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download pdf The Death of GrassAuthor John Christopher –

This was a little bit of a slow starter but once I could see where things were heading every sentence was laden with a sense of dread and impending doom.A widow leaves a dreary London behind and returns to her girlhood home along with her sons She is anxious to reunite and repair her strained relationship with her dad and share the joy of a hillside surrounded by lush green pasture with her boys.25 years later John has taken to life in the city and fathered two children David has devoted his life to the farm and remained a bachelor All seems idyllic but then they start speaking of the rabbit plagues in Australia and a virus attacking rice crops in Hong Kong and millions starving and resorting to cannibalism When David removes a patch of pesky rice grass and discovers it is diseased things start to take on bleak outlook and he tells John to return to the farm before things get desperate John returns to his life in the city unwisely waiting far too long as things begin to take a turn towards the bleak Thus begins a nicely detailed onset of the apocalypse and a tale of greed, morality and the breakdown of civilization The most disturbing thing about this story was just how quickly the darker instincts bubbled to the surface of the characters when they were faced with their own mortality and forced to protect those they loved.This book focuses strongly on the breakdown of society and it is effectively chilling in its portrayal of the desperation for all involved It truly is survival of the fittest and gets pretty brutal, pretty quickly Our stubborn city boy is now on a road trip through hell with his young family and some friends, picking up guns and stragglers to strengthen their numbers and attempt to find safe haven But, really, will anywhere be safe This was very disturbing read considering the background for this apocalypse, that it affects major food systems and that when the story takes place half the food consumed was imported from other countries It would be so simple to have a food breakdown nowadays How many of us are even somewhat self sufficient Where would we begin Some of the most blood chilling quotes for me Things will be hard, but it may not be a bad life It will be up to us what we make of it At least, we shall be our masters It will no longer be a matter of living on the sufferance of a State that cheats and bullies and swindles its citizens and, at last, when they become a burden, murders them The country s food position is desperate No grain, meat, foodstuffs of any kind, are being sent from overseas We have nothing to eat but what we can grow out of our own soil, or fish from our own coasts Shudder, I don t want to ponder on this too long when I should be building my chicken coop out back The Death of Grass is not a feminist novel, but it can be read as one It teaches a lesson that half the world already knows When society breaks down, it s going to be worse for you if you re a woman I don t think John Christopher set out to make this point, but he made it anyway John Custance is the main character and the novel charts his growth as the leader of a little band of survivors trying to reach the safety of his brother s farm But it is not John who interests me It is the women His wife Ann and daughter Mary The newly orphaned Jane And even the sexually promiscuous Millicent SPOILERS First there is Ann She and Mary are kidnapped and raped When they are rescued and the rapists lie wounded, it is Ann who takes a gun and finishes off one of the rapists Not John Ann Ann released Mary gently, and got to her feet She clenched her teeth against pain, and John went to help her He still had the automatic strapped on his shoulder He tried to stop her when she reached for it, but she pulled it from him 103.John will later find the stomach to kill when he shoots a woman in the face, a woman who was protecting her home and family But the man who raped his wife and daughter he cannot bring himself to kill Ann can and does When the rapist pleads for mercy, she tells him it is not for her sake but for her daughter s that she is killing him.Jane is the daughter of the woman John killed One of the women in John s group persuades him to allow Jane to come along, for she would be unlikely to survive on her own When one of the men, the valued sharpshooter Pirrie, desires her as his wife, John makes no objection Olivia, the woman who insisted on saving Jane, tries to argue, but John is adamant Ann also expresses dismay at John s refusal to protect Jane from Pirrie, but John explains his thinking If there had been ten Janes and he had wanted them all, he could have had them Pirrie s worth to us than they would be 152.The reason Pirrie is in need of a wife is that he just murdered his wife Millicent for trying to seduce John Millicent was habitually unfaithful to him and he finally had enough of her infidelity When the world was civilized, he could have officially divorced her, but he didn t In an uncivilized world, he could have unofficially divorced her, but he didn t He murdered her because in an uncivilized world, he could do what he wanted And he wanted to murder her.He also wanted Jane Although he is about sixty years old, he has a penchant for women on the younger side And Jane is described as being in her middle