People where I live (Southwest St. Louis City) go a little crazy over grass. We have a neighbor, for instance, who–I swear to you–trims every so often with a pair of scissors and a ruler. That’s a bit extreme considering it’s just zoysia. Now zoysia originates in Asia, and…
British novelist John Christopher (nee Christopher Samuel Youd) (b. 1922) sets the scene of another British disaster novel (a la John Wyndham) in The Death of Grass, but departs greatly from Wyndham in execution. After a brief prologue about two brothers, John and David, the novel begins a few years after the nasty “Chung-Li virus” has ravaged the rice fields of Asia–most heavily in China. Western and British reaction is typically racist: these “Asiatics” don’t know how to handle emergencies and govern themselves, so naturally all shit breaks loose when the staple of their diet disappears. Of course, the noble Brits wouldn’t react in such way. No, according to Christopher, they’d be much worse.
The virus, as you could guess, quickly moves to the West, and it jumps from just rice to almost every type of vegetation out there, most visibly grass. Whole areas become dirt deserts, and citizens quickly begin to panic. Enter the two boys from the prologue. John is now urbane, a family man who works as an engineer in London. David, on the other hand, followed in the footsteps of the boys’ grandfather and became a farmer. David is hold up on the farm growing potatoes. John is trying to flee with his family and hangers on to the safety of David’s farm. And it’s here that Christopher writes a very different book from the average “cosy catastrophe.”
In a Wyndhamian world, white, middle-class folks like John will ensure that civilization will be reborn from the clean slate of disaster, and that it will be truly civil. Christopher’s world is much nastier. Rape, theft, misdistributed arms, ruthlessness, and the legacy of corrupt governments ensure that things won’t go so well in the post-crisis world of the future. Men and women are killed for canned foodstuffs and blankets. Towns form posses that strip refugees bare and leave them for dead. Women are chattel. Traumatized children are eligible for marriage. Families come to gunshots over a sliver of land. And individuals truly change. John, for instance, who was selected “leader” of a band of London refugees by a coin toss, hardens more and more as the novel progresses, all the while promising his wife that he’ll change back to his old self once they “settle down” at his brother’s farm. But it’s hard to wash all the dirt and blood off before relaxing in a rocker near the fire in a quiet country setting.