I hadn’t even noticed the pattern until my editor brought it to my attention. “Rob,” she said, peering at me over a stack of my books on her desk, “why do you keep writing about sheep?”
“I have no idea what you mean,” I replied, taking a seat across from her. “I write very highbrow literary-type science fiction novels.”
She grabbed a copy of Mercury Rests from the top of the pile. “Page 243. You have a reference to an ‘exsanguinating sheep’.”
“Well,” I said, “what other animal are you going to sacrifice on top of a volcano?” I asked.
“And here in Mercury Rises,” she said. “Page 128. You have an exchange where an angel attempts to convince the biblical character Noah to trade his sheep for bricks.”
“That’s for the Settlers of Catan crowd,” I said. “I can’t help the fact that sheep are a key element of the game.”
“Disenchanted,” she says. “You go on for five pages about the suicidal sheep of Ytrisk.”
“Their wool is so itchy even the sheep can’t bear to wear it,” I explained. “It’s an integral element of the plot. See, the war between the Ytriskians and the—”
“And now this,” she said, picking up a thick stack of papers next to the pile. “What the hell is this?”
“The Big Sheep,” I said. “It’s like a mashup of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and—”
“This isn’t normal,” she said. “Your books are becoming increasingly sheep-focused at an alarming rate.”
“Sheep have a long and respected history in literature,” I sniffed. “Why, there are dozens of great books about sheep.”
“Oh yeah?” she said, regarding me dubiously. “Name five.”
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
This one’s a gimme. Philip Dick’s novel about what it means to be human—or a sheep—is a science fiction classic. Alternately disturbing and hilarious, it’s one of Dick’s best. It was also the inspiration for the film Blade Runner, which is a classic in its own right.
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
John Brunner’s dystopic novel strives to be the environmentalist equivalent of Brave New World or 1984, and while it doesn’t quite attain that level of prophecy or poignancy, it remains a fascinating look at a future that might have been—and in some ways resembles what has actually come to pass.
In Brunner’s future, air pollution is so bad that everyone wears gas masks. The infant mortality rate is soaring, and birth defects, new diseases, and physical ailments of all kinds abound. The water is undrinkable—unless you’re poor and have no choice. Large corporations fighting over profits from gas masks, drinking water, and clean food tower over an ineffectual, corrupt government.
Admittedly, the sheep in this book are metaphorical, but there’s something to be said for metaphorical sheep. They don’t eat as much, for example, and are less likely to get caught in a fence.
Lamb by Christopher Moore
I’m reaching a bit with this one. For one thing, this book isn’t about an actual lamb, unless you’re one of those people who insists on a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, in which case you’ve got some difficult hermeneutical and/or zoological issues to work out. Also, it’s not a science fiction book, unless you consider miracles science and the Bible fictional. I’m going to stop talking now.
Lamb is a retelling of the story of Jesus. It’s funny and touching, and it’s the book that put bestselling humorous fantasy author Christopher Moore on the map.
Wool by Hugh Howey
It’s probably time I admitted this theme isn’t really working out. Wool isn’t about sheep. It’s not even really about wool. It’s about people trying to survive underground after the world has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The ultimate punishment in Hugh Howey’s novel is to be sent outside, which makes me wonder if Hugh didn’t maybe spend a little too much time playing Colecovision in the basement as a kid.
Wool was an indie publishing phenomenon, selling millions of copies. Sadly, Hugh Howey remains relatively poor and unknown, cursed to roam the Caribbean in his sailboat in search of WiFi hotspots where he can download his royalty statements. Howey remains best known as the guy who called my novel The Big Sheep “a sheer delight,” which is a hilarious pun that I in no way twisted Hugh’s arm to write.
The Android’s Dream John Scalzi
I’m totally going to redeem myself with this one. The Android’s Dream is a funny and chaotic romp involving freelance mercenaries, megalomaniacal lobbyists, aliens on a religious quest, artificial intelligence and, yes, an actual sheep. Clearly inspired in part by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Android’s Dream is perhaps John Scalzi’s best book. Will the Earth be destroyed by aliens? Will the hero recover the titular sheep? Will Scalzi unmute me on Twitter after reading this? Read this book and find out the answers to some of these questions!
This article was originally published in June 2016.
Robert Kroese honed his sense of irony growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After barely graduating from Calvin College, he stumbled into software development. In 2009, he called upon his extensive knowledge of useless information and love of explosions to write his first novel, Mercury Falls. The Big Sheep is probably something like Kroese’s eleventh book, but there’s no way to know for certain.