Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Do I Like Science Fiction?
Thanks to the Oxfam Bookshop in Hereford for this 1963 Penguin edition of John Christopher's 1956 novel, The Death of Grass. I remembered I had been looking for it ever since it was mentioned on a Channel 4 series about science fiction last year in which I took part (very, very briefly to say something, mostly edited out, on Huxley's Brave New World). Christopher's novel was said to be one of the classier examples of the genre which I'm not normally a fan of, except that if you start to include Huxley, Orwell etc then I suppose I am. This chilling novel is about the effect of a plant virus that kills off grass, wheat etc etc and results in millions dying of starvation in Asia before it reaches Europe. Britain's Government makes arrangements to atom bomb the cities to get rid of hungry mouths and the citizens overnight take up arms and start looting and killing each other. One family and friends get through the road blocks thrown up around London and head for a stoutly defended Lake District valley, murdering all sorts of innocent folk along the way without compunction, in order to reach the haven of their brother's secluded Westmorland farm. That summary makes it sound garish but actually the USP of this fiction is its quiet, intimate realism, the way it shows horrifying things happening in a familar English landscape with familiar English characters. It's at the opposite pole of the flashy techno-fantasy of Hollywood scary movies and somehow more disturbing and terrifying as a result. Overnight, it suggests, civilisation can mutate into barbarism. Very effective.