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The Sheep Look Up

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  4,351 ratings  ·  407 reviews
An enduring classic, this book offers a dramatic and prophetic look at the potential consequences of the escalating destruction of Earth. In this nightmare society, air pollution is so bad that gas masks are commonplace. Infant mortality is up, and everyone seems to suffer from some form of ailment.
Paperback, 388 pages
Published May 11th 2003 by BenBella Books (first published August 1972)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  4,351 ratings  ·  407 reviews

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Dec 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: people who disbelieve the need for the EPA
I think I might DNF this one.

Honestly, I feel like I'm reading the newspaper and the Sierra Club's journal on a particularly bad day. Knowing that this was written forty years ago makes it even worse; you mean we knew these problems were coming and still didn't fix them? We start with gas masks in L.A. (hello, China),

pesticide resistant bugs eating modified crops (hello, Monsanto and Round-Up),

water unsafe for swimming or drinking (hello, red algae blooms and oil spills)

walled enclaves and
Susan Budd
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why are all the dystopian novels I read in my teens coming true? I have to keep reminding myself that this is science fiction from the 70s, not real life here and now.

• “Don’t Drink” notices warn people when the tap water isn’t safe to drink.
• The less fortunate are given synthetic food to eat, while the well-to-do pay top-dollar at an organic food market.
• The President’s dictum regarding the press is: “If the papers know what’s good for them they’ll print what’s good for America” (
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Human beings alive in 2009. Every one of them.
Stop you’re killing me!
David ”The Postman” Brin says in the intro that John Brunner scared the crap out of people in the 60’s , well he scares the crap out of me today. The label “Science Fiction” could be safely removed from this book as it is sadly becoming a realistic portrait of our very own moment in history. A primal scream treatment for anyone who survived the dread and anxiety of the Bush years (written 30 years before it occurred) and a dreadful prophecy of the environmental grave we
Oct 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anybody
The Sheep Look Up is a prime example of Science Fiction at its scariestly prescient (like that word, "scariestly"?:-). John Brunner portrays a world where the United States is run by a president who is eerily reminscent of George W. Bush -- a complete idiot, a figurehead run by his cabinet and given to fighting many small wars. The world is in the middle of an ecodisaster brought about by inexorable population pressure and the systematic abuse of chemicals. Antibiotic resistant diseases are in f ...more
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
If you visit American city,
You will find it very pretty.
Just two things of which you must beware:
Don't drink the water and don't breathe the air!

"How often do I have to tell you? You never go outside without your mask!"

Brunner's book, published in the early seventies, has to be one of the earlier ecopocalypse novels. His descriptions are stunningly prescient. Take a look at his portrait of the Pacific Ocean:

The water looked more like oil. It was dark gray and barely moved to the breeze. Along t
David Schaafsma
“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”--Lycidas, Milton

Lucky thing no one in power has ever taken seriously the warnings of science fiction writers such as John Brunner and those anti-business, anti-“progress” commies and hippies and scientists that claim the world’s air and water is being poisoned and its resources rapaciously plundered. Glad we are getting rid of all those pesky scientific fake-news
Dave Lefevre
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-sf
This has to be one of the most frightening books I have ever read. My favorite science fiction author is Phillip K. Dick, whose sense of extrapolation was amazing. However the extrapolations that Brunner has made in this book leaves most PKD novels in the dust, and that's one of the reasons this books is so unsettling.

While I was reading I couldn't resist to urge to write down some of the speculations that Brunner made in this novel that are uncomfortably like the world we see right now. Here is
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up were two of my favourite books at university, and the covers even appear in my Master's Thesis.

Brunner wrote a few truly awful sci-fi books, and then "something happened" and he wrote these two masterpieces. Truly Awesome books!
Paul Bryant
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-novels-aaargh
See the halibut and the sturgeons
Being wiped out by detergents
Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly
But they don’t last long if they try
Pollution, pollution, wear a gas mask and a veil
Then you can breath as long as you don’t inhale

Sang Tom Lehrer, and seven years later John Brunner wrote the book of the song. I love that rhyme – sturgeons/detergents – and I have to admit it’s way more fun to listen to two minutes of Tom than it is to plough through this jeremiad of a novel from 1972. It’s like one
I can't say I enjoyed the majority of this book. The style is very broken, telling many stories at once with very little indication of how they're related.

