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on March 18, 2016
The book is really helpful and it catches your attention
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on September 18, 2014
I vacillated between 2 and 3 stars for this one. It gets 2 stars simply for being one of the most complete near-future dystopias of the 20th century. I eventually decided Brunner's craftsmanship nets it a third star. Frankly, beyond that there is little to recommend it. The first 20 pages set the tone so thoroughly that every event in the rest of the book is not only predictable, but feels unavoidable. In addition, there are a lot of jarring inconsistencies for a near-future, supposedly realistic setting, such as the narrator telling the reader that Europe is as poisoned as the US, but the visiting Irish character being disgusted and amazed at the conditions in the US. The book also suffers from the fashionable assumption of its time that all evil originates in industrialized nations, and that the majority of that evil comes from the US. There is also the mandatory nod to the great god of greens Ralph Nader, who is portrayed as being almost as wise as the all-seeing Austin Train.

It's plodding, heavy-handed, and there are literally dozens of short stories (many collected in the Dangerous Visions anthologies) that make the same points better, with less preaching, and without the feeling that this is a political commercial dressed as a novel. If I were judging it on readability and entertainment value, rather than as an exemplar of a sub-genre, I would probably drop my rating by at least one star. I found myself wishing Brunner would just kill all of the characters and move on - there wasn't a single character in the entire book whom I wanted to see survive to the end, and most of them I would have been happy to see exit by the end of their introductory section/chapter/scene. It is the sort of book I might teach in a speculative literature course, but not one I would recommend a friend read.
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on August 5, 2014
I am a little bit disappointed by the book. I know it was written long time ago, but still I have expected something else. I am not native English and the language of the book was not the easiest one, so maybe I haven't understand everything. Still it was a good, but difficult read. In enjoyed it more than it frustrated me :)
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on March 17, 2016
I first read this book in the 1970s, when the mid-1980s were still in the future. Brunner wrote this powerful dystopia when the Viet Nam War seemed endless, as it spilled over into other countries such as Cambodia.

Further, his portrayal of a world ravaged by the wastes and by-products, though still quite pertinent, are adorably anachronistic. One of the main characters drives an electric car which, she remembers comfortably, produced only water and carbon dioxide!

Brunner also took past concerns about over population and ran with it. While there are still some holdouts who believe that third world countries suffer starvation due to their birth rate and not politics, ignoring the facts that warlords requisition relief provisions for their own use - not to mention that we live in a country where there are "cookie bars" and diet food for dogs - the worry that if Americans have more than 2.5 children we are all going to die has itself died down greatly since this book was written.

Yet he was dot on in many other areas. He foresaw the concept of large supermarkets selling organic food well ahead of its time. (And I hope he's wrong about his prediction of unscrupulous companies altering produce so as to give it the appearance of having been nibbled on by little critters!)

He was also prescient when he portrayed the President of the United States as a celebrity refusing to take social problems seriously. For a writer who didn't live in the age of Twitter or "sound bites" it is uncanny how he captures their essence so completely.

I don't want to totally spoil the book, but he amazes me further in the way he illustrates future dystopian sexist and violent culture and music. How could someone who wrote nearly half a century before hard metal and "gangsta rap" envision entertainment so similar in some ways?