teens 125 He calls her over to him the way one would call a dog Come here, Jane 150 Come here, Jane 151 Jane Come with me 151.Eventually she acquiesces Ann is justifiably nervous about Pirrie John is the leader, but with Pirrie s skills as a gunman and his ability to kill without remorse, there is nothing to stop him if he chooses to reject John s leadership But John is not concerned He is the leader by common consent He says It doesn t matter whether that consent is inspired by fear or not, as long as it holds 152.Reading this immediately after the scene where Pirrie takes a frightened teenage girl as his wife is revealing Her consent is also motivated by fear I wonder how many women give consent to men out of fear I say it does matter if consent is inspired by fear I say consent inspired by fear is not true consent At one point it starts to rain and John orders the few raincoats to be given to the women By women he means Ann, Olivia, Jane, and Mary Referring to Jane and Mary as women in this context would not be an issue if it weren t clear that he actually regarded them as adults Shortly after the rape of Ann and Mary, he started thinking of Mary as an actual adult John realized that he no longer counted Mary as one of the children 116.While the ages of the girls are never stated, Jane is described as being in her middle teens 125 and two or three years older than Mary 133 If middle teens means about sixteen, then Mary is about thirteen or fourteen In other words, they re not women They re children Sexually abused and traumatized children But in a lawless world, no girl child is safe In a world of law and order, a sixty something man who sexually exploits teenage girls would I want to write would go to prison for the rest of his life but that remains to be seen I do not think John Christopher was trying to make a statement about the deplorable treatment of women and girls in the so called civilized world I think he was simply depicting the violence that would ensue during a global famine But it s impossible not to notice that of the five female characters in this novel, two are raped, one is murdered, and one is handed over to a pedophile There is also a touching scene involving one of the three little boys in the group Ten year old Steve, the son of Olivia and Roger, begins limping and it is discovered that his heel is blistered His sobs were not the ordinary sobs of childhood, but those in which experience beyond a child s range was released from its confinement 154 When asked why he didn t say something about it, he explains If I couldn t walk I thought you might leave me 154.No better criticism could be made about the behavior of these ordinary civilized people than that their own children do not feel protected and safe Moreover, the solicitude rendered by Olivia and Roger when their son expressed this complete lack of faith in adults should also have been offered to the girl children But it was not A fourteen year old rape victim was simply declared an adult and that was that A sixteen year old whose parents were just murdered is declared an adult because it s convenient to keep a powerful man satisfied END OF SPOILERS The Death of Grass is a valuable book for many reasons It is a realistic environmental catastrophe It shows just how precarious life on this planet really is How quickly it could all go to ruin And it shows what people are really like How ordinary law abiding citizens can resort to violence when their survival is at stake But it is especially valuable for highlighting the additional hardships that women and girls would face And this is so valuable because women and girls already face these hardships in the civilized world It s enough to make one question whether we re as civilized as we think we are. The Chung Li Virus Has Devastated Asia, Wiping Out The Rice Crop And Leaving Riots And Mass Starvation In Its Wake The Rest Of The World Looks On With Concern, Though Safe In The Expectation That A Counter Virus Will Be Developed Any Day Then Chung Li Mutates And Spreads Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rye No Grass Crop Is Safe, And Global Famine ThreatensIn Britain, Where Green Fields Are Fast Turning Brown, The Government Lies To Its Citizens, Devising Secret Plans To Preserve The Lives Of A Few At The Expense Of The ManyGetting Wind Of What S In Store, John Custance And His Family Decide They Must Abandon Their London Home To Head For The Sanctuary Of His Brother S Farm In A Remote Northern ValleyAnd So They Begin The Long Trek Across A Country Fast Descending Into Barbarism, Where The Law Of The Gun Prevails, And The Civilized Values They Once Took For Granted Become The Price They Must Pay If They Are To Survive I don t know who it was that said we re only ever three meals away from revolution but this book brings that phrase to life by showing that, no matter how civilized we think we are, however stable our society seems to be, we are never that far away from barbarity.This book may have been aptly named had it been called The Death of Civilization Yes, a virus does emerge that attacks all forms of grass and spreads virulently across the globe defying mankind s attempts to halt it in its tracks but really that is just a vehicle for the author s exploration of how quickly and completely civilization might collapse and how completely previously mild natured and morally scrupulous