A Trio of Ecological Apocalypses

I must have weak spot for ecological apocalypses.

One of the first SF books I read was Day of the Trifids by John Wyndham. I discovered it through the 1980’s BBC television version. The beginning of the book remains vivid in my memory. The protagonist, after being blinded by a Trifid attack on the farm, awakes alone in hospital.  Nobody answers his cries for help, so he is forced to remove his bandages and search the empty hospital. I was absolutely hooked on the series and I was hooked on the book.

It has been described as a cosy catastrophe. And it is. It is the apocalypse that you can bring home to your mother for tea. Yes, there are trials and obstacles, but the trifids create an eerie emptiness about the world which makes life relatively comfortable for the protagonists. They seize the disaster as a chance to build their own idyll in the countryside. Their focus on their own survival and comfort.

In The Death of Grass by John Christopher, a virus kills all grasses plunging the world into famine and chaos. It is a darker work than Day of the Trifids because the protagonists’ enemy is well pretty much everyone else who is struggling to survive. There is no general incapacity inflicting the population. No trifids helpfully empty the land of inhabitants and moral dilemmas. It’s ‘them or us’ where morals take second place to survival. If you brought this one home to your mother it would hold her at gun point while it emptied the larder.

The Day of the Trifids was published in 1951. The Death of Grass was published in 1956. Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore was published in 1947. It is a satire rather than an adventure story. The threat this time is that one plant (a Bermuda grass treated with a special growth chemical) slowly spreads across California and beyond, swallowing cities and making vast tracks of land uninhabitable.

One challenge with this book is that the narrator, Albert Weener, is unreliable. He sees himself as the hero whereas he is the villain and more of a monster than the weed. Plus the reader’s impression of events and characters is initially filtered through his (self-serving) point of view.

Also, the momentum of the story flags a bit in the middle, but the ending redeems it (at least for me). Overall it is well worth reading. And you can get it for free at Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24246.

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