Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 19, 2012


No Blade of Grass by John Christopher (1957)

One thing (among many) that British science fiction excels at is the disaster novel.  From H. G. Wells through John Wyndham to J. G. Ballard, British writers have put paid to the world in just about every way imaginable.  Whether it is due to something they put in their tea or in their Wheatabix, I don't know, but they usually come up with something enjoyably grim.

Grim is the world best suited for No Blade of Grass, written by Samuel Youd under his SF pseudonym "John Christopher."   Christopher had been part of the blossoming of British SF that took place in the early 1950s, writing popular tales about Max Larkin, set in a future that is controlled by business bureacracy, but it was this book that brought him his first great recognition.

Published in England as The Death of Grass in 1956, the book chronicles the rapid destruction of society when a fungus originating in China begins killing all grasses (including wheat and other basic staples of the food chain) and spreads rapidly throughout the world.  Without grain, livestock die.  Oceans are soon farmed out and root crops (potatoes, turnips, carrots) are enough to feed the large population.  Anarchy begins and people start to kill one another to gain just a small edge in survival.  The British government is soon run by a man who plans to drop atomic bombs on all major cities, his sole purpose to thin the country's population by at least half in order to make what food there is go around.

John Custace is an architechural engineer living in London, with his wife and two children.  His brother, David owns a farm -- land that is nestle by high hills and steep cliffs with only a narrow (and easily defendable) entrance to the valley.  It is there where John and his family hope to find refuge and survive the coming apopcalypse.  All that is necessary is for John and his family to get there.

No Blade of Grass first hit America as a seven-part serial in The Saturday Evening Post and was widely popular; its publication later that year by Simon and Schuster made it a best-seller and one of the most popular SF books of the year.  Cornell Wilde directed a film based on the book in 1960, and in 2009 it was presented as a five-part radio play on BBC.  So perhaps the book is not truly forgotten (it was reissued by Penguin a few years ago), buyt it is certainly not as widely read as it should be.

Grim and shocking, No Blade of Grass still holds up very well after over half a century.

Patti Abbott, as usual, will have more of today's Forgotten Books and the links at her blog, pattinase.


  1. The theme of this book sounds all too familiar, especially where movies are concerned. An interesting notion, too, about British sf fiction "excelling" at disaster novels. I can't say I've read many with the exception of WAR OF THE WORLDS and a couple of others that I don't recall.

  2. John Christopher (as well as J. G. Ballard) specialized in writing End of the World novels. No one seems to be able to do it as well as the Brits.

  3. This is far from dystopian fiction it is rapidly becoming fact. One only has to look at what is going on with the control of wells and drinking water in undeveloped countries to see the insidious nature of businesses making money off of the poor, the starving and the drought ridden. Wars of the future, I am convinced, will be about drinking water and food.