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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Death of Grass
Having recently read the Tripods books, and discovered others of the author's books, I was keen to try this one.

This is an absolutely brilliant book, of the calibre which I have come to expect from the author of A Wrinkle in the Skin. Once again, the author has taken a situation which to most of us would seem insurmountable and broken it down into a...
Published 20 months ago by Keen Reader

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3.0 out of 5 stars God idea and I liked the characters
God idea and I liked the characters, although it was a bit laboured and tedious at times.

Defnitely worth a read if you like the genre.
Published 28 days ago by Lance Peterson


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Death of Grass, 21 April 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
Having recently read the Tripods books, and discovered others of the author's books, I was keen to try this one.

This is an absolutely brilliant book, of the calibre which I have come to expect from the author of A Wrinkle in the Skin. Once again, the author has taken a situation which to most of us would seem insurmountable and broken it down into a day-by-day narrative of small actions that lead to bigger successes. In a world where grass and all related wheat and rice products can no longer be grown, how does mankind survive? In an England where law and order has broken down and the government plans drastic action to secure survivors, two men try to save their families and retreat to a place of safety far in the North. Along the way they meet people, honourable and dishonourable, and must make harsh and brutal decisions in a world that rapidly spirals out of anyone's recognition.

I had a look at the 1- and 2-star reviews of this book, and found them quite annoying. One reviewer felt that the book failed because it didn't give a breakdown of society's deterioration. No, it didn't - the story was that of one man and his associates, his family and his personal struggle. This is the type of story that John Christopher specialises in; not global broad societal change, but the change that comes to and from within one or two people. That's why the narrative is so gripping, and so demanding of attention.

I think it's important to remember that this book was first published in 1956. The men in the book, as indeed the men of the time in which this was published, had just served by the millions in a World War. They were not unused to the idea of death, of destruction, of survival by the fittest. And they used what they knew, in the world that they knew, to survive in this scenario. The generation of which this book is written is not the generation of ipods, ipads, and instant gratification. These were men who worked with their hands, who had seen global catastrophe before, and who dealt with each day as it came to them - family and friends first, the rest of the world came second.

This is a brilliant book; I was totally engrossed from the first page to the last, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only was the action gripping and immediate all the way through, it left me with plenty of think on after turning the last page. For the people in this book, their life was not over, nor was it neat and tidy and trimmed off at the edges; the struggle for survival was ongoing and was only just starting. Totally recommended.
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84 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the world's food crops have died .........., 6 Feb 2003
This review is from: Death of Grass (Paperback)
...... do we revert to the Year Zero of the Pol Pot era in Cambodia? This novel is perhaps one of the best treatments of the ecological disaster theme, written with both intelligence and a clear understanding of the human condition when faced with life-threatening circumstances.
The storyline starts out with the news that a deadly, resilient plant virus known as the Chung-Li virus has virtually wiped all cereal crops, including rice, in China. Due to an initial Chinese government decision to suppress details of the ensuing famine, the full scale of the disaster is not made known until it is quite too late. Vaccine developed hastily by Western countries proves ultimately to be ineffective and before long, the virus has rapidly spread, reaching Europe including England and wiping out all the cereal crops (with the exception of potatoes) and grass of that particular region. Life in England starts breaking down with catastrophic consequences and the story then focuses on the attempts of the protagonist John Custance, his family and close friends, to reach safety in northern England where his brother has a farm newly set up for potato farming.
Initially the reader may gain the impression of the novel being a THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS clone but as the story progresses, it is clear that this is not the case. Whereas John Wyndham attempted to portray English middle-class values as being the best defence against total societal breakdown, John Christopher provides no such assurances. The transformation of Custance from comfortably middle-class Londoner through a deterioration of personality to that of a feudal clan chieftain is indeed very disturbing and the atmosphere throughout the novel is one of constant potential violence as people prepare to wage war on one another .... for a scrap of food. The depiction(s) of Custance's right-hand man, Harold Pirrie, as an expert rifle marksman and a cold, calculating killer are chilling in the extreme. Add to that, the summary justice meted out by Custance and his followers to a gang of marauders who kidnap and rape Custance's wife and young daughter and the cold-blooded shooting of an unfortunate family seeking to defend their household and you have a novel of quite brutal savagery. Very rarely throughout the book is any chance of salvation offered and the novel's conclusion I found to be shockingly nihilistic. With scant details provided of the Chung-Li virus and the news of the Chinese famine provided at second-hand, the novel is very much a study of mankind's primal instincts and the lengths individuals will go to preserve their very existence.
Every sci-fi reader should read this book. The novel is a subdued warning against complacency and the possible consequences of such complacency. This is very much relevant in today's world of GM-modified foods and resistant strains of disease culture. If such a scenario unfolded in present-day Western society, then all I can say is ...... God help the lot of us.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Peels away the veneer of civilisation ..., 17 Mar 2010
John Christopher (Sam Youd) cleverly pares his storyline back to the essentials - every part of the plot has a place and a purpose - and the pace and undoubted fluency of the story may also derive from the simple fact that it was written to order in 1956 in a matter of weeks although I suspect that the ideas for the book must have been stewing for much, much longer.