people my be forced to change.At the start I could not help but compare John Christopher to John Wyndham as another British writer writing about 1950 s Britain facing apocalypse and focusing on middle class protagonists But as the story developed, a clear difference began to emerge Wyndham has been accused of writing cosy catastrophes and this story is anything but Horrible and harsh things happen to the protagonists that are quickly forced to set aside their qualms in order to survive It is one thing to deliberate on rights and wrongs and genteel behaviour when one is far removed the threat of annihilation Although they agonise over whether the ends justify the means, they are forced to confront the fact that only those that say they do have a chance of being around to discuss it afterwards.A short novel at less than 200 pages but it doesn t feel rushed I felt it was perfectly paced in fact The narrative style felt a little dry and stuffy initially but no longer felt that way when the story really took off Not far short of being a masterpiece in my opinion. A number of people have remarked at this novel s similarity to the novels of John Wyndham and I would agree up to a point I have always loved the novels of Wyndham and all his chilling elements run rife here That sense of Good grief, this could happen if such and such took place The disaster arising out of ordinary lives, the horrifying realization that this is happening to people who are only divided from me by a few decades, that it is therefore my society which is being torn apart not some foreign land or fantasy kingdom or distant planet or parallel universe, not orcs or vampires or superthugs or talking bears but normal, ordinary, happy, sad, whiney, moaney brits The arrogant dismissal by the powers that be of the virus which is killing off all the grasses of the world and therefore plummeting the whole of the planet into starvation and vicious life and death struggles is a very apposite and relevant one as our world inevitably has to face up to if not the imminent disaster of vegetation extniction then at least the reality of growing populations and the provision of adequate food and water Thus as i read this book I was continually hearing distant echoes of questions being asked by our societies but not being answered Of Governments of the world sticking their collective finger into the dam whilst new cracks and dangerous bulges signalled their appearance It is a sobering book because it made me think not so much about the brutal nature of humanity losing its slight veneer of goodness and nobility in a future disaster but rather because it made me ask myself why do i not say about the already massive difference in the scales of wealth and poverty, surfeit or absence The cold and unemotional account of a society s collapse into anarchy and ruin is extraordinary and the swift onset of marauding bands of brutalized murderers and petrified travellers is believable up to a point However my difficulty was that Christopher appeared to equate might with right Wyndham s characters fight for survival and kill when attacked, John Custance, Christopher s hero, leaps into violence and never seems to try to put a brake on it The violence is constant and seemingly unthinking and I cannot help but wonder how those who make it through to their sanctuary will ever be able to step back from what they have done Wyndham s stories are about men and women fighting for survival in a hostile environment but ever keeping their eyes on the longed for prize of victory which restores humanity to a place of truth perhaps challenged and sobered but still recognizably caring and compassionate for the vulnerable Christopher s human tribe has cast off not just suburban respectability but any semblance of collective responsibility for the weak or needy Innocents are snuffed out simply because they live in a farm house, brash oafs and unfaithful wives haven t a hope At one point one of the young boys collapses with an horrific blister having hobbled bravely for far longer than he ought without telling anyone His reasoning when asked was If i couldn t walk i thought you might leave me The irony of this statement is he is the son of the only couple who come out of the story with, it seems to me, the best chance of moving on into a new life where they will still be able to sleep The hero is a complex and unattractive character but I think it is his wife who i find the most difficult to fathom She encounters appalling hardship and suffering and some of her actions are perfectly understandable in their context but it is her reactions in the closing pages of the novel which i found most peculiar Her mood changes and suddenly from nowhere she appears as a pale imitation of Lady Macbeth, not exactly egging on but justifying and standardizing the violence and refusing to take the responsibility for herself or her husband which might have signalled some sort of redemption.The sequel, now that would be a book worth reading The questions left unanswered in this story were too huge to be left unanswered The leaders of this little band who had fought its way through to this sanctuary was far too bloodsoaked and had made far too many horrifying decisions or at least assumptions to be able to sink into rest and stability The violence and bloodshed are a ticking bomb and it remains only superficially buried