastical Book) in Amsterdam. One of the best parts was the little market they had set up with three main book stalls, one by the ABC (my favorite book store), one by Splatterlight (on demand Jack Vance books) and one by the NCSF (the Dutch contactcentre for Science Fiction). That last one was filled with second-hand SFF books, English and Dutch. OMG. Heaven. Anyway, let’s just say I bought enough to justify becoming a member for the 30% discount. And of course I talked to the people manning the stall, about SF, our collections etc. etc. One of the men recommended Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave as one of his favorite books. Right then we couldn’t find it on the stall, turns out I had bought it already and it was in my backpack. Told you I bought a lot…

In Brain Wave people realize that overnight they have gotten smarter. A lot smarter. Scientists are geniuses and not so smart people now have average intelligence. But not only the humans have gotten smarter, so have the animals. We follow several people, and see how they (and the rest of the world) handle the change. We follow Peter and Sheila Corinth. He’s a scientist and she’s a housewife (this book is from 1954). While he revels in his new intelligence, helps figuring out why it happened and travels space, she cannot deal with the shock. We also follow Archie Brock, a mentally disabled farm-hand who now has average intelligence. And we follow Felix Mandelbaum, a union secretary who turns into the leader of New York.

What I really liked about the book is how the consequences were described not only on a personal level, but also on a level of organisation. Because why would hyper-intelligent people still want to do menial tasks? And if nobody does those tasks, where does food come from? How does transport work? What happens to big cities like New York? It shows its age a bit with Sheila as a simple housewife who doesn’t want anything more complicated than that. On the other hand there is a female scientist (whose name I can’t remember right now…) who ends up being the head of the researchers. The main complaint in most reviews is that the book is too short, and seems to have been cut short because of demands by publishers/editors. I feel the same way, and it’s a shame, because this is a really nice novel that would have been nicer at 300+ pages. Four out of five stars.