Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner
Stand On Zanzibar is a vision of society about 30 or so years in the future - or at least 30+ years after the book was written. The year events are supposed to be taking place in is more or less the year I'm writing this. The reader is immediately thrown into the middle of things - the new slang, the new advertising, the new media, etc. - and left to fend for himself for a while. The sales talk jumps around within each subplot and the book switches between subplots. But after a bit it starts coming into focus - even if it does stay a bit hyperactive.
Actually, when the book switches from one chapter to another, it is not necessarily going to another subplot in the sense of a set of characters and events that would make a short story if you put chapters 2, 5, 8, 11 and 14 together. Rather we often get a series of advertising sales pitches, or a series of political rhetoric from a variety of different sources, or a series of snippets from conversations of average citizens, or some other bunch of tidbits that conveys the mood of the times or efforts by various forces to influence the population. These "chapters" give more context and ambience than "story". In addition to those and the major subplots, there are a few vignettes that continue where they left off when they pop up now and then in the book. These give us a view of subsidiary events from the vantage point of familiar characters.
What we have may not be a full-blown dystopia, but certainly is a world gone unpleasantly down the road of manipulation of consumers, governments fighting too many wars, population pressures, crime and violence, etc. We have a variety of countries, companies and individuals trying to get what they can in the context of this situation, but there's not much effort to change the direction humanity is stumbling down.
Many governments are responding to population and other social issues by enacting eugenics laws forbidding the birth of children with certain disabilities or other undesirable traits. New York City has gone even more corporate and corporations have become even more manipulative of the public. A few computers have reached or approached the level of consciousness, and religious fanatics are on the warpath over such computers.
We do have a few technological advances here. For instance, the more-or-less AI computer, a product that makes the appearance of certain characters on TV be that of the consumer watching on that TV set, and some advances in genetic engineering. But generally, this is not a story about technology and the physical sciences. This is more about society.
As the book evolves, it spends more time dealing with two focus spots in the world. A tiny, impoverished - but peaceful - African nation tries to combine saving itself from bordering countries and letting a multinational corporation use it as a vast money-making venture. An Asian nation announces it has made a breakthrough in genetic engineering and is going to begin a program of having its children genetically enhanced. In an overpopulated world of eugenics laws, and competing individuals and countries; this upsets everyone in one way or another.
We end up thinking about what changes (genetic, cultural, chemical) could genuinely improve the human race. There’s various food for thought in the book. I find it hard to believe that Brunner seriously thought he was offering us a realistic solution, as authors of such books sometimes do. But he does at least try to make us consider the issues.