peteg's blog

John Brunner: The Sheep Look Up

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This is Brunner's eco-dystopia novel, and the last of his fat books for me to read. It takes its title from Milton's Lycidas:

The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread.

The style refines that of his earlier Stand on Zanzibar; a multi-stranded plot, a bazillion characters, plot-development-by-news-flash, set pieces that meditate on the author's pet concerns. It is tighter than his earlier fat books, but perversely this generates less information overload than they did, and so it tends towards the straight-out depressing. Those damn good drugs are found in lower concentrations here, and the language would embarass your grandmother.

Briefly, the U.S.A is overpopulated and incredibly polluted. Those in charge want business to continue as usual, responding to the environmental degredation via the usual war-machine mechanisms. The green movement is discredited (as always) by its association with sundry ratbags, left wingers and alternate-lifestylers. The foreign-aid do-gooders come in for a serve too. Some of his caricatured politicians don't sound so far from what we actually get on the topic of climate change (Lord Monckton springs to mind).

I couldn't find it locally in either bookshop or library, so I bought it from the agreeable Caerwan Books in Western Australia. Incidentally both this and Amis's Success use months for chapter titles.