It's a bleak world where the climate is broken and polluted, the government is controlling and full of platitudes and outright lies, food and water is scarce, you need filtered masks to breath outside in the cities, and poverty is rampant. The story follows the lives of a number of people and how they survive in the world as it now stands.

“I am as guilty as you, and you are as guilty as me. We can repent together, or we can die together; it must be our joint decision.”

Urg. I need a new Goodreads shelf that I will call “Please, please, please make this fiction again”. “The Sheep Look Up” will go on it, next to “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Brave New World” and “It Can’t Happen Here”.

This book is set in a world where careless and entitled human attitudes have destroyed the environment to the point where you need to wear a gas mask when y
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The title of the novel is a quotation from the poem Lycidas by Paradise Lost author 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 ...

This is an important book, with a capital “I”. It is a shame everyone doesn’t read it, and even more of a shame that many who would read it would dismiss it as silly liberal propaganda as they have dismissed all discussions on climate change. Because it was written in
4.5 stars. A brilliant novel. Not as good as Stands on Zanzibar, but that is not much of a criticism given that Zanzibar is one of the best novels ever written IMHO. This is a novel that explores the effect of unchecked out of control pollution and environmental collapse. Recommended.

Nominee: Nebula Award Best Novel
Nominee:(6th place) Locus Award Best Science Fiction Novel
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was published in 1972 but could easily have been written today. It is terrifyingly realistic and feels closer than ever to becoming true. I had nightmares after reading this...
Jul 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Yes
This novel is scary.
Rarely has a novel actually made me concerned about what is happening in our society.

In the book, the world is basically going to shit, people cannot breathe the air, basic infections are rampant, old pollutions are killing people but the government/corporations are covering it up. The only people who can live healthily are the rich.

The story has is ominously correct on topics such as organic farmer, vegetables making individuals sick, corporations profiting from healthy alt
Nancy Oakes
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
"We're divorced from reality, in the same way as the Romans went on thinking of themselves as invulnerable and unchallengeable long after it ceased to be true. The most awful warnings are staring us in the face..." (207)

As usual, you can stick with the condensed version or click here for the longer one.

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with a work of didactic fiction if it's done well and has other things going for it. In that sense, The Sheep Look Up is one of the best works o
aPriL does feral sometimes
Remarkable times call for remarkable action. America responds with it’s usual can-do character!

The air is no longer quite breathable. The water is poisoned with chemicals from farming, food product additives, pharmaceuticals, plastics, sewage and defoliants. The oceans are dead. No one can remember when they last saw a bird. Even flies are rare. When sunlight breaks through the dust-laden air, it is announced on the television by an affable announcer. Food yields are dropping despite everything
Near future sci fi novel hits pretty close to real life. A portrait of extremes, the consequences of disregarding the environment and the industries that pollute, agricultural catastrophes associated with pesticides, issues associated with the disposal of toxic waste, diseases adapting to antibiotics and the consequences of inept government oversight. Brunner foresaw all of it. Only a couple of nonexistent technologies: tanks that shoot lasers to quell the crowd and a microwave oven that leaked ...more
DNF at 50%.

Why? Because to me the book reads like this:

Boring character (3 paragraphs)
Random horrible event
Flat character (4 paragraphs)
Main horrible event
Boring character (wait, did he/she appear before? I could not remember)
Random horrible event
Uninteresting character (3 paragraphs)
Snippet about main/random horrible event
Dull character (4 paragraphs)
Random horrible event infinitum.

I think I will appreciate the book better if 1) it's better written/edited (the sentences are so sloppy/chop
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It took me a long time to get through this book. I had to put it down to read other, lighter books along the way. Because this book is depressing, far too close to the truth.

The Sheep Look Up was published as sci-fi in 1972, and it essentially forecasts the environmental downfall of the world, specifically the US. Everyone is sick. Everything is poisoned. You can't swim anywhere, see blue skies or breath without filter-masks in cities. Children are deformed or developmentally disabled. Corporati
Twenty years ago, I found Stand on Zanzibar to be a fairly easy read. Not so, with The Sheep Look Up, and I don't have a reason why. Both are done in quite similar style.

