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Strange and Unusual Book Club – “Brain Wave” by Poul Anderson

Welcome to the Strange & Unusual Book Club where we bring you Weird Things We Found in the Wild and then compare them to books you can find on the shelves today. Today’s weirdness came from Half Price Books


Before we get started, let’s answer some mail from our readers.


Today’s book is titled Brain Wave by Poul Anderson. 


Take a look at that front cover. Not having read Brain Wave yet, I have no idea what’s going on here. In the background, there’s a simian shaped figure pulling a lever on a machine with translucent purplish orbs, spiky protrusions, and what might be an energy discharge from a gold coil. There’s nothing to indicate what its purpose might be. In the foreground, you’ve got another simian shaped hand holding a bronze colored… thermos maybe? …with a tube coiling around it? Again, there’s nothing to indicate what function that form might have. 


The back cover features a blurb from The New York Herald Tribune. It reads: “Imagine that tomorrow neurotic response is so accelerated on this earth that an I.Q. of 500 becomes commonplace, a moron has the thinking capacity of yesterday’s intellectual, and animals begin to pass the lower mental levels of previous humanity.” There’s no additional artwork accompanying the text. 


What I’m expecting from this novel
Ok. Now I’m thinking, based on the cover image and the promotional words on the back, that I can expect something along the lines of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells or Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. The giant globe spiky coil machine thing is designed to increase the intelligence of those who come in contact with it, leading to the creation of super-apes who then use their super-brains to create the perfect thermos. It’s what I would do and I’m not a super-ape. Technically. I’m excited to read Brain Wave and see how close I came to the contents of the actual plot. 


Some time later
First off, no super-apes. No super-intelligent animals at all. The cover is, alas, highly misleading. 

What happens if everyone on Earth was suddenly smart? Not just a little smarter, but several magnitudes of intellect smarter? And by “everyone,” I mean every living thing on Earth that has a brain, including animals? This is the premise behind Brain Wave. The answer doesn’t start out terribly optimistic. 


I won’t give away the reason behind the brain boost because it’s central to the plot. A theme running throughout the book is that people, no matter what happens to them, are still just people. Increased intelligence didn’t result in an instant utopia where everyone was happy and refrained from being jerks to one another. In fact, the opposite occurred because the brain boost didn’t change anyone’s personality, but it did magnify their flaws. Having the increased mental capacity to see their own flaws for what they were (superstitions, prejudices, etc.) meant that people could no longer hide these flaws from themselves. The brain boost also only increased whatever level of intelligence was already there, meaning that those of limited intellectual capacity before the event only became intelligent enough to know what they were like before the change and what differences still existed afterwards. Animals found themselves in a similar position. A super-intelligent sheep was still a sheep, but it was a sheep that knew it was being raised to be eaten. (Yikes.) 

Even after becoming a world of heightened intellect, Earth was divided into the haves, the have nots, and those who wanted to return to a state before they knew the difference. Those who had not the intellect to become super-intelligent were gifted the Earth, after the haves put down a rebellion by those who wanted to make everyone “normal” again, and then left behind by those who had the super-intelligence to leave Earth behind to travel the stars. (But at least they were humble about it.)


Books with augmented animals, similar to Brain Wave by Poul Anderson
The Island Of Dr. Moreau by Wells, H. G.
Planet of the apes by Boulle, Pierre
Guardians Of The Galaxy by Gunn, James (Specifically for Rocket Racoon)
Maddaddam by Atwood, Margaret
The madman’s daughter by Shepherd, Megan
Island 731 by Robinson, Jeremy
Watchers by Koontz, Dean R.
The sky done ripped by Lansdale, Joe R.

Kevin Wadlow is 100% a real human being and definitely not a murder of crows wearing a person suit. He is an avid reader of horror, tabletop gamer, and drinker of coffee who enjoys drawing things of strangeness along the way. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he will probably be eaten first after saying something about how he fully expected to go out like this.

1 Comment

  1. rita graffeo

    I like your analogy of the book. I really want to read it.

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