REVIEW: The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch
REVIEW SUMMARY: A captivating classic.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Post-apocalyptic novel showing the decline of mankind amidst giant alien plants.
PROS: Excellently conveys a dark mood; engrossing tale; well-told and well-paced;
CONS: The last page or two was a little too religious – but so what.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended.
The story background, told in flashback, goes like this: Aliens have seeded the Earth with plants that rapidly grow to be 600 feet tall. Their presence quickly overruns civilization and drains the Earth’s resources. Most of humanity has died of starvation and the few enclaves that remain are desperately trying to survive. Think post-apocalyptic with a twist of eco-disaster.
The story mainly concerns one ever-dwindling group of a few hundred people, all that remains of a town whose population was once a couple hundred thousand. The group’s outspoken leader, Anderson, a former farmer, is a Bible-toting fanatic who makes no bones about his authority. Amidst the decline of civilization, the unknown alien forces that are harvesting on Earth and the occasional band of marauders, he often kills and tortures those who do not follow his rules. The survivors he leads are a despondent lot who readily accept this new way of life for the leadership Anderson provides.
Anderson has 3 sons and a daughter. Buddy, the oldest son, lived in the city only to move back when the Plants began to overrun the world (the “prodigal son returned”). Neil, the middle son, is not too bright and longs for his father’s approval. Early on, Jimmie, the youngest son, is mysteriously incinerated after a mishap with the last remaining livestock. These characters, and all others, are unique yet real (and dramatically expendable – bonus points for Disch). Every one of them has some character flaw that makes then believable and makes the story work. Nobody is a real hero here; they’re just people trying to survive.
Disch does a fantastic job creating atmosphere – this is one dark, moody piece. Many of the scenes here are downright haunting as the reality of the situation is driven home like when, for example, they resort to cannibalism. And the story’s pacing is perfect. The plot progresses smoothly and quickly and has enough depth and turns to keep even the most casual reader intensely interested. At a lean 145 pages, that’s quite an achievement for any story, let alone an author’s first like this 1965 novel is for Disch.
The Genocides is a superb story. Highly recommended.
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