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JOHN CHRISTOPHER – THE DEATH OF GRASS  (1956) Sphere Books. (Filmed very badly as No Blade Of Grass). 

 

A simple but highly effective doom laden end of civilisation as we know it story of some prophetic force even today. The ecological message of Christopher’s novel is startling. It begins when people in London hear news reports of a famine in China where the grass crops are failing. Efforts to refine and genetically enhance wheats, barleys, and rices (all grasses) have failed and the grasses are dying. In England, a few people with agricultural knowledge begin to notice that the distant virus is in fact already discolouring the grasses in our own nation. One man, the hero of the work, has family connections in a remote farming community to the North which he believes will be sufficiently isolated to escape the ravages of the grass devouring plague. He contemplates moving his family and immediate friends to his brother’s farm when the time comes. In fact, it comes faster than he expects, when he learns that the Government has plans to trap the urban populations within the cities. The government has realized that with grasses gone, the remaining root crops, and fish supplies will only feed about a quarter of the population. To avoid panic, they plan to cut the remainder off in the towns to die.  The heroes now plan their escape as London is subjected to such a trap. The police and army have formed a cordon around London preventing anyone from leaving. The hero decides he needs to take difficult decisions. He buys a gun. However, he ends up revealing the news of the reasons for the armed cordon round the city to the gunsmith, who insists on coming with them. He reasons that he at least understands firearms. They reluctantly take him, which is a mistake. While others kill from lack of choice and a need for survival, the gunsmith relishes the opportunities for violence and enjoys killing without fear of the now broken law and order of the land. Out of London, after violent struggles, the band face many desperate situations as they head north, and as their numbers swell when they take in other survivors, they reach the farm community in some force. Sadly, the hero’s brother has turned the farm into a fortress, and refuses to let so many into the farm. The hero has now   been forced into civil war with his brother and he has to kill the gunsmith too, (which he achieves by drowning him in a river swell known to the hero from a near drowning incident in his own infancy). The survivors find their haven, though at some cost, with hints even now that they might yet be affected by the grass tragedy. One of the best warnings about environmental catastrophe ever written, with plausible characters, and good people forced to kill and steal and beg for survival purposes. A book just screaming for reissue. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/c/john-christopher/death-of-grass.htm

 

 

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