Welcome a version of the late 20th century, with a pile-up of every conceivable biological and ecological disaster striking a United States already mired in warfare overseas and political infighting at home. Readers will need to pay attention, as the plots are neatly intertwined but rarely directly emphasized.
May 19, 2016 rated it liked it
This book may be the bleakest, darkest, and most depressing dystopian novel I’ve ever read. It’s the kind of book that motivated me to read out on my deck whenever I could, so I could be surrounded with fresh air, sunshine, singing birds, and healthy, green, growing things. The book seemed twice as bleak whenever I read it at night before going to sleep. It held my interest and I was never tempted to give up on it, but I’m really glad to be done with it.

The book was written in 1972 and it seeme
Oleksandr Zholud
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 ...

--Lycidas by John Milton

This novel was nominated for Nebula award in 1973. While many reviewers here on GR stress its forecasting power, for me it is more a backward looking book. The story is set in late 1970s or so and is more an eco-thriller than ‘pure’ SF. It is heavily based on the real world situation in the late 60s and early 70s: a fractured hippie moveme
May 18, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
I know I've read this before, but didn't remember a thing. It's a little slow to begin, it jumps about confusingly, and it definitely seems a little dated (not as much as you might think for a book published in 1972, though). I could live without the lectures on the dangers of specific toxins like lead and PCBs. I'm pretty sure I knew all that stuff when I would have first read it. 

I think this is supposed to be set in the 1980s - though I can't find why
Natasha Hurley-Walker
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
By turns insightful and terrifying, this book was impossible to put down. Every time I (quite literally) came up for air, I looked at the world around me and thought, "At least it's not that bad here... yet." Combining real and fictional newspaper articles, ancient hymns and poems, and a series of interlocking character narratives not unlike Infinite Jest (minus the hyperbolic prose and enjoyable tangents), 'Sheep' mourns the the selfishness of mankind and the insufferable greed that drives us, ...more
This book was very hard to get in to at first. It's written in a very disjointed style that takes some working to get through. But it is worth it. The things in this book never occurred but the scary thing is it can still happen. All the chemicals in this book are real. Their effects on humans are real. They way that governments and corporations look after their own to the expense of others is real. Hopefully this world doesn't go the same way but it's up to us to make sure it doesn't.
Feb 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
A very rare thing for me - a DNF . I made it half way and decided I was wasting a part of my life. Maybe when it was written this was a foreseeable future and I could have continued reading if that was the only issue. But it just kept on and on. I kept saying okay you made your point, move on. But it didn't. I have read that it does improve towards the end of the book. I just couldn't wait that long. Never mind. I know a lot of people did enjoy this book and I am glad. It just wasn't for me:(
This book was written in 1972 and it remains relevant, especially given the current situation with respect to worldwide environmental accords. Yes there are too many of us and we have abused our planet. There are quite a few characters in the book who collectively tell the story. Not many of them are still alive at the end, taken out by the "Syndicate", the FBI, or various groups of terrorists - some in favor of the environment, some right wing, some just plain scared.
Quite good, although I really wasn't feeling it for the first half of the book. It takes a very long time to find its plot, jumping around from thing to thing with no real focus for probably two thirds, until it homes in. Also incredibly 70's.
Kate Sherrod
May 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-reads-2019
What a weird combination of eerie prescience and slapstick satire this is, for all that I'm pretty sure it was just supposed to be the latter.

The Sheep Look Up is very much a product of its time, when the Vietnam War was still raging and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was still relatively new and shocking. As such, its view of the rest of the twentieth century -- the author's imagined future, our immediate past -- should come across as dated. There are no cell phones, no internet; computers are s
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John Brunner was born in Preston Crowmarsh, near Wallingford in Oxfordshire, and went to school at St Andrew's Prep School, Pangbourne, then to Cheltenham College. He wrote his first novel, Galactic Storm, at 17, and published it under the pen-name Gill Hunt, but he did not start writing full-time until 1958. He served as an officer in the Royal Air Force from 1953 to 1955, and married Marjorie Ro ...more

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