Polymath, John Brunner (1974)

November 22nd, 2009


Polymath is a significant expansion of Brunner’s space opera Castaway’s World, which appeared as an Ace Double in the 1960s. I remember reading the ace double version of this many years ago. The rewrite contains some sex and a significant refinement of some of Brunner’s themes.

Polymath is a very readable straight adventure story, but like all of Brunner’s novels, mixes its escapist elements with a strong underlying theme. Brunner’s themes tend to be difficult and mature and sometimes feel out of place, especially in a space opera as Polymath was obviously written.

The story revolves around a pair of ships that escape from a nova on their home system. There was little warning and the ships escaped without any preparation with anyone who manages to get aboard. The ships crash land on dangerous and hostile alien planet about 20 miles apart. One group slowly manages to adjust, the other group concentrates on repairing their ship, which proves impossible.

Brunner uses these two approaches to the same problem to contrast different kinds of societies. He does this subtly in the form of an adventure novel. The protagonist is a Polymath – an individual who has been physically and mentally altered with skills and abilities that are designed to help emerging colonies on alien planets. He is, however, only twenty years old and has had only minimal training. He does manage to manipulate the two societies so that the combined colony stands a chance at being successful.

Brunner populates the colonies with all of his favorite villains. There is the coarse and sadistic leader who creates a forced work camp, but there are also unexpected villains such as gossips and those more interested in self aggrandizement than the welfare of the group. There is a failed leader who commits suicide and a psychotic who cannot accept that the colony is stranded on such an inhospitable planet. There is also a neurotic woman who copes with the loss of all she knew by having sex with anyone who will pay attention to her.

This rich context of danger and interesting characters fills the 156 pages and the book comes to a satisfying ending much too quickly.

I have another dozen or so Brunner books to read, including Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up, and I am starting to enjoy Brunner’s style.

One response to “Polymath, John Brunner (1974)”

  1. Pete says:

    I also read this in the Ace Doubles. Brunner has a very readable style, but I found his main character in this one to be slightly too “superman” in the Nietzschean sense. He is VERY good at all things and knows all for everyone. Still, the plot is good reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 

Buy the Book!

I cleaned up my tab for Sonny Boy's Help Me and made it into a short book. There's a Kindle version for 99 cents, and if you buy the paperback you get the Kindle free.

Playing "Help-Me" In the Style of Sonny Boy Williamson II: A step by step, note for note analysis of some of Sonny Boy's Signature Riffs

I also write Science Fiction, so you can sample some of my best stories. Also available in Kindle format.


Error Message Eyes: A Programmer's Guide to the Digital Soul
 

 

Keith Graham's CThreePO.com Links

I started reading Science Fiction in the 1950s. I started Writing SF in the 1960s. Then, I had a life. Now I am retired, raising chickens and keeping bees. I am still an avid reader and I have sold about 70 stories in the last 20 years.
I have been collecting information about writing Science Fiction for many years now. Social media has replaced the Blog and large dedicated websites, so the pages here are mostly static. I update them from time to time.

Enjoy!


Book Reviews


Please note, the comments on this site are historical from when the site was a Blog. The web pages are now static, and there is no mechanism for leaving comments.