The concept of the Chung-Li virus which mutates as it spreads westward to kill all species of grasses including cereal crops is both stunningly simple, effective and believable. We are not being asked to believe in Triffids here and that is probably why 'The Death of Grass' was ahead of its time and also why it is now, very rightly, back in print in the Penguin 'Modern Classic' series.

Like the John Wyndham stories, there may well have been a time when the book felt old-fashioned. Stories which seemed - albeit on the surface - to revolve around solid middle class characters were certainly overtaken by changing times but now the late 1950's seems only to provide a period and a context for the story.

There is however no doubting that, even for its time, the main protagonists were certainly comfortable professionals with children at boarding schools and access to the world of gentleman's clubs and a West End gunsmith (Pirrie) who - crucially for the plot - was also a Bisley marksman.

It is also interesting and way ahead of its time that, as the plot unfolds, one of the key characters (Roger Buckley)is a spin doctor but his importance recedes as middle class values and society disintegrates and Pirrie and the imperatives of survival take over.

Other reviewers have compared the book with Lord of the Flies and I think this is right because the comparisons with the William Golding book really bite as the layers of respectability crumble and the characters rapidly descend into a survivalist world of murder and self-preservation.

Whether the comparisons with Golding hold up in literary terms is certainly debatable but one thing is certain: this is compelling reading even if it is not a masterpiece and it deserves to be read, not as science fiction, but, in its own right, as a 'modern classic'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bleak But Realistic, 10 Dec 2009
By 
William Hadcroft (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A novel depicting a world where a staple food stock dies out leaving mankind struggling to survive - sounds like a warning tale for the 21st century, doesn't it? And yet as current as it sounds, John Christopher's "The Death of Grass" was originally published in 1956. Present day worries about ecological mismanagement and what it could lead to make the decision to resurrect the book as "A Penguin Modern Classic" unsurprising, but welcome.

John Custance is an architect living with his wife and children in London. When news of a pandemic sweeping Asia and Europe reaches his ears, his family and friends find it hard to believe it will touch Britain. But touch Britain it does. All grass based foods die out. Then the sheep and the cattle die out. Rumours of government plans to drop atom bombs on the main cities set Custance and his family on the move.

Custance has a brother living in a peaceful isolated part of the Westmorland valley. It becomes paramount that he transports his family there before chaos reigns over the once united kingdom. But getting there isn't easy with children and a couple of untrustworthy friends in tow, and having to travel on foot dodging other groups and looters in search of a new place to settle.

But all this is backdrop for what the story is really about, as John Christopher focuses on the need to survive and what that need does to his characters. Once civilised and comfortable with their lot, John Custance and his right hand man Pirrie will stop at nothing to acquire food and traverse the land to reach their imagined utopia. All of society's rules go out of the window as survival becomes vital.

The characters remain believable and consistent, and as they near their goal, a sense of unease comes over the reader, anticipating the inevitable climax.

This can be a brutal and, at times, shocking novel. But author John Christopher has never been one for compromise in a story, nor is he interested in pleasing the mainstream audience at the expense of truth.

"The Death of Grass" is a very honest projection of what the human race is capable of when put under severe trial. Its honesty is both refreshing and deeply disturbing.

Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book - just don't read the introduction first, 18 April 2009
By 
Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I've been trying to get hold of a copy of this book for literally years, but had problems doing so without spending a fortune to pick up a second hand copy. I bought this new issue before it was even released and I'm glad that I did. Although it's easy to say that similar themes have been explored a lot, bear in mind that this is one of the original stories to do so.

The story begins with a virus destroying various species of grass, including rice, in China. A group of a few central characters in England follow the news as the virus spreads, causing widespread famine across Asia and then Continental Europe. There is a belief that the traditional English sense of order and decency will ensure that the chaos seen elsewhere will not affect the UK to the same extent and the public is generally kept at ease until the virus reaches the UK.

At that point things get very bad very quickly, with people doing whatever they can to survive when all the cereal crops and grass (and hence a lot of animals bred for meat) in the country are destroyed. The main part of the story involves the group's journey north from London in attempt to reach the safety of a family farm that is thought to be defendable and relatively unaffected by the virus (potatoes are planted there and they are immune).

The best part of the book is the way that the group's attitudes and values change as things deteriorate. I won't spoil the story, and if you don't want it ruined PLEASE DON'T READ THE INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK either, until you have finished the story itself. A classic story that lived up to the hype in my opinion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'd Not Believe How Good This Author Is, 19 Nov 2009
By 
John Christopher (Samuel Youd) ranks as one of my favourite authors. I read The Death Of Grass after realising I hadn't read any of his works other than The Tripods Trilogy (It was whilst watching The Tripods DVD I had a feeling of guilt). I can't really add much to the plot and reviews that have gone before me about The Death Of Grass, other than I agree that the book is predictive, relevant and above all else the story just flows. As I subsequently discovered with other Christopher books, you don't have to concentrate too much to pick up the thread. Some Science Fiction fans may find this style uninvolving and simplistic. I find it well paced, descriptive and balanced.

