I'm not one for sci-fi (other than classic Trek). Fantasy doesn't do it for me either. But where I do make a major exception is when the story centersI'm not one for sci-fi (other than classic Trek). Fantasy doesn't do it for me either. But where I do make a major exception is when the story centers around the extinction the humanity (or threat of extinction). The rapid disintegration of the veneer of civilization that humans flatter themselves into thinking makes them better than the "baser animals" is a fascinating topic, and a topic which the best sci-fi writers have explored. This classic story captures it perfectly.
A virus destroys the world's grasses, beginning in China - rice, wheat, barley, etc. At first, the civilized Western world is horrified at the stories of cannibalism coming out of China and aid is sent. But soon it becomes apparent that it is spreading, and countries begin to circle the wagons and look after their own. Governments topple and mass executions are carried out - all in the first 60 or so pages. The focus of this story is a small group of fugitives from London, led by John Custance, on their obstacle-filled journey to his brother's farm in the country. The brother had decided to follow The Worst Case Scenario and had left nothing to chance - plant potatoes, kill the livestock that required grasses for feed, and build a huge barrier at the end of the valley to prevent the inevitable marauders.
The journey of John Custance, his wife and children, and the inevitable hangers-on was long and drawn out. It seemed aimless, but the real point of the story was the transformation of John from the strait-laced, mild-mannered, play-by-the-rules cog of society into a tribal chieftain, killing others for their supplies and always balancing The Needs of the Many over the Few (or the One).
As the journey progressed, I began to dread the finale because I just knew it couldn't be as easy and Happily Ever After as it seemed at the beginning, and boy was I right!
An excellent what-if story that does an excellent job of showing just how precarious the Rules of Civilization really are and that we're only 3 square meals away from total anarchy and chaos....more