In his recent collection of essays Yet Another Heart of Darkness, journalist Noah Berlatsky provides penetrative analyses of two of John Christopher’s adult novels, The Possessors (Colonizing the Colonizers) and The World in Winter (The Nigerians Invade London). See our ‘Fiction for Young Adults‘ resources page for his Wired magazine essay on The Tripods, Forget Winning the Hunger Games!
In John Christopher’s ‘A Wrinkle in the Skin’, a series of massive earthquakes on a worldwide scale reduces towns and cities to rubble. Most of western Europe is dramatically uplifted, transforming the English Channel into a muddy desert, whilst elsewhere lands are plunged below sea-level. The novel is set principally on the Channel Isle of Guernsey and, with the aid of Guernsey Walking Tours, visitors to the island can follow the route of protagonist Matthew Cotter through the convulsed local landscape from his devastated home.
Digital artist Damian Mark Whittle explains how ‘Death of Grass’ bridges the gap ‘between the “cosy catastrophes” of Wyndham and the dystopian modernity of Ballard … In some respects, the book could be seen as a reaction against works like “The Day of the Triffids” in which a civilized few retreat to a cheerfully isolated existence with chaos kept outside. Here, the chaos is everywhere and retreat is not an option.’
In her blog ‘I can never [read all the books I want’ – Sylvia Plath], literature enthusiast Ruth compares and contrasts two seminal works of dystopian fiction, ‘The Day of the Triffids’ by John Wyndham, and ‘The Death of Grass’. ‘If my fifteen year old self was reviewing the books,’ she writes, ‘this post would be very different, as my opinion has completely reversed in the intervening decades.’
Last autumn, blogger M Porcius (‘I hope to include spoilers in every post. The whale beats Ahab, by the way.’) came across a rare hardback edition of ‘No Blade of Grass’. Intrigued by the jacket, ‘with its unusual come-on (“this jacket description has made no attempt to give you any idea of the plot”)’, he sets out to discover if the text lives up to the hype.
Online magazine on books, the arts and culture ‘The Millions’ interviews David Mitchell, author of ‘Cloud Atlas’: ‘Actually, I read a really good book published in the 1950s called The Death of Grass, where a killer virus doesn’t kill us, humans, as they do in many contemporary stories, but it gets the crops we eat. That’s more interesting to me …’
Blogger David Moody lists five novels about the end of the world ‘that you probably haven’t read but really should’ – including ‘The Death of Grass’. ‘A startling read,’ he concludes, ‘that holds a mirror up to our dinner plate, making the reader immediately grateful for the tins they have in the cupboard, and which haunts every mouthful thereafter.’
According to Brian Aldiss, ‘The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.’ Matt Staggs of Unbound Worlds (Exploring the Science Fiction and Fantasy Universe) discusses the cosy catastrophe novel. Of ‘The Death of Grass’ he says, ‘The novel gets kind of cozy toward the end, but there’s no small amount of bloodshed and savagery along the way.’
The Duck Loving Book Addict comes across ‘The Death of Grass’ in Chichester Library: ‘one of the bleakest books I have ever had the pleasure to read’.
In 1970, the film ‘No Blade of Grass’ (US title of ‘The Death of Grass’) was released under the strapline, ‘No room to run – no place to hide – no blade of grass’. Years later, when it was broadcast as a late night movie, the author sat down to watch it in a comfy chair, a glass of whisky to hand. He lasted until the first advert break and then, sensibly, retired to bed.
John Christopher published ‘The Little People’ in 1966: in recent years the Hector Garrido cover for the US Avon paperback has possibly attracted more interest than the book. While Twitter abounds with comments such as ‘WTF? Nazi Leprechauns?? Begorrah mein Fuhrer’, one Amazon reviewer saw beyond the lurid cover: ‘This book could be seen as … full of mundane backstories and psychological profiles of the characters in it when the promise was a book about Nazi elves … At the end of the book, I realized the author’s intent was to write about “The Little People”- not the Nazi elves, but rather the horror of the characters being so entrenched in their thinking, mundanity, and so wrapped up in their own worlds that they could be nothing except “little people”.’
HiLowBrow picks the best 10 Adventure Stories from 1964. Sharing the honours with Ian Fleming, Len Deighton, J G Ballard and William Burroughs is John Christopher’s ‘Sweeney’s Island’, the original US title of ‘Cloud on Silver’, now available again from The SYLE Press.
Leaves & Pages blogger turns his attention to The SYLE Press’s new edition of ‘The White Voyage’, and also reprints his post on ‘The World in Winter’. ‘This is an author worth investigating for the frequent excellence of his creative ideas and his sober examination of human emotional motivations.’
Wyrd Britain is a blog concerned with ‘stories in, of, from and about the stranger places of Britain … A Britain where the ghosts are unquiet, where the woods are alive and where distinctions between the present, the future and the past are permeable.’ ‘The World in Winter’, the blogger concludes, is going to haunt him for some time to come …
Steve Dewey in his WordandLightSmithing blog takes a look at John Christopher’s ‘Wrinkle in the skin’ and enjoys the prose as much as the story: ‘The prose is as clean and lean as in “The Death of Grass.” It has a kind of traditional, British style I associate with Orwell, Greene and Somerset Maugham.’
Having previously reviewed John Christopher’s ‘The Death of Grass’, writer Jasmin Kirkbride takes a look at Hilary Ford’s ‘Sarnia’. ‘There is no doubt to me that Sam Youd does an exemplary job of getting himself into the female mindset, on a par for me with Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha”. A must-read for fans of all literature, but expect echoes of the book’s implications to haunt you for a good while after reading. It’s been a week and I’m still thinking about it!’