The Sheep Look Up

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
The Sheep Look Up
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author John Brunner (novelist)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher Harper & Row
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
ISBN 0-06-010558-5
OCLC 447474
LC Class PZ4.B89 Sh PR6052.R8

The Sheep Look Up is a science fiction novel by British author John Brunner, first published in 1972. The novel's setting is decidedly dystopian; the book deals with the deterioration of the environment in the United States. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1972 and is celebrated in a 1988 essay by John Skipp in Horror: 100 Best Books.


The title of the novel is a quotation from the poem Lycidas by John Milton:

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

Plot summary

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. Continuing the style used in Stand on Zanzibar, there is a multi-strand narrative, and many characters in the book never meet each other; some characters only appear in one or two vignettes. Similarly, instead of chapters, the book is broken up into sections which range from thirty words in length to several pages.

The character of Austin Train in The Sheep Look Up serves a similar purpose to Xavier Conroy in The Jagged Orbit or to Chad Mulligan in Stand on Zanzibar: He is an academic who, despite predicting and interpreting social change, has become disillusioned by the failure of society to listen. This character is used both to drive the plot and to explain back-story to the reader.

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, high incidence of birth defects (pollution-induced), and other factors; all services (military, government, private, infrastructure) break down.

Publication notes

Despite being nominated for a Nebula Award, the book fell out of print, only later being republished. The new edition contains a foreword by David Brin and an afterword by environmentalist and social change theorist James John Bell. Brin places the book in the context of Brunner's time and other writings. In the afterword, Bell treats the book almost as prophecy, drawing parallels between events in the book and subsequent real world developments: "His words have a kind of Gnostic power embedded in them that gives his characters passage into our world". He notes that "Brunner's puppet of a president, affectionately called Prexy, is a dead ringer for our Dubya".

Environmental protest sabotage done by the Earth Liberation Front is pulled directly from the pages of the novel. Writer William Gibson made a similar remark in a 2007 interview:

"No one except possibly the late John Brunner, in his brilliant novel The Sheep Look Up, has ever described anything in science fiction that is remotely like the reality of 2007 as we know it."[1]

See also


  1. Dennis Lim: Now romancer. Interview with William Gibson,, 11 August 2007

External links