So, young readers, you who cannot understand old cartoons from the New Yorker about the Cold War or do not know anything about Southeast Asia, be patient with this out-if-date Classic. Even without Brunner's prophetic bulls eyes, this is still one of the best dystopian novels ever written.
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on July 8, 2002
Many people nowadays look back on the brief burst of environmental awareness (alarm) and criticism of corporate power which occurred in the 1970's as quaint,naive, slightly ridiculous. One prior reviewer of this work refers to the "hysteria" of the period.
What strikes me most strongly about _The Sheep Look Up_, billed as a 'sequel' to his big hit _Stand on Zanzibar_, is not its quaintness but its frightening accuracy. While Brunner guessed wrong on a number of counts -- for example, we haven't *quite* killed all the whales yet! -- there were trends which he read astutely and forecast correctly.
In particular he forecast increasing solipsism and isolationism in American politics and cultural life; he predicted a decline in the quality of political life, to the point where the American presidency would be occupied by a semi-literate figurehead whose job is to recite comforting and irrelevant platitudes into a microphone on his way from one glamorous gig to the next. His "Prexy" character seemed like a good fit for Reagan a while back, but the current Bush (the 2nd of that name) is an even closer match.
Brunner forecast the dumbing down of media, the intrusion of advertising into the most intimate spaces of daily life. He forecast the sidelining of "healthy lifestyle" products and choices into a yuppie trend (organic food becoming a boutique item) and the demonisation of environmentalists as "terrorists" and criminals. He forecast a degradation of community life, the rise of private security forces, and an increasing gap between (very) rich and (powerless) poor people.
He forecast the multiplication of resistant strains of pathogens, though he did not specifically call out the abuse of antibiotics in agriculture as a prime cause. He did not foresee the consequences of synthetic estrogens; and his view of genetic engineering is by and large more positive than it would have been if he had been writing today with the legal shenanigans of Monsanto, Syngenta and their ilk in view (Brunner would have loved the story of Percy Schmeiser -- he might almost have written it himself). He forecast the ubiquitous use of tranquilizers in daily life, but he did not foresee the current fad for pathologizing ordinary behaviours (particularly in childhood) and administering psychotropics to children. The rise to enormous power of the pharmaceutical companies was not on his radar (Mike McQuay, however, took notice of that trend in his own grimly dystopian future private-eye novels).
When I first read _Zanzibar_ and _Sheep_ I was just a kid. Now, almost half a lifetime later, I find that the concerns, the anger and grief and bitterness that Brunner articulated so fluently in the 1970's are far from dated. If anything, his work seems fresher and more poignant now than it did then -- I have witnessed 30 additional years of the indiscriminate damage and vandalism we call "growth" in the interim.
Many things "date" Brunner's work -- in particular his thoughtless, stereotypically "Seventies" sexism, which becomes wearying to the modern reader after only a few chapters. The core issues of his work, however, have worn well; clearly it was possible as long as 30 years ago to predict many of the negative consequences of a deeply dysfunctional way of life -- overconsumption, overpopulation, concentration of power in the hands of large corporations, irresponsible use of finite resources, and so forth. His work serves as a depressing reminder that even though we may know we are heading in a wrong direction -- and even have writers able to point out the possible consequences -- and even publish those writers -- we can and do continue in happy denial towards the very dystopia that our "out there" novelists predict for us.
Today our dystopian science fiction writers, notably the able satirist Bruce Sterling, paint for us possible futures resulting from a world economy destabilized by finance capital, a world climate irrevocably altered by global warming and the irresponsible release of GMOs, and so on. These possibilities will be selectively ignored, one feels, just as Brunner's predictions were ignored in his time. He was considered a raving pessimist, not to be taken seriously. Which of our prophets are we ignoring today, whom we might do better to take seriously?
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on August 22, 2016
While I love the bleakness of the world and how relevant it still is today, the reason why I'm rating it 3 / 5 stars is because of how frustrating the writing was. There are a lot of characters introduced very briefly and very quickly, mixed in with other random little snippets, that make actually following the story a pain. I was very close to quitting the book at about a third way through, although I'm glad I didn't.

If you're looking for a bleak and depressing story about the dangers of human nature and what we're doing to the environment, The Sheep Look Up is fantastic. Just be prepared to tackle the book with a lot of patience.
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on July 14, 2016
Boring. Life's too short.
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on December 29, 2016
Four decades plus ago Brunner wrote this story of our species murdering the planet and thus ourselves. People read it as a "can't happen here" tale. These days when some thick yutz my age or a bit less gripes about the weather or whines about a grandchild with a monstrous defect, I say, "Look up," and if asked why, I say, "Go read John Brunner." To date ONE person did that. I've been ZPG, water conserver, green, recylcling advocate since age 19, when my late father, a correspondent with the author handed me some od his books. That was 49 yrs ago. IMO most folks want us only to look up to find an invisible rescuer instead of DOING WHAT WE MUST DO TO SAVE OURSELVES. Sad.
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on March 27, 2017
The Sheep Look Up is basically the chronicle of the end of civilization in the US, caused primarily by pollution and overpopulation. The writing is generally mediocre, with some good passages, but marred by a jarring style which jumps from character to character all over the world, often with no introduction to new characters. Some appear only briefly, some recur. One of the main characters, Austin Train, appears basically to be a mouthpiece for the environmental views of the author.

Some of the environmental crises, like antibiotic resistance, seem very prescient. Some, like overpopulation, seem almost comical to a modern reader.

** Spoilers Below**

The book is very, very pessimistic in tone. Technology is portrayed is feckless and constantly making things worse, not better. No one's ideas work, and most of the main characters are killed in the civil disorder. I enjoyed it as a change of pace -- I don't think I've ever read another book with as little hope as this one.

I enjoyed reading it, mostly as a change of pace.
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on October 27, 2016
This is a 40-year-old book that could have been written today. Climate change, breakdowns of the infrastructure, natural disasters that could have been prevented, and the voice of a prophet calling in the wilderness and being totally ignored. Brunner was prescient, and at times it seems he had a copy of today's newspapers being delivered to him in 1972.

There are times when he goes into long speeches that seem unlikely to be delivered in the context of the book, but it is fascinating to read him describing a frightening dystopian look at life today. He had a few misses, but most of his predictions are right on, at least in incidents if not in number. Thankfully we are not as bad as he describes it—yet.
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