Brain Wave

  • by Poul Anderson
  • Narrated by Tom Weiner
  • 5 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

For millions of years, the part of the galaxy containing our solar system has been moving through a vast force field that has been inhibiting certain electromagnetic and electrochemical processes and, thus, certain neurotic functions. When Earth escapes the inhibiting field, synapse speed immediately increases, causing a rise in intelligence, which results in a transfigured humanity reaching for the stars, leaving behind our earth to the less intelligent humans and animal life-forms.
This is a transcendent look at the possible effects of enhanced intelligence on our planet.

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What the Critics Say

“A masterpiece.” (Larry Niven)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Interesting "what if..." and speculation about us

This is an interesting speculative work about "what if...humans suddenly became much, much smarter all at once?" It takes us some pretty interesting places, although I'm not sure I agree with all of the author's conclusions.

The plot is pretty simple: One day, something happens to the laws of physics and nerve cells suddenly become more efficient. Humans (and, as we see, other animals as well) become much more quick-witted and intelligent. What happens to society? There are several parallel threads, the main ones being the story of Dr. Peter Corinth, physicist and that of Archie Brock, farm-hand.

It was written in the 1950's and there are some attitudes about the role of women in society (especially Peter Corinth's wife) and how some of our society is based around the idea that very smart people are unwilling to do some menial and tedious (but essential) jobs. (This concept is also explored in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.) It also examines what it means to be "human" and what happens when not only the people but the animals become brainier.

Bottom line, and interesting thought piece.

Oh, and I like Tom Weiner's narration....he does a good job with this.
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- Joel D Offenberg

A fascinating idea

Originally posted at Fantasy Literature

Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave has a great premise — for millennia, unknown to scientists, the Earth has been under the influence of some sort of field that dampens the speed of neurons in the cortex. But now the Earth has suddenly passed out of the field and immediately neurons start working faster, making everyone’s IQs (man and animal) escalate dramatically. This sounds like a good thing to me, but perhaps it’s not in Poul Anderson’s mind. In his story, human civilization changes drastically, and mostly not in positive ways.

The story follows several characters: a physicist named Peter Corinth; Sheila, his timid and dull-witted housewife; a mentally-handicapped farmhand named Archie Brock; and an official named Felix Mandelbaum. Each of these characters experiences a large jump in IQ which causes a change in their circumstances. Each of them deals with this change differently as Poul Anderson explores what might happen to a society that is suddenly full of people who are geniuses and animals who are rising up to challenge us.

Actually, though it’s a really cool thought experiment, Poul Anderson’s story is not as interesting as it sounds like it should be. The first problem is the characters — none are likeable or inherently interesting with the possible exception of Archie Brock. Sheila, the vapid housewife, is especially odious (but I tend to bristle at all vapid housewife characters written by old male SF writers — is that really how they thought of women back then?).

Another problem is that I had a hard time believing in the consequences that Anderson foretells for a world with smarter people. He seems to be suggesting that the only people who will be truly happy in their jobs will be scientists and artists for these are the only rewarding jobs for really smart people. Therefore, blue-collar workers who are now suddenly smart will abandon their jobs and society will collapse. He seems to be suggesting that laborers are not as smart as scientists, which is kind of pretentious and certainly not accurate. There’s a big difference between intelligence and education. He is also obviously suggesting that a smart person can’t find meaning and reward in a lower status job, something else I don’t believe is true. Surely these more intelligent humans will realize that farming is still a necessary occupation and there will be people who still enjoy farming even if they’re geniuses. (Or, if not, they can invent machines to do it for them.)

I agreed with Anderson on a couple of important points — a new psychology would be needed for a human race that is smarter than ours. And even though I didn’t believe in Anderson’s story, I still think it’s a great premise and thinking exercise. If the purpose of intelligence is to adapt to the environment, what happens when the environment has to adapt to intelligence? A fascinating idea.

I listened to Tom Weiner narrate Blackstone Audio’s version of Brain Wave. Weiner has a great voice for old science fiction.
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- Katherine "I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-16-2011
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.