Pros: The mystery and the differences between the children
Cons: Didn’t age entirely well
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
John Brunner’s Children of the Thunder is something I read in the late 80s, when I was in high school. It made a real impression on me then, so I wanted to go back and read it again, just to see if it measured up to my current standards twenty-five or so years later. Peter is a bachelor journalist who lately is seeing his articles get rejected time and again, all of them articles on the poor state of one part of society or another. As a new political group forms up, race hatred hits an all-time high, and those in power don’t want people reading about crime rates and unusual patterns in behavior. Meanwhile, a group of unnaturally bright children is coming together, and figuring out that under certain circumstances they can ‘encourage’ others to do what they want.
There are ways in which the book now feels behind the times, obviously. No smart phones, still using VCRs and modems (modems!), no web cams. That makes a huge difference in the plot. It also slows down character research, which makes up a large part of the book–but Brunner makes it interesting.
There were some plot developments this time that seemed a little obvious, but while I admit my memory sucks, I’m still pretty sure that’s just because I’ve read it before.
The characters in this book are quite good. They aren’t always likable. They stumble around trying to figure out what’s going on and often get it wrong. It is the case that the young women in this group of children lose some of their knack for influence during their periods. I thought that was actually a rather brilliant move on evolution’s part–it strongly encourages reproduction by allowing them to retain their abilities for nine months simply by having babies. Meanwhile, the children have to figure out how ‘best’ to manage their abilities, and each one is very different from the others. Some had simply stayed with their families; some ran criminal rackets; and almost all of them were in control of their ‘parents’. Only David is willing to take on the task of hunting down and bringing in his siblings, planning to use them to ‘save’ the world from itself. Another thing I like about these kids is that most if not all of them come across as narcissistic sociopaths–they have to watch the people around them in order to learn proper emotional responses.
Just to make things a little crazier for Peter, his own daughter Ellen, who has never met him, is forced on him due to the death of her mother. He has no interest in being a parent, but the two of them grow together and help each other in many ways.
On an almost irrelevant note, Peter at some point learns that there’s a crisis because an approved pesticide is now killing all the bees. I guess Brunner had a touch of prescience there.
I liked this book almost as much as I did as a child, and would love to see more of this world.