Category Archives: Books

dystopias

When I went to put The Sheep Look Up back in the bookshelf, I saw a couple of other books there that might qualify as dystopias.

I need to say that I’ve been reading science fiction since I was about 12 years old. That’s more than 50 years, kids! I used to have a large collection but gave away many in my last couple of moves. In my opinion, the ones I have left are the best of the best. Certain authors are well represented: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, Joe Haldeman from the 1950’s through 1970’s. Others have only one.

Alas, Babylon is the only book by Pat Frank in my collection. Actually, I can’t remember even reading anything else by him. It’s not really dystopian. It’s the story of a small community in Florida after a nuclear exchange. Just looking at the book spine today triggered a thought that that was similar to the Brunner stories.

The other one that seemed similar in my mind was the Larry Niven novel about a comet hitting the earth, Lucifer’s Hammer. That’s not really a dystopia either.

John Varley’s Titan trilogy would qualify as dystopian even though the bulk of the action takes place away from earth. In it, the madness of humans destroying their home planet drives the story.

Since the basic technique of science fiction is to imagine a future world and build a story around it, it shouldn’t be surprising that most are rather dark.

Younger authors that I like a lot have written about dystopias. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and the early William Gibson novels, beginning with Neuromancer, are clearly dystopian.

The more I write that word, the less I like it. Maybe I’ll do a list of the SF novels in my library – not that many, less than 50 – and do a quick description/review. Some are hopeful . . .

The Sheep Look Up

The Sheep Look Up is a title of a John Brunner novel from the early 1970’s. In my mind it always went along with his earlier novel Stand On Zanzibar in its dystopian view of the world. I read them when they came out and still have my original (paperback) copies. After the events of the last couple of weeks, I dug out my copy of The Sheep Look Up.

It’s pretty strident. Brunner’s anger shows through on every page. Reading it again made me think about what we all thought about pollution in those days and what we did about it.

Stand On Zanzibar had a relatively upbeat ending, though, whereas The Sheep Look Up does not. Air, sea and land are poisoned so thoroughly worldwide that human survival is in question.

The last chapter is simply a quote from the John Milton poem 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.