Friday, 13 May 2011

The Death Of Grass 8.9

A virus destroys the grass plants of the world (including rice) causing a pan-human famine. The response in Britain is brutal. To prevent mass starvation and preserve some of the population in a state of reasonable nutrition the government plans to drop atomic bombs on all major cities. We follow two couples and their children who are tipped off and manage to escape London. As they make their way to the family farm in Yorkshire which provides a natural and easily defended refuge their group snowballs as they take on people through pity or necessity.

The work contains some very memorable pieces especially the abduction and rape of the wife and the daughter of the main character and their subsequent rescue. In another sequence the group calmly shoots a farmer and his wife so that they can eat their food and stay in their house. And the main moral dilemma sequence is where John must decide as group leader whether to let a man shoot his unfaithful wife. The villages and even some of the roads in Yorkshire that the group pass along are familiar to me which also helps to bring the story alive. The early parts of the story have some almost funny accounts of how the rest of the empire quickly stops sending ships loaded with food to Britain and horrid accounts of bodies piled twenty high on the Chinese side of a vast wire mesh fence erected around Hong Kong .

The Death of Grass was written slightly after The Day of the Triffids and in many ways it is far superior to it. The way that people act post-catastrophe is much more realistic. The main characters are changed by the events they witness. In The Day of the Triffids I feel that the characters have a 'let's roll up our sleeves and get on with it' attitude. They don't grow or develop much and their morality remains steadfastly pre-disaster.

The Death Of Grass has a major flaw; there aren't enough people. We are told that the group are a day or two ahead of the main population because they were tipped off in advance. The people that they encounter are those who live in the small country villages along the way who are in the process of finding out how bad the problem is. If such a thing occurred today the roads would be full of people. The extremely dense population of modern Britain (80m+ unnoficially) makes it hard to image such sparsely populated areas. Most British roads are choked with traffic even those in rural areas.

The other reason that The Day of the Triffids is better is in the mood, tone and immediacy of the story. We leap straight into a scenario where a man wakes up in hospital after an eye operation to find out that most of the population have been blinded overnight. Whallop. We are in the middle of the panic and confusion straight away. The people are there and they are dying and struggling in huge numbers. The Death of Grass finishes just as the disaster begins to unfold. It is the story of the escape from a disaster and it should be considered as pre-apocalyptic fiction and not post-apocalyptic.


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