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, Earth moved into an energy-damping 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, 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 on Earth after this event.
The book opens with a lyrical description of a rabbit, stuck inside 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 animals 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 intelligence 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. Halfway 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 though 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.
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 first spaceship able to explore the galaxy. As part of that exploration, he again crosses into the energy-damping field. His mind quickly becomes unable to work the complex controls, and he must wait for the ship to move back out of the field on its own.
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 that of 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 their situations were. 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, with which she is more comfortable. She leaves Peter, and in the last scene we see her introduced to Archie Brock's farm.
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 of New York. 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 as 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." Leslie Flood wrote in New Worlds that "Brain Wave is a convincing, humanly realistic example of the wonders of the science fiction novel at its literary and thought-provoking best".
- Locus: Poul Anderson interview
- SF REVIEWS.NET: Brain Wave / Poul Anderson ☆☆☆
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1954, p.114
- "The Reference Library," Astounding Science Fiction, March 1954, pp.154
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, September 1954, p.92.
- "Book Reviews", New Worlds, February 1956, p.128