I read this while up at my grandparents' somewhere around 1990ish. Given how many books they had from when my dad was growing up, there's a decent chance that it's older. It was a novel where the government kept pretty strict control of society. They had some sort of mass entertainment covered because I remember a reference to the government giving the citizens "their bread and circuses" as a reference to the Roman practices. The biggish twist is that the resistance isn't so much actively fighting the government as that they're providing a pressure valve by using their hackers to set up telephone relays which act as support lines. Anyone can call and talk about their troubles. The telephone technology was relatively old — I think I remember them talking about mechanical relays — and they advertised the changing numbers (they had to keep going to new ones as the government shut down the old ones) on flyers that they posted all over the place.

The one bit of imagery that really stuck out to me was where a female member of the resistance was explaining to the male protagonist that, no matter how bad things got, they had to stay on the line, and she recounted one of her first calls involving a mother who'd locked her baby into a high-chair and was flinging spoonfuls of vitriol (acid, but they specifically used the word "vitriol") at the baby as she talked.

I don't think I ever got to finish the book, so I have no idea how it ended.

1 Answer 1


Could this be John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider, from 1975?

Here's the relevant plot element, from Wikipedia:

"Hearing Aid", an anonymous telephone confession service accessible to anyone in the country. Hearing Aid is also known as the "Ten Nines", after the phone number used to call it: 999-999-9999. People call the service, a human operator answers, and they simply talk while the operator listens. Some rant, others seek sympathy, still others commit suicide while on the phone. Hearing Aid's promise is that nobody else, not even the government, will hear the call. The only response Hearing Aid gives to a caller is "Only I heard that, I hope it helped."

I don't want to get into specifics for fear of spoilers, but this help-line is operated by what can be seen as a community of hackers or rebels against the government.

I heartily recommend it, it's one of my favorites.

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    Yup. That's it. Relevant quote about the vitriol is present. And just as sickening as it was then... "When someone vents a lifetime of hate on you and then makes sure you hear the hideous guggle as he cuts his carotid with a kitchen knife — yes, it's a strain. Once I had to listen while a crazy woman threw spoonfuls of vitriol at her baby, tied in a feeding chair. She wanted to get back at its father. The poor kid's screams!"
    – FuzzyBoots
    Apr 22, 2014 at 17:01
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    Excellent book. Got me started reading Brunner.
    – davidbak
    Feb 21, 2016 at 5:36

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