The Death of Grass

by John Christopher
Reviewed date: 2018 Nov 1
Rating: 3
190 pages
American title: No Blade of Grass
cover art

A virus wipes out the world's grain crops. Two hundred million die in China the first year. The next year the virus spreads to India, Africa, and around the world. The British remain smugly superior, confident that British exceptionalism will spare them the disastrous, civilization-ending effects that the virus is causing in other, less civilized nations. The British scientists will beat the virus before it kills them all. British orderliness and discipline in destroying any sign of infection will save their fields and their crops. The British may have to tighten their belts and ration food, but they'll survive. They have to survive. They're British!

Britishness is no defense against an implacable virus. British crops fail. America cuts off food aid to Britain, and just like that, Britain and the British way of life fall apart literally overnight.

John Custance gets a a few hours' advance warning from his politically-connected friend Roger Buckley, and the two men determine to flee London and take refuge in the countryside. John's brother David has a small potato farm (the virus doesn't affect root crops) in an easily defendable valley. It's enough to support a few families. John and Roger just have to get there.

Military roadblocks prevent anyone leaving London, so John and Roger enlist the help of Pirrie, a gun shop owner, and his wife Millicent. With Pirrie's guns and his cold-blooded killer instinct, the men shoot their way through the roadblock. Well! The crisis is only hours old, and the men are murdering their fellow Britons. So much for Britishness.

Indeed, this is just the first step in the nation's descent into barbarism. Over the course of the next few days, the women-folk are kidnapped and raped, then rescued and the rapists shot to death. The group is later robbed at gunpoint and forced to give up their cars, so they must walk the rest of the way to David's farm. They murder a farmer and his wife in order to steal their breakfast, then add the farmer's daughter, Jane, to their little party. Pirrie shoots his wife Millicent for humiliating him after she makes a pass at John. Then he takes Jane as his new wife. Nobody stops him; by this point, nobody much trusts Pirrie, but his sharpshooting and his willingness to kill are valuable to the group. Without him, they won't make it to David's farm.

I kept thinking: when they get to David's farm, will there still be room for them? The farm can only support so many, and how long will David save room for them?

When they arrive at David's farm, yup, the farm is full to capacity and there's no room. David and his gang of cutthroats offer to let John and his family in, but not the others. John feels rather responsible for his own little band of cutthroats, so he decides that brother or no, David and his gang must be forced to give them the farm. John organizes a nighttime sneak attack. Pirrie dies in the gun battle. So does David, likely by John's bullet (although in the dark, it's hard to know for sure.) John's band wins and takes the farm.

And that's the end.

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