in the Cumbrian valley and it is this which negates Christopher s story and moves it to a 3.5 rather than a 4.The book made me think and question and cringe and sharply breathe in and in a novel purporting to be exciting that cannot be bad Violence and tyranny, questions of responsibility and the implications of leadership, the balance of Nature and the arrogance of misplaced science and human limitation All good stuff and all wrapped up in a very exciting narrative Well worth a read ps Another character called Skelton Adds to the shelf The world famous novel of the ultimate famine There s a good introduction in this edition that discusses, among other things, how this work compares with John Wyndham s Day of the Triffids and William Golding s Lord of the Flies In that analysis Day off the Triffids comes of badly.The reason for the comparison is obvious both are apocalyptic SF novels where plants are at the root of the problemDucks flying rotting vegetables in response to that pun Oops, another one slipped out set in Britain by British authors writing in the same period of the 20th Century The introduction is very dismissive of Wyndham s effort, basically because the book is optimistic than Christopher s, which is unremittingly grim, right up to the last sentence However, my feeling is that there is not much difference in their view points about what would happen in the case of the total break down of society in Wyndham s case there just happens to be a place where that hasn t happened The conversations characters have about women, work, education and marriage reherse exactly the same arguments and attitudes, but Wyndham s heroine has the most progressive attitude of any of the people in either book She was a gal ahead of her time.Where Christopher is successful than Wyndham is in his basic scenario, plot construction and braver characterisation The idea that a virus could wipe out all species of grass is a lot plausible than that of herds of sentient, mobile plants on the loosethe journey to re unite family and find a safe refuge in the face of national or world disaster is now the stock of an entire sub genre of Holywood filmsbut neither Wyndham, nor Holywood most of the time, anyway , takes as protagonist a man who is willing to consider any action in order to save his family, or what real psychological pressures of that kind might do to him when he adopts a leadership role This latter is what really makes The Death of Grass stand out and what calls to mind Lord of the Flies The difference there is that Lord of the Flies examines the process of establishing leadership by contrasting two characters one the most likely to get everyone through their ordeal safely, the other, the naturally charismatic leader with a will to power Christopher instead shows an evolution of character in his main protagonist from Piggy to Lead Choirboy whose name I can t recall This analogy works in approximate terms, only The book is well thought out, well constructed, well written, has a good ending and takes an interesting, not oft examined approach to moral questions that puts me in mind of Roger Zelazny s extreme character arcs in Jack of Shadows and Changeling andJ.G Ballard It is perhaps this latter that makes me give The Death of Grass only three stars instead of four I recently read Rushing to Paradise, which also examines the breakdown of society but is, somehow, a much thrilling, frightening and gripping read. I really wanted to give this book 4 stars as I was reading it I found it incredibly engrossing and the character and situation they find themselves in are pretty believable and amazing all at the same time However, like Day of the Triffids, this one left me cold at the end Where is the proper ending to this book Surely that couldn t just have been it But it was and it made me sad and hoping for a sequel I read this in a matter of hours and that s rare So the book follows John Custance as he deals with the Chung Li virus as it begins destroying every type of grass in the world He is able to escape with his family and a friend s family and they try to make it to the valley his brother lives in Cause, you know, he has a farm and farm means food Anyway, lots happen on the way Obviously John Christopher, the author, wants the reader to imagine a certain level of barbarity that ensues quite soon after the rumours of the virus come out And the whole book deals with that The miles they cover on their walk to the valley, the extreme that barbarity becomes John Custance uses the valley to convince people to join his group strength in numbers and all that saying that the valley will be a way to civilise the children and keeping themselves civilised among all the barbarity of the future And my issue and why the book gets discounted 1 star is that,well, I d like to see how they d be able to civilise anyone after they themselves have been driven, on their walk to the valley, to commit the most heinous crime know to humanity the killing of another human being And in their isolated little valley, what would stop anyone from being so civilised that they go full circle and become barbarians I d like to note some world history here so many countries conquered read took and pillaged continents and called themselves civilised for it A great, quick engrossing read, but in need of a sequel For sure But a good one. It s a depressing sack of sadness