Wednesday, April 23, 2014


By John Brunner
Recommended reading for Earth Day.

With the rise of a corporation-sponsored government, pollution in big cities has reached extreme levels and most (if not all) people's health has been affected in some way. The public (and scientists) are starting to stand up and revolt. For anyone who enjoys dystopian science fiction, it is a fun read. I re-read it every few years.

From the book:
"At the big Georgia paper mill the saboteur was obviously a chemist. Some kind of catalyst was substituted for a drum of regular sizing solution and vast billowing waves of corrosive fumes ruined the plant. Anonymous calls to a local TV station claimed it had been done to preserve trees. The same day, in northern California, signs were posted on a stand of redwoods that the governor had authorized for lumbering: about two hundred of the last six hundred in the state. The signs said: FOR EVERY TREE YOU KILL ONE OF YOU WILL DIE TOO. The promise was carried out with Schmiesser machine-pistols. The actual score was eighteen people for seventeen trees.
Close enough."

That’s fun, yes?

The book takes its title from a John Milton poem;
‘The hungry sheep look up, but are not fed..”

By the end of the book, rioting and civil unrest sweep the United States, due to a combination of poor health, poor sanitation, lack of food, lack of services, ineffectiveness of services (medical, policing), disillusionment with government/companies, oppressive government, civil unrest, high incidence of birth defects (pollution-induced), and other factors; all services (military, government, private, infrastructure) break down.

The book closes with a woman in England, drawing water from a well as clouds of smoke billow by.
“What’s all this?” she asks.
“America” says her husband “America is on fire”.


soubriquet said...

John Brunner.....
'Basic Straining'!
I recommend 'The Shockwave Rider".
Following Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock", in which he presciently warned of many of the things that would, and do afflict us on our tiny planet, John Brunner wrote "The Shockwave Rider". I thoroughly recommend it.
Like "The Sheep Look Up", it's not exactly an unchallenging read, but well worth the effort.
The central character, it's worth noting, for 1975, is a hacker/whistleblower, and it's interesting to note that he protects himself from an angry government by writing what can best be described as computer viruses and unleashing them into the computer system which is very like an internet. His "tapeworms" have multiple tasks, one being to erase any references to him from government datafiles, so it's virtually impossible for them to track him, as he moves around, trying to stay off-grid.
Another task is a proto-'Wikileaks' function. He warns his pursuers that if they harm people important to him, or if he is captured, imprisoned, or killed, then the tapeworms will start an unstoppable dump of state-secrets and individual politicians' peccadillos to the media and the masses.

Anything there sound familiar in a modern context?

Bulletholes said...

yes, it does Souby. I wondered when I wrote this if you knew the book, and I was thinking I'd like to try another Brunner. I liked his spare and kind of "terse" style. like you say, its not a challenging read, but he manges to create good tension.
I'll give Shockwave Rider a try!