I finished The Stardroppers this afternoon. Written by John Brunner and first published in this form (and under this title) in 1972, it was a super fast read for me. I really like the Jack Gaughan cover art on this novel. This is the sort of thing I would probably buy a poster of and put somewhere odd – like in the kitchen, or something. In full disclosure: the last two novels I read were quite bad, so anything I had read next would probably have gotten at least three stars from me.
In this book we meet the main character, Dan Cross, as he lands in future London, England from the USA. Dan is proceeding through “customs” with his “stardropper.” Chapter 1 is fairly interesting; the reader should be drawn into the novel by what is given. In Chapter 2, we meet another major character, Hugo Samuel Redvers. From Redvers we learn that our main character is actually Special Agent Cross. The scene in this chapter is really typical of those scenes in all spy movies. Character is having a meal/drink in fancy hotel restaurant. Second character surprises him and sits at his table with an arrogant air and a caustic warning. The reason I mention this is because this first impression of Redvers stuck with me throughout the book – but not so much with Redvers. As the story went onward, I started to feel that this cocky know-it-all Redvers moves far away from the Redvers in this scene. By the last chapter, I feel like Redvers is a sniveling, annoying wimp. There really was not any reason for this change, either.
Anyway, stardroppers are these machines that are something like AM/FM radios. No one really knows how they truly work, or what they actually work on. Allegedly, their discovery was accidental – a scientist was experimenting on another project and noticed anomalies. Throughout the book, I imagined them generally as those old school binoculars that came in carrying cases or something like “ham” radios. Stardroppers can also refer to the persons who use stardroppers. The usage of these items is described many times in the story and Brunner works hard to make the reader feel their usage is commonplace and relatively easy. The results are kept vague. Basically, you turn on the machine and put earphones in. After tuning, you “listen.”
The phenomenon/practice of stardropping (Cp. eavesdropping) is treated as if it were a cross-cultural, cross-generational fad or hobby. There are plenty of suggestions that it is harmful, addictive, and similar to psychotropic usage. In other cases, it seems the practice is for research and for those persons who would like to investigate UFOs and other kosmic occurrences. Either way, no one really seems to know much about it – and the scientist who “discovered” this phenomenon is taken to be authoritative for no better reason than he discovered it. This is the bulk of the novel – and it is the sort of thing that would interest readers who like anthropology and sociology. But readers of space adventure and space opera might find this sort of ruminating a bit dull.
The whole story culminates in the last three chapters – which do seem a bit of a departure from the storyline that came before. The main character is fun in the sense that he is a “special agent/spy” type. But he also is not really fantastic at his job. However, the super cool concepts get tagged onto him. For example, the Agency uses hypnosis and neo-Freudian personal associations with words to create a specific user-only language. It’s bulky and, in reality, untenable. But it sure is fun to think about. This plays a role in the resolution of the novel, as well, so it’s good to pay attention when you read about it first in chapter 8.
Overall, this was an okay read. I feel like a lot of time was spent making stardropping seem murky and like LSD-usage. It is at the root of social-disorder. Stardroppers seem to run the gamut between hopeful dreamers, childish addicts, and physics students. Either way the usage has become so pervasive that the governments have become involved in monitoring this situation. So, beyond just a personal-level of intrigue, the novel contextualizes stardropping in terms of global politics. And in the end, the world is saved…. by what was first presented as a fringe, drug-like culture. I wonder what Brunner really wanted our take-away to be………