The 1950s and 60s was a time in the US rife with social tension and conflict. With unpopular wars being fought on foreign soil, blood was also being shed on American streets as ethnic, gender, and counter-culture concerns often turned to violence. Partially a reaction to these social issues, the New Wave science fiction movement, spearheaded by such writers as Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, Robert Silverberg, Barry Malzberg, Joanna Russ, and others shifted the genre’s gears, moving away from a hard science, extra-terrestrial focus toward Earth-side concerns. John Brunner is an author who made the shift—highly successfully—and began incorporating the concerns of the day directly into his sci-fi. Examining prejudice, social fragmentation, weapons production, paranoia, and existentialism in a dystopian setting, his 1969 The Jagged Orbit is one such book. Undoubtedly part of the platinum standard of the New Wave, the novel has only become more relevant as society evolves closer to his frightening vision.
The setting of The Jagged Orbit is late 21 st century America. Heavy racial segregation is occurring in the wake of ethnic tension, with various parts of the US seceding to form politically independent enclaves. In mixed areas, hate crimes occur daily, the racism open and unabated. Fully enabling the enmity, a family of arms manufacturers, the Gottshalks, play both sides against the middle, their profit line the beneficiary. Fear and paranoia the selling points, ordinary citizens arm themselves as the cycle of violence spins faster everyday. People barricading themselves at home and treading the streets in fear, society is unstable, life forever seeming one step away from complete chaos.