Thursday, March 17, 2005

Book Number 12


The Sheep Look Up (1972) by John Brunner

This amazing book by John Brunner is a sequel to his seminal novel, Stand On Zanzibar. He wrote a series of books in the early 1970's that are considered to have been his best work - Stand On Zanzibar (1968) -overpopulation, The Jagged Orbit (1969) -racial division, The Sheep Look Up (1972) -the environment and The Shockwave Rider (1975) - computers and information overload - this book is cited as the first mention of the idea of a computer "virus").

This is a very '70's book written in that period when a real environmental consciousness was staring to be developed. It portrays a dystopic future where the soil is saturated with herbicides, the air is so polluted that most people can't endure it without a filtermask, crops are dying from resistant pests, the Great Lakes dried out, and wars are breaking out all over the world. One man, Austin Train, has inspired a pro-planet, anti-corporate pollution movement, the Trainites.

Brunner's writing style weaves together multiple storylines of various characters of differing social status. Throughout the book he adds clips of media, advertising and news reports that help to give a sense of the flavour of his world.
"Of course everyone knows what a marvelous aid Lenabix are to a slimmer's diet, with their balanced combination of essential nourishment, health-giving vitamins and specially selected tranquilizer. But has it occured to you that they're the perfect answer to the question which is facing more and more housewives without a weight problem? 'What can I keep in the house for the rare occasions when our stocks run low, bearing in mind that I have a limited budget?' Yes, the answer has to be - Lenabix! They offer remakable value for so much nourishment and so many vitamins, and what's more they can be relied on to calm that child who's woken up in the night asking for food. They'll send your kiddie back to refreshing, restful slumber. And have a Lenabix yourself while you're up, won't you? Lenabix!"

I found The Sheep Look Up to be an incredibly powerful book. It is terrifying not for the environmental (and subsequent social) disintegration of North America that it portrays but but for the eerie parallels to todays world (30 years after this book was written!). People who oppose the corporate polluters are increasingly marginalized as being "un-American" The wealthy shop at the only place where naturally-grown food can be had, Puritan Health Supermarket (Whole Foods anyone!?). No one can drink the tapwater and they need to install filters that may or may not work (Brita!!). He has an idiot/puppet president who utters ridiculous quotes.
...The Pentagon announced an hour ago that the aircraft carrier Wounded Knee has been diverted from routine patrols in the Atlantic and is already flying survey missions over the rebel-held area. Commenting just prior to leaving for a vacation in Honolulu, Prexy[he is the current President] said, quote, They can pull just so many feathers out of the eagle's tail before it pecks. End quote. Contacted Dr. Ike Mostyn, stated that the last reported sighting of a nesting pair of bald-eagles three years ago had proved to be a hoax.
This book reminds me in many ways of another 'eco-future' story called Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. His is a much more positive take on the future where the westcoast NA states and provinces have seceded and set up an environmentally sustainable society.

I am going to do my part to help us move in that direction rather that the one Brunner has outlined in his futuristic novel.

1 comment:

Crumbolst said...

Wow, what a great review. I hadn't heard about this series, or Brunner, but am going to read it. And Ecotopia has been on my list for quite some time. I'm going to bump it up some.