I apologise to the browsers that were looking for a bespoke review about The Death Of Grass, however I felt sufficiently motivated to write that I read all of the John Christoper's books over the summer and it is borderline criminal that most are not in print. The fact that a lot are written for "young adults" is neither here nor there! Other than the aformentioned, I can strongly recommend; The Guardians, A Wrinkle In The Skin, Dom and Va, Empty World and The Sword Of The Spirits Trilogy. Slightly lesser but nevertheless engaging works are; The Possessors, When The Tripods Came, Cloud On Silver, A Dusk Of Demons, The Long Voyage and The Twenty-Second Century.

In summary, The Death Of Grass is a classic and most of John Christopher's works are worthy of re examination and publication.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly undated, 30 Nov 2009
By 
Leven1 (West Lothian) - See all my reviews
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I had never heard of this book before and came to it suspecting that given that as it was first published in 1957 that it may be filled with typical 1950's British sterotypes the stiff upper lipped Englishman and the heart on his sleeve working man etc. However this was not the case. The characters are very believable. Yes there are a couple of convenient coincidences (especially the farm in Cumbria and its impenetrable location) but that aside the relatively short novel is very entertaining and shows how quickly a peacable and law abiding society could revert back to the survival of the fittest of feudal times. If anything in fact I feel it is debatable how quickly and easily the main characters take to murder. I would have expected that as the characters were still relatively unthreatened at this point the murder of innocent people would at the very least prey on their minds more than it did. But that aside the escalution of the acts there are "forced" to committ are played out in a fairly realistic unsentimental manner. Although there are a few references that show the age of the book mostly it can be read and the reader would have no idea of time. This book will leave you uncomfortable with the prospect of a society breaking down and how the average person would cope.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mixed reviews from the Book Club!, 5 Mar 2010
By 
Stuart Gaskell (England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This book was first published in the mid-1950s and describes the implosion of society following a virus which kills all grass-related growth, including wheat, corn etc. The style of the book reflects the class-based society of the 1950s - the hero, like John Wyndham's heroes, is a good sound middle-class fellow - but it is harder-edged than, for example, the Day of the Triffids, and in my view more realistic in its portrayal of how quickly savagery would replace our own well-ordered society where kindly bankers engage with wise politicians to spread peace and wealth throughout the world (...).

The book was the choice of our local book club in Lichfield, and the subject of an interesting discussion. Not everyone was impressed with it. If your preference is for Howard Jacobsen's type of work, you may well find that every word is torture; you may feel that not enough attention is given to what is motivating the characters, and their emotions. For myself, I found it an exciting page-turner, well-plotted and well-written, which left me thinking about how thin the veneer of civilisation really is.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A proper classic, 28 Feb 2010
By 
A. J. Wylde "wearewolves" (Oxfordshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
So many 'classics' disappoint so it is a joy to find one that delivers so well. Economic, ruthless and devastating, this resonating novel lays the implosion of a very recognisable (considering the novel is from the 1950s) comfortable middle class world before us and forces us to confront how far we would go to save and protect the ones we love. Furthermore the deconstruction of what was thought to be an unassailable morality and emergence of new priorities based on hunger, desperation and pragmatism is so skillfully handled it is impossible to see the transition - each awful but understandable confrontation moves them one step closer to some sort of security but, of course, destroys what vestiges of their previous lives and values that they were clinging to as justification for their decisions. Although similarly themed, this is far stronger than contemporary apocalyptic reads such as Triffids or Lord of the Flies and the author delivers a consistently high standard throughout the novel. I find it ludicrous that this has ever been out of print.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and shocking piece of work, 17 Mar 2009
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I've been wanting to read this for ages, so jumped at the chance to buy it now it's been reprinted. I read it in an afternoon and was not disappointed. If anyone's intending to buy it then don't whatever you do read the introduction, which is so laden with spoilers that it was the only thing that reduced my enjoyment of the whole thing in any way.

I've read in many places, including one of the other reviews here, comparisons with The Day of the Triffids, saying that this is much more realistic and that TDOTT is all stiff upper lips and cosy catastrophe. I find this a little unfair because Wyndham's work is set in a world where there are almost no survivors, and as such bears little comparison with the disaster unfolding here. Indeed, Wyndham's main character explicitly realises at one point in TDOTT how different (and bloody) things would be if 10 or 15 per cent of the population had survived, so he has that base covered. Rather than comparisons with TDOTT, which must come more from the fact that both books come from the same era than from anything else, this book made me think more than anything else of a prequel to Cormac McCarthy's deeply disturbing The Road.

In short TDOG is excellent, but has not toppled TDOTT from my Number One for this type of fiction.
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