Monday, December 31, 2007


It's time for all those year-end stories in the dailies, where they recount the biggest stories of the year. I couldn't help noticing that there were three significant mass murders by American young men this year: Salt Lake City in February, Virginia Tech in April, and Omaha in December.

Each time one of these shootings happens, including disgruntled workers "going postal," I think of John Brunner's classic science fiction novel, Stand on Zanzibar. Published in 1968, it included descriptions of a phenomenon Brunner called "muckers." This comes from a news story within the novel:

The incidence of muckers continues to maintain its high: one in Outer Brooklyn yesterday accounted for 21 victims before the fuzzy-wuzzies fused him, and another is still at large in Evanston, Ill., with a total of eleven and three injured. Across the sea in London a woman mucker took out four as well as her own three-month-old baby before a mind-present standerby clobbered her. Reports also from Rangoon, Lima and Auckland notch up the day's toll to 69. (p. 7)
And also this:
It's no coincidence that we have muckers. Background: "mucker" is an Anglicisation of "amok." Don't believe anyone who says it's a shifted pronunciation of "mugger." You can survive a mugger, but if you can survive a mucker the best way is to not be there when it happens. (p. 31)
It's been a long time since I read the book, but my recollection is that Brunner's basic premise is that overpopulation (and its attendant crowding) sets off the muckers -- they are the canaries in our densely peopled coal mine, but instead of dying, they kill others.

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