The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

“The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

I’ve been thinking about this book since I finished it last week. I’ve wanted to write a review of it but this book was pretty intense I needed to let it settle in my brain.

February “DISGRACE” “You and your ancestors treated the world like a fucking great toilet bowl. You shat in it and boasted about the mess you’d made. And now it’s full and overflowing, and you’re fat and happy and black kids are going crazy to keep you rich. Goodbye!”

This book is about a dystopian climate future, that may have been science fiction in 1972, when this was written, but is starting to look like our likely future if humans don’t make changes like yesterday!

March “RAVELED SLEEVE” All this time, though, this feeling that the world was ‘’bound’’ to go to hell! Okay, so it’s true these mothers have turned prairies into dustbowls and used the sea for a giant sewer and laid concrete where there used to be forests. So stop them! Don’t just let them walk over you, crush you face-down into the dirt! Crush them first!

The story takes places over 1 year, and each chapter is about one month. As with most of his novels, like ““Stand on Zanzibar””, each chapter has different sections about different characters, and other bits that flesh out the world. The other bits are like news that interrupts the narrative: poems, radio dispatches, advertising for products, or quotes from people in the book world.

One of the most startling things is how similar this nightmare world is to our world in 2021

  • severe water pollution; most of the time ““don’t drink”” notices issued
  • you need to wear an air filter mask to walk outside without coughing
  • so much smog over California, you can’t see the sun
  • acid rain ruins your clothes if you don’t wear a plastic cover
  • sea so polluted with garbage, people vacation in the mountains for clean air
  • much of the land is destroyed by chemicals so food is expensive
  • rich can afford ‘clean’ food, but is it really clean? possible conspiracy about that
  • many animals extinct or almost extinct; seeing a bird is a noteworthy event
  • USA has lowest lifespan in the world
  • USA run by right wing government with crazy President who uses violence to stop dissent
  • poor people dying
  • rich people live in walled communities with armed guards
  • USA in many foreign wars, there is a draft for all young men
  • anarchist group, ““Trainites””, blow things up to try and stop corporations from killing the Earth

The main plot is about the ’leader’ of the Trainite, and the information he has that could help put the world back on track. On the other hand, I’m not sure there is a main plot except that the world is fucked up.

June “A PLACE TO STAND” What hurt him most of all, made him feel like a sick child aware of terrible wrongness and yet incapable of explaining it to anyone who might help, was that in spite of the evidence around them, in spite of what their eyes and ears reported—and sometimes their flesh, from bruises, stab wounds, racking coughs, weeping sores—these people believed their way of life was the best in the world, and were prepared to export it at the point of a gun.

The world in ““The Sheep Look Up”” is a nightmare scenario, and be forewarned, nothing good happens to any of the characters in this novel. It might not be the best novel to read in this pandemic time, or maybe it’s just the kind of novel we do need to read. It’s a very long novel and not for everyone but damn…some of these images will forever be etched in my brain now. Is it too late for us to save ourselves? I hope not but this novel leaves me with doubts.

July “SCRATCHED” When the politicians claim that the public isn’t interested any longer in environmental conservation, they’re half right. People are actually afraid to be interested, because they suspect—I think rightly—that we’ll find if we dig deep enough that we’ve gone so far beyond the limits of what the planet will tolerate that only a major catastrophe which cuts back both our population and our ability to interfere with the natural biocycle would offer a chance of survival.

I’ll end this with the same poem that Brunner does in this novel:

John Milton - Lycidas …The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed, But swollen with wind and the rank mist they draw, Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread …

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #29 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #JohnBrunner #SciFi #fiction #climate #dystopian


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