that this exceptional post apocalyptic story is not widely read 534 ratings as of the time of this reviewa travesty I m going to try and spread some love and hopefully find this wonderful book some friends with whom to spend the holidays The central theme of the novel How delicate and fragile is the veneer of civilization and how quickly the survival instinct can subdue, handcuff and gag the better angels of our nature Written in the 1950 s, this novel contains one of the starkest depictions I ve encountered of the rapid breakdown and collapse of societal norms and common decency in the wake of a global catastrophe It s portrayal of people struggling to survive in the aftermath of a world wide calamity is exemplary and worthy of being granted status up with the big boys of the genre like Earth Abides and Alas, Babylon PLOT INTRO A virus originating in China attacks and destroys all grain based crops This includes everything from wheat, barley, rye, rice and all forms of grass hence the appropriate title for this story Despite the best mostly best efforts of the world s nations, no viable counter virus can be produced and it quickly mutates and spreads to blanket the globe What follow is a brief period from the story narrative standpoint of extreme and often brutal measures on the part of the fragile governments which include rationing, martial law and, finally, forced population reductions i.e., mass executions Eventually, the food scarcity becomes too pronounced and governmental control completes breaks down this is where the proverbial Cah Cah bangs into the fan and things get serious The above all happens within the first 50 pages of the novel and provides the reader with a chance to get to know the main characters, John Custance and his friend Roger Buckley, together with their respective families We get to see them in normal times and then as they witness the fall of civilization which allows us to peg them as good, decent people just like us This ability to relate to them makes the events they subsequently endure and, importantly, their actions and decisions in response to such events, significantly impactful and emotionally affecting to the reader THOUGHTS As mentioned above, the central premise of the story is to how our decency is fragile and quickly becomes burdensome baggage that we unload when faced with extreme circumstances Put another way, the novel s heart is showing us how quickly we rationalize losing the ability to use ours The Death of Grass deeply unsettled me with how plausibly it portrayed this rapid ripping away of the layers of kindness, compassion and empathy from seemingly normal people once day to day survival becomes the primary motivator John Christopher s ability to authentically show this brutal and unvarnished view of humanity is what makes this story so effective and sets it apart from other books of its type Despite the heinous and despicable actions of previously good individuals, I never found myself having that couldn t happen thoughts as I read That is what I found most unnerving At one point in the story, our survivors invade a home and kill a mother and father in front of their child in order to steal their food I was watching these people that I previously related to suddenly thrust into situations where they would do something like that and I was confronted with that horrible hypothetical mirror questioning me saying What would you do This book left my emotions chapped and longing for something cozy and happy to replenish my parched faith in humanity I can t call this a fun read, but it is superbly written and a memorable experience 4.0 stars HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Another post apocalyptic novel The story is always the same, some agent, natural, military or even super natural, causes the end of civilization as we know it People in the know have stockpiled supplies, guns and a remote place that is hopefully impregnable by the starving hoardes There is always at least one person with some technical knowledge Finer feelings disappear, violence, theft, rape reappear Men dominate, women cook In the group the book identities as heroes, they are always disturbed and sad, at least at first, that they have to kill, the hoardes are much ruthless and always include one or two people, usually girls who will defect to our side The man with technical knowledge is killed The story always ends with the group now much enlarged, being led by a decent man who will elect a committee to run things in the tribe They will plant, chop, spin with their own hands and look to build a future through living in the traditional way There is a feeling of hope that the purity of this life will lead to a better future.If the plot and main characters are always the same, the only real difference can be the writing how the characters are drawn, the weight given to various elements of the story, how the writer can lead from one element to the next with some feeling of surprise rather than inevitability There are no real surprises in these stories and therein lies the problem the ending is likely to be disappointing because it s or less the same one in every book.I enjoyed this book, the apocalyptic factor a virus that kills all grass and cereal crops was quite a good one, but there is no getting away from it, there was nothing original about it at all So three stars, a good read.