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John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

(12 posts)
  • Started 5 years ago by Dr. Caligari
  • Latest reply from Marian

  1. Dr. Caligari

    On sale today for the Amazon Kindle at $1.99. I've never read Brunner, so I decided this was a sign that I should.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  2. Steve R.

    I read some of his books when they first came out. At the time overpopulation and environmental issues were hot topics. These topics were also explored by other Science Fiction authors of the time too.

    As I was preparing this reply, I began to wonder if the Science Fiction stories the late 60's and early 70's could form their own subcategory centered on population and environmentalism?

    I hope that you enjoy the book, which would be somewhat difficult since it is about a dystopian future. :)

    John Brunner

    Posted 5 years ago #
  3. LukeJackson

    I preferred STAND ON ZANZIBAR.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  4. Chris DeVito

  5. Mark Pontin

    'STAND ON ZANZIBAR is The Shit.'

    Indeed it is. Also, in the World Annals of No Good Deed Must Go Unpunished, a primary entry.

    In a very real sense, Brunner died (at 60, looking 80, wanting it all to be over -- and so would you if he'd been through what he had) for altering course from the slickly professional, facile SF he'd produced hitherto, and writing SOZ and the other three novels we rightly rate him for (THE SHEEP LOOK UP, JAGGED ORBIT, and THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER) to the very best of his SFnal abilities.

    He never fully recovered financially from the investment of time and energy he made in those books.

    John Clute has the lite version --

    '...though these novels received considerable critical attention, they in no way made Brunner's fortune. He was always extremely open about his finances and his hopes for the future, and made no secret of the let-down he felt on discovering himself, after these culminating efforts, still in the position of being forced to produce commercially to survive. This naivete was humanly touching, but fatal to his career. For some years before his death his health was uncertain, which (coinciding with his disillusion) caused a severe slowing down of his once formidable writing speed.'

    For the darker full-length version, I recently found this book-length study --
    -- in a store and read it through. It's got much dark detail about Brunner's later career. He'd tended to be a bumptious guy who'd rubbed some folks in diverse camps the wrong way and they were quick to put the shiv in. (e.g. Mike Moorcock ritually burning Brunner books in front of folks at an SF convention).

    It's also easy to see now that Brunner suffered from being outside the regular camps of SF then. He was too much a Real SF-futurist kind of guy for the British New Wave camp, and in the U.S. too serious, arty and leftist for the Heinleinian 'Wagon Train to the Stars' school of SF-lite to approve of him.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  6. Kevin C.

    Steve R.:

    Environmental SF should definitely be called a subgenre. It may be a huge factor in why I turned to the older stuff until the the late 1970s. The problem was that there was so much of it and the dystopias. Which isn't to say that they were bad; quality-wise they were no worse than anything else. Everything gets old after a while, sort of like the psi subgenre, and yes, even the classic space opera.

    Note that, being out in the boonies, my opinion is shaped by anthologies, which in turn was shaped by whomever purchased the books for the library system, so it may not be an accurate sampling of what was in the magazines. Yet it seemed like all of a sudden environmental SF was the in thing, much like cyberpunk would be in about twenty or so years.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  7. Steve R.

    @Kevin: I graduated from college in 1970 where I had a very strong interest in the environment, population, and the "tragedy of the commons". One of my teachers made a very strong sociological argument concerning the "end" of the frontier and what that meant to society. Specifically that the frontier was "closed". One of the effects of this "closure" meant that those who did not fit into society had nowhere else to go, they could not escape society. Consequently the disaffected remained in society and became a societal problem. Wikipedia: Fredrick Jackson Turner. Many of the dystopian future stories, I believe, unknowingly (or even knowingly) give credence to Turner's theses. Consequently, I gobbled up many of the SF books related to those issues.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  8. Dr. Caligari

    I got around to reading this, about a month after buying it on Amazon. Didn't love it at first-- I thought the predictions of ecological doom were, while sometimes very prescient, often over the top, and I didn't see the point of reading 200+ pages of environmental horrors. But slowly Brunner's pointilistic writing style started to converge into an actual story, and I got caught up in the fate of his characters. By the 2/3 point, I couldn't put it down. All in all, very well done and well ahead of its time.

    Incidentally, I mentioned above that I had never read Brunner. I now recall that I read his "Traveler in Black" collection went it came out in paperback (which was way back in 1971, when I was in my teens). That was fantasy, not SF, and very different in tone and style from "The Sheep Look Up," but excellent in its own way-- I remember incidents and phrases from those stories, despite not having read them in more than 40 years.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  9. Marian

    I recommend Stand on Zanzibar next.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  10. LukeJackson

    My local used paperback bookstore has Brunner's THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME for $1.25. The jacket copy claims that it's written in the vein of the epic SOZ. Is it worth reading??

    Posted 5 years ago #
  11. robertbrown

    A little taste of Brunner the man.

    I found "The Sheep Look Up" to be too bitter for me, but it has some strong writing, and the movement of the plot is sometimes captivating.

    I recommend "The Jagged Orbit" for its exuberance (it is a bit dated), "The Shockwave Rider" for its slightly more optimistic take on some of the issues covered in SoZ, JO, and SLU, and the more obscure "Total Eclipse" which feels like Brunner in dialogue with Lem.

    My favorite Brunner short piece is "The Suicide of Man" which is a knotty thicket of a story.

    I haven't read much Brunner, but I've liked everything I have read.

    Posted 5 years ago #
  12. Marian

    How prophetic was Brunner? The linked article focuses on his life and mainly on Stand on Zanzibar

    I found this on Paul Carlson's facebook. Oldtimers will remember he was quite active on the old Asimov's Forum and now is quite active on facebook.

    Posted 5 months ago #

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