Extro, Alfred Bester, Readers Union Group of Book Clubs, 1975. (Aka: The Computer Connection – possibly a more accurate title).
You can guess the year, at least within a decade, of almost any SF book. SF is a product not of the future, but of its time. Like the stuidy of history is not a product of the past, but of the present.
The 60 and very early 70s produced wild SF; Experimental, uninhibited, wierd and wired. Think Clockwork Orange (Burgess, ’62).
Extro is a computer that runs the human spacefaring civilisation. It begins to take over one powerful member of a secret sect of immortals, turning him into a instrument of evil. The sect need to stop him – to kill the man they love and respect.
At its core, this is a simple story. But the dressing is incredible – a futuristic mash up culture where a tribe American Indians maintaining traditional ways can travel to a world called IG Farben (after the German company accused of collaboration). The language is shortened, perfunctionary – eg:
He is right. N speak binary.
N programme. Lingrun, please.
As usual for this period, sexual characters and incidents – such as the pubescent and precocious orphan, and the virgin bride, are bound to make the modern reader blush or frown, or both.
The story reminds just how much an author is affected by the values of the society in which they write… as is the reader’s response to the story affected by the values of the society in which they read.
As a reader, I find it all part of the value of reading – experiencing the time it was written and the world it imagines.
As a writer, I wonder… is it possible for me to write something truely free of the time, place and people around me? And if I did, would anyone read it, or like it? And if they didn’t, would it matter?