Black Sheep Astray

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"Black Sheep Astray"
Author Mack Reynolds
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Astounding: The John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology
Publication type Anthology
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Publication date 1973

"Black Sheep Astray" is a science fiction short story by Dallas McCord "Mack" Reynolds. It is one of thirteen narratives included in the collection Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, a special tribute by Astounding authors to the memory of science fiction and fantasy magazine editor John W. Campbell. In terms of plot, "Black Sheep Astray" is the last in a sequence of near-future stories set in North Africa, which also includes Black Man's Burden (1961-2), Border, Breed nor Birth (1962), and The Best Ye Breed (1978). "Black Sheep Astray" and the North Africa series have been called a "notable exception" to the indirect treatment of racial issues in 1960s science fiction magazines.[1]


Sociologist Dr. Homer Crawford, for many years the tyrant of North and most of Central Africa, under the name of El Hassan, faces a military coup led by his closest supporters, Bey-ag-Akhamouk and Elmer Allen, who believe Crawford is an impediment to Africa's progress because he opposes foreign aid and investment in the region. Promised a pension and safe passage if he submits, Crawford leaves Africa to retire to Switzerland with his wife Isobel and sons Tom, Cliff, and Abraham. After thwarting an assassination attempt by army officers on board his aeroplane, he makes it safely to Switzerland. Once there, his son Abraham reminds him that many of El Hassan's detractors (who include Abraham himself) were merely responding to his unwillingness to move from a dictatorship to a democratic government.

Six months later, now a frustrated semi-alcoholic, Crawford learns of a counter-coup in Africa by a dissident army cabal led by his old arch-enemy Abd-el-Kader. Most of the junta that deposed him have been shot, but Elmer Allen has managed to make it through to meet Crawford in Switzerland. Realizing that Abd-el-Kader will revoke his progressive programs, Crawford decides to contact his closest associates and return to North Africa in disguise. Allen and Abraham decide to accompany him.

The group rendezvous with Crawford's associates in an afforestation project in what was Southern Algeria. Crawford reveals that his plan for a counter-coup consists of a guerrilla campaign to divert Abd-el-Kader's troops so that Abraham has time to organize the country's youth to form a new political organisation against the ruling colonels. When Abraham expresses surprise at the plan, Crawford explains that his time has passed, and that now it is up to the next generation to revolt against the status quo. In a flashback of his last conversation with Isobel, we learn that Crawford does not believe he will survive the revolution this time around.

Major themes[edit]

Black sheep[edit]

As with Black Man's Burden, Border, Breed nor Birth, and The Best Ye Breed, the title "Black Sheep Astray" plays on a Rudyard Kipling poem;[2] in this case, as the story's epigraph ("We're little black sheep/Who've gone astray,/ Baa-aa-aa!") indicates, on the refrain of "Gentlemen Rankers."[3] A gentleman ranker is person of privilege who, despite his education, serves as an enlisted man, usually because he has disgraced himself or transgressed his society's mores,[4] and so is considered a "black sheep."

The continuous revolution[edit]

The need for a continuous and "endless" social revolution against the status quo is a recurrent theme in Reynolds' work (see, for instance, the short story "Utopian").[5][6] In "Black Sheep Astray," Crawford's "third world revolution" also becomes a "second generation of continuing revolution" when he acknowledges that the young Abraham and his associates must create their own agenda to solve North Africa's present problems.[7]


  1. ^ Langford, David, Peter Nicholls, and Brian Stableford. "Race in SF." Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, 3d edition (online). Ed. John Clute, David Langford, and Peter Nicholls. 2012. par. 3. Web.
  2. ^ Price, George W. "Mack Reynolds and Politics." eI43 8.2. (April 2009). Web. Text available at
  3. ^ Reynolds, Mack. "Black Sheep Astray." Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology. Ed. Harry Harrison. Random House, 1973. 202. ISBN 978-0-394-48167-8 (10). Print.
  4. ^ Safire, William. Watching My Language: Adventures in the Word Trade. New York: Random House, 1997. n.p. ISBN 0679423877 (10). ISBN 978-0679423874 (13). Print.
  5. ^ Reynolds, Mack. "Afterword." Foundation 16 (May 1979): 54-55. Print.
  6. ^ Smith, Curtis C. Welcome to the Revolution: the Literary Legacy of Mack Reynolds. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo, 1995. 63. ISBN 1557422362 (10). ISBN 978-1557422361 (13).
  7. ^ Smith, Curtis C. Welcome to the Revolution: the Literary Legacy of Mack Reynolds. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo, 1995. 71. ISBN 1557422362 (10). ISBN 978-1557422361 (13).