The Jagged Orbit

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The Jagged Orbit
Cover of first edition (paperback)
Author John Brunner
Cover artist Leo and Diane Dillon
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher Ace Books
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 400 pp
ISBN 0-02-038120-4
OCLC 234241728

The Jagged Orbit is a science fiction novel written by John Brunner. It was first published in 1969, in the Ace Science Fiction Specials line issued by Ace Books, and is similar to his earlier novel, Stand on Zanzibar in its narrative style and dystopic outlook. It has exactly 100 titled chapters, which vary from several pages to part of one word.

The Jagged Orbit was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1969, and won the BSFA Award for the best SF novel in 1970.


For those reading the book, it helps to know (in advance of the book disclosing it some 300 pages in) the meaning of "Blank", "Kneeblank" and "Knee", as used when referring to individuals within the text.
They are derived (By the author?) from the Afrikaans word "nieblanke"="not white" derived thus:
"Nie", meaning not, pronounced as "knee", as in Dutch or Afrikaans.
"Blanke" meaning white, pronounced "blank" (as in a blank space).
This gives:
"Knee": An abbreviated form of "Kneeblank".
"Kneeblank": a person who is not white/Caucasian.
"Blank": a person who is white/Caucasian.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is set in the United States in 2014, when interracial tensions have passed the breaking point. A Mafia-like cartel, the Gottschalks, are exploiting this situation to sell weapons to anyone able to buy them. A split develops within the cartel, between the conservative old men and ambitious underlings prepared to use new computer technology to pull off some spectacular coups.

There are several separate strands of narrative following particular characters. James Reedeth is a young psychologist at New York's major mental health institution who is disenchanted with his job and his employer, the revered Elias Mogshack. Lyla Clay is a "pythoness," a young woman capable of metabolising certain psychedelic drugs to enter a trance in which she makes unconscious predictions. Matthew Flamen, a "spoolpigeon" (a variety of investigative journalist), is struggling to hold onto his job, and by his obsessive behaviour has driven his wife into Mogshack's asylum.

The plot is contrived to bring the strands together and resolve matters by a lengthy discussion between Flamen, Reedeth, Lyla Clay, Pedro Diablo (Flamen's African-American counterpart), Xavier Conroy (a long-time critic of Mogshack), and Harry Madison (a former patient at Mogshack's asylum).


Analog reviewer P. Schuyler Miller praised the novel as a "beautiful job -- intricate yet tightly constructed, thoroughly believable with as many important characters as a Victorian classic."[1] James Blish, however, lambasted Orbit for pursuing an already exhausted mainstream model, producing a text "embodying almost none of Brunner's strengths, loaded to the gunwales with typographical tricks, as full of compulsive cuteness as Stalin-era Shostakovich, its very length pretentious and inhibiting, containing a vast cast of characters all of whom are in the end regressions to the funny-hat school".[2]


  1. ^ "The Reference Library", Analog, September 1969, p. 165
  2. ^ "The Future in Books", Amazing Stories, September 1969, pp.121-23

External links[edit]