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REVIEW: The Death of Grass by John Christopher

REVIEW SUMMARY: An early soft apocalypse novel that portrays how humans react to natural disasters but without the annoying kids modern films seem to require.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When a virus wipes out grasses, the world slowly succumbs to anarchy. The novel follows the journey of several London families to a place of safety in the countryside.

PROS: Well-developed characters; thought provoking; realistic; tense.
CONS: Several disturbing scenes implied.
BOTTOM LINE: This novel proves that sometimes the scariest possible futures are caused by natural disasters rather than war.

Not only do John and David Custance lead very different lives — one as a farmer in a remote valley in the British countryside, the other an architect in London — they also have very different views on most things. But they love each other dearly. When the Chung-Li virus that attacked rice in China spreads and mutates, no one is prepared for how quickly things deteriorate.  Given short notice to leave London, John takes his family and, with others, tries to get to his brother’s farm.  The group is not only horrified by how far society has crumbled in such a short time, they’re forced to make difficult moral choices that change them forever.

This is a story that could come true.  There are diseases that attack specific plants and the reactions of the countries – to give aid as long as they’ve got plenty of food stores and then to hoard their food when things threaten to get bad for them – is entirely realistic.

The characters themselves all act in realistic ways.  Rodger, John’s best friend, whose family accompanies the Custances, starts out as a thoroughly unlikable, though extremely practical, man.  He understands how humans act in a crisis. He has the simple motivation of getting their families to safety, whcih eventually requires acts that, at any other time, would seem reprehensible.  On the other hand, Ann, John’s wife, begins as the voice of reason and charity, but as the world falls down even she becomes both a victim and perpetrator of the violence around them.

Several things take place in the course of the story that are, without being detailed in the text, still disturbing in their implications. The novel’s tension surrounds both whether they will find safety and whether they’ll digress into animals like so many around them.  It’s a very tense read, depicting actions and raising questions that will make you think long after you’ve put the book down.

The Death of Grass proves that sometimes the scariest possible futures are caused by natural disasters rather than war.

About Jessica Strider (102 Articles)
Jessica Strider worked at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto for 10 years before it closed in 2014. Now she's got more time to read books, so check out her <a href="//">blog</a> for SF/F book reviews, movie reviews, posts about the middle ages, and more.

1 Comment on REVIEW: The Death of Grass by John Christopher

  1. Vic DiGital // September 8, 2012 at 7:55 am //

    Discovered John Christopher in middle school (where most people discover him) when my English teacher read “The White Mountains” to us. Had to discover what happened in the rest of the trilogy, and then went on to read nearly all of his books. This one was the most ‘adult’ of all the books, and it is indeed worth the read, as this review states. It comes from that era when books were content to tell their story and then get out, without tacking on hundreds of bloated pages.

    I could be wrong, but I think EVERY John Christopher book could be categorized as “soft apocalypse.” All of them take place during or after some sort of apocalyptic event. My personal favorite of his books/series is the “Sword of the Spirits” trilogy. The entire length of the trilogy would fit in the first third of a Robert Jordan or GRRM novel nowadays.

    And I just read a week or two ago that a TV series is being prepped that is based on “The Lotus Caves”, a really trippy John Christopher book about a couple of kids living on the moon who stumble upon a strange pre-existing cave.

    I’m surprised more John Christopher books aren’t already movies or TV series, as they are all big idea stories with strong characters. We won’t talk about the cheesy BBC mini-series of “The White Mountains” from the 80’s…

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