Sunday, August 8, 2010

Still timely after all these years....

After this week's news reports about HOT summer temps in the U.S. & heavy, choking smog in Moscow, & other long-term smog issues in places like LA, Beijing, Mexico City, London, Ankara, Istanbul, Athens, Denver, Boise & other places, it's intresting how timely John Brunner's 1972 science-fiction pollution-death novel THE SHEEP LOOK UP still is.
The past week's thick smog in Moscow could be straight outta the pages of this book, with its filtermasks 4 the air you can't breathe, purifiers 4 the water you can't drink, heavy clouds that block out the sun 4 weeks or months at a time, insect pests that are immune to every known kind of insecticide, waves of ongoing nagging diseases that EVERYBODY gets sooner or later, etc. etc. etc.
I remember being outraged & moved by this book when I 1st read it back in 1975 when I was 15 years old -- & again when I re-read it in the mid-'80s. Even then, tho the book is fiction, I KNEW there were things LIKE THIS happening out there in the Real World. & tho we've become a LOT more environmentally conscious since then, even tho more & more people R "goin Green" than ever before, we're still in Bad Shape. Tho not as bad as the folks in this novel.
Brunner was pretty brilliant, at times. His earlier epic SF novel STAND ON ZANZIBAR (1968, 650 pgs) showed the Earth being brot 2 the brink of disaster due to overpopulation. Brunner juggled a fairly simple plot focusing on a handful of characters, slammed in a massive amount of background detail thru isolated scenes, newspaper clippings, TV commercials & etc., & made it all work brilliantly almost all the way up to the end ... when the melodrama & plottiness got kinda obvious. Still, among my Top 10 fave SF novels ever.
Brunner followed it up with THE JAGGED ORBIT (1969, about 1/2 as long), another disaster novel about race-relations crises -- I read it 1nce years ago & barely remember a word -- it's waiting on my shelf 4 re-reading. He later wrote another epic, THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER (1975), which is sposta B a precursor of cyberpunk. I got about 50 pgs in2 it a coupla yrs back & wasn't gripped.
All these big novels didn't make Brunner rich. He was always very open about how ZANZIBAR did not make a fortune & how he still hadta crank-out a coupla potboiler SF novels each yr 2 pay the bills. When he died a decade ago he reportedly had less than $1,000 in his bank account. Which maybe shows that you won't get rich by predicting the future frighteningly -- even if you're pretty accurate.
If you're a big fan of Irony & Poetic Justice, you'll probably like SHEEP. In some ways it's probly on Al Gore's 10 Best list. At the most basic level it follows how 1 unforeseen disaster can mushroom & impact millions. But it's also obvious that the disaster that kicks-off the story is just more fuel 4 a fire that's already out of control.
SHEEP flows more smoothly than ZANZIBAR -- the approach is almost streamlined. Brunner has a lot 2 cover in 430 pgs. But its tough 2 read a novel in which almost all the characters you meet & are encouraged to identify-with get blown-away 1 by 1 as the story proceeds.
In ZANZIBAR & ORBIT there was hope left at the end, a little optimism, no matter how bad things were. There is no happy ending 4 anyone in this story. Ecologist Austin Train's final speech isn't long enuf or moving enuf -- the whole book leads up to it & it coulda gone on MUCH longer. & when a scientist reveals that a computer program he's been working on 4 the entire book has concluded that the human race CAN be saved -- IF we exterminate the 200 million most wasteful & greedy of our species ... then that's exactly what happens.
Not exactly lite, EZ reading. But I thot I would be carried away by the story, could admire Brunner's technique & get outraged again. Instead, it took me almost a month 2 get thru it (with interruptions, including a vacation). Worth reading, but not the acidic, outrageous, painful explosion that I remembered....

CURRENTLY TRYING TO DIGEST: Colin Greenland's THE ENTROPY EXHIBITION, about SF's "New Wave" of the late '60s & specifically about the fiction published in Michael Moorcock's NEW WORLDS magazine. Some of this is very heavy going, very dry -- not suprising; the book was originally Greenland's college master's thesis.
There is good stuff here on the writings of Moorcock, J.G. Ballard & Brian W. Aldiss. But there isn't enuf about the history or day-to-day workings of the magazine (Charles Platt has some great stories about working on NW included in his DREAM MAKERS books of interviews w/ SF writers). I grabbed this thinking it was going to B a HISTORY of NW -- which woulda been right up my alley, & I love reading writing ABOUT writing.
Greenland nailed 1 item tho, which made me laff out loud: At 1 point he describes some of the work of late-'60s British SF writer Langdon Jones as "sick." & I laffed because Greenland's RIGHT -- Jones's work does come across as feverish, diseased, lurid -- something very twisted that hadta explode out 4 the author's own good. You can read Jones's "The Coming of the Sun" in Damon Knight's THE BEST FROM ORBIT....

1 comment:

Perplexio said...

Might have to check out Brunner per your recommenation! Where ya been lately, Tad?