I’m currently reading John Brunner‘s Catch a Falling Star. The setting is surreal, fantastic even. It comes across as a simple, dream-like tale, set many millennia hence, after the rise and fall of countless human empires and civilisations. Ideas abound. Big ideas.
As I write this, Tom Morello, the Nightwatchman, sings: The sky is falling, the sky is falling…
I’m not mad yet. This is about animals, ecology, and veganism. Bear with me for a moment.
The novel is one of Brunner’s earlier works, revised from one of his earliest novels. But still. Brunner is an author of tremendous vision. His big novels – Stand on Zanzibar, about corporate control of an African state, AI, and the brutal military deconstruction of one man; The Sheep Look Up, about ecological collapse and the solution (the death of America); the Shockwave Rider, in which he coined the term ‘worm’ for a computer virus (in 1975);
But Catch a Falling Star is not really science fiction or fantasy. Catch a Falling Star is a simple parable. Every night, the Meat arrives in town. Sometime, between now and the hundredth millenium in which the book is set, someone bred a bipedal species: the Meat. And they run laughing to their deaths, joyously dying so that the people of the town can eat.
I cannot help but wonder how closely this vision parallels most people’s perceptions of the animal industries. The meat just appears in the supermarket in a flash. Perhaps, with a little thought, they recall that the animals were killed. But, of course, sensible, smart, scientific people design cold, clinical slaughterhouses, so the animals die without pain. And the farmers treat the animals nicely, so the animals live long, happy lives. If they knew they were dying to make delicious food, they’d be happy, right?
But look closely, and it’s not like that. I don’t plan to go into detail here. This post isn’t about that. Slaughterhouses aren’t clinical. They’re chaotic. The killing is far from painless – and the lives? Nasty, brutish, short. Because that’s how humans make them.
Back to Brunner. The big idea at the centre of the tale is this: Creohan the scholar, perhaps the last astronomer, discovers a star getting brighter every night. So he plots its course, and finds that it will rip through Earth’s solar system, destroying humanity. He checks and rechecks his calculations. They are infallible. And, so, he sets out from his house, spreading the word.
No one cares. Everyone is too wrapped up in reliving the past, or dwelling in the present. He is mocked, abused, teased. But he’s right. No one checked his figures or facts. They just didn’t care. The end of the world, a musician tells him, is ‘a stale subject’ – out of fashion. It did not matter that he had logic, reason, or science on his side.
They didn’t want to listen. Sound familiar? This is a huge problem for animal advocates. Reason and logic struggle to compete with wilful ignorance.
But Creohan does not give up. Nor should we. If you feel disillusioned and disenchanted, and if today brought no victory, remember:
What’s one day against the span of history? The world is wide, and we have many days. Let’s show that [humanity] still has the audacity to take on an impossible task, and a love … enough to achieve it!