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Peels away the veneer of civilisation ...,
This review is from: The Death of Grass (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
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'.