first edition cover
|Cover artist||Richard Powers|
|Media type||Print (Paperback, Hardcover)|
Brain Wave is a science fiction novel by Poul Anderson first published in serial form in Space Science Fiction in 1953, and then as a novel in 1954. Anderson had said that he could consider it one of his top five books This is one of many science fiction works written at this time on the theme of heightened intelligence.
At the end of the Cretaceous period the Earth moved into an energy dampening field in space. As long as Earth was in this field all conductors became more insulating. As a result almost all of the life on Earth with neurons died off, causing the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The ones that survived passed on their genes for sufficiently capable neurons to deal with the new circumstance. Now in modern times the Earth suddenly moves out of the field. Within weeks all animal life on earth becomes about 5 times as intelligent. The novel goes through the triumphs and tribulations of various people and non-human animals and groups on earth after this event.
The book opens with a lyrical description of a rabbit stuck inside of a trap becoming able to reason his way out. This is a common theme in the book. Animal traps are based on the idea that the animal cannot reason their way out of them. When the animals get the ability to reason they start escaping.
Institutions which seemed to be vital to human society, such as a money economy and centralized government, disappear in North America, while Africans, with the assistance of chimpanzees, overcome colonial rule and Chinese rebel against the Communist government. However, some of the means by which people cope with the "Change" are inventing new anti-scientific religions such as the Third Ba'al or adopting pseudo-science.
As humans develop interstellar travel, they discover no other races are as intelligent as they; other races developed pre-Change intelligence, and there was no environmental pressure to select for higher intellgience after that.
Archie Brock, one of the main characters in the story, is mentally disabled; when the earth moves out of the field he becomes a genius by pre-change standards. His character is central to the story. Half way through the book he has taken over the farm that he worked on and, with the aid of his dog who now understands simple English and some escaped circus animals (two chimps and an elephant), they successfully run the farm together. Even through his intelligence has increased fivefold, so has everyone else's. He is still considered a relative simpleton, but has very much come to terms with that. In the end when nearly all the humans leave Earth he decides to stay behind as leader of a colony of now sentient animals and formerly mentally disabled people.
Wife of Peter Corinth. She is a housewife before the change. The first effect she goes through when the change begins is a philosophical realization that her life as a housewife is "better" than her non-conformist friends. Later on she begins to lose her sanity from having to deal daily with the existential crisis. Her story is typical of many people in the book who didn't have the intelligence before the change to know how bad off they had it. Later she goes into her husband's lab to use an electroconvulsive therapy machine there to destroy parts of her brain, bringing her IQ down to about 150, which she is more comfortable with. She leaves Peter and in the last scene we see her introduced to Archie Brock's farm.
Dr. Peter Corinth
Physics researcher who spent a brief period at Los Alamos in WWII. He is one of the first to understand the change. After the change he experiences an emotional battle to stay loyal to his wife, although he has feelings for another woman in his office. He later becomes a pilot of the spaceship able to explore the galaxy. As part of that exploration, he again crosses into the energy dampening field.
Neighbor of the Corinths. Before the change he is a Jewish executive secretary of a local union. He is 50 years old and was born on the lower East side. Later on he becomes "executive of the world."
Some have argued that the book is too short which might have been a result of editor pressure at the time. For example Thomas M. Wagner writes:
"the book does feel somewhat rushed, as well as heavily edited, and I felt there was more Anderson was wanting to tell me. Anderson focuses his plot on a handful of lead characters"
Reviewer Groff Conklin praised the novel an "original idea . . . brilliantly carried out" but faulted its "rather fumbling ending." P. Schuyler Miller described Brain Wave as "a brilliant idea that somehow doesn't quite come off." Anthony Boucher praised the novel, saying that "Anderson has worked out in wonderfully logical detail the logical consequences of [his] assumption [and] advanced his speculations with exciting storytelling and moving characterization."