Wed
Oct 14 2009 5:37pm

Who reads cosy catastrophes?

Cosy catastrophes are science fiction novels in which some bizarre calamity occurs that wipes out a large percentage of the population, but the protagonists survive and even thrive in the new world that follows. They are related to but distinct from the disaster novel where some relatively realistic disaster wipes out a large percentage of the population and the protagonists also have a horrible time. The name was coined by Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, and used by John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by analogy to the cosy mystery, in which people die violently but there’s always tea and crumpets.

In 2001, I wrote a paper for a conference celebrating British science fiction in 2001. It was called “Who Survives the Cosy Catastrophe?” and it was later published in Foundation. In this paper I argued that the cosy catastrophe was overwhelmingly written by middle-class British people who had lived through the upheavals and new settlement during and after World War II, and who found the radical idea that the working classes were people hard to deal with, and wished they would all just go away. I also suggested that the ludicrous catastrophes that destroyed civilization (bees, in Keith Roberts The Furies; a desire to stay home in Susan Cooper’s Mandrake; a comet in John Christopher’s The Year of the Comet) were obvious stand-ins for fear the new atomic bomb that really could destroy civilization.

In the classic cosy catastrophe, the catastrophe doesn’t take long and isn’t lingered over, the people who survive are always middle class, and have rarely lost anyone significant to them. The working classes are wiped out in a way that removes guilt. The survivors wander around an empty city, usually London, regretting the lost world of restaurants and symphony orchestras. There’s an elegaic tone, so much that was so good has passed away. Nobody ever regrets football matches or carnivals. Then they begin to rebuild civilization along better, more scientific lines. Cosy catastrophes are very formulaic—unlike the vast majority of science fiction. You could quite easily write a program for generating one.

It’s not surprising that science fiction readers like them. We tend to like weird things happening and people coping with odd situations, and we tend to be ready to buy into whatever axioms writers think are necessary to set up a scenario. The really unexpected thing is that these books were mainstream bestsellers in Britain in the fifties and early sixties. They sold like hotcakes. People couldn’t get enough of them—and not just to people who wanted science fiction, they were bestsellers among people who wouldn’t be seen dead with science fiction. (The Penguin editions of Wyndham from the sixties say “he decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily called ‘science fiction’.”) They despised the idea of science fiction but they loved Wyndham and John Christopher and the other imitators. It wasn’t just The Day of the Triffids, which in many ways set the template for the cosy catastrophe, they all sold like that. And this was the early fifties. These people definitely weren’t reading them as a variety of science fiction. Then, although they continued to exist, and to be written, they became a specialty taste. I think a lot of the appeal for them now is for teenagers—I certainly loved them when I was a teenager, and some of them have been reprinted as YA. Teenagers do want all the grown-ups to go away—this literally happens in John Christopher’s Empty World.

I think that original huge popularity was because there were a lot of intelligent middle-class people in Britain, the kind of people who bought books, who had seen a decline in their standard of living as a result of the new settlement. It was much fairer for everyone, but they had been better off before. Nevil Shute complains in Slide Rule that his mother couldn’t go to the South of France in the winters, even though it was good for her chest, and you’ve probably read things yourself where the characters are complaining they can’t get the servants any more. Asimov had a lovely answer to that one, if we’d lived in the days when it was easy to get servants, we would have been the servants. Shute’s mother couldn’t afford France but she and the people who waited on her in shops all had access to free health care and good free education to university level and beyond, and enough to live on if they lost their jobs. The social contract had been rewritten, and the richer really did suffer a little. I want to say “poor dears,” but I really do feel for them. Britain used to be a country with sharp class differences—how you spoke and your parents’ jobs affected your healthcare, your education, your employment opportunities. It had an empire it exploited to support its own standard of living. The situation of the thirties was horribly unfair and couldn’t have been allowed to go on, and democracy defeated it, but it wasn’t the fault of individuals. Britain was becoming a fairer society, with equal opportunities for everyone, and some people did suffer for it. They couldn’t have their foreign holidays and servants and way of life, because their way of life exploited other people. They had never given the working classes the respect due to human beings, and now they had to, and it really was hard for them. You can’t really blame them for wishing all those inconvenient people would...all be swallowed up by a volcano, or stung to death by triffids.

The people who went through this didn’t just write, and read, cosy catastrophes. There were a host of science fictional reactions to this social upheaval, from people who had lived through the end of their world. I’m going to be looking at some more of them soon. Watch this space.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

41 comments
Jon Evans
1. rezendi
I wonder if there is some analogy to present-day fictional/subtextual treatment of, say, immigrants from poor nations. Or, more accurately, previously poor nations - once America and Europe stood head, shoulders, and torso above the rest of the world; now others (first Japan, now China and India) are catching up, and many Americans and Europeans are a little resentful at having lost their pride of place.

There's plenty of textual and subtextual treatment of this resentment, from Crichton's Rising Sun to District 9, while Carter's The Fortunate Fall (hey, Jo, you should review/reread that, if you haven't already) and Ryman's Air sort of deliberately subvert it; but no postapocalyptic cosy-catastrophe examples leap to mind offhand.
Spearmint
2. Spearmint
Huh. This is a genre I didn't even know existed, but that's a fascinating analysis.
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
Jon: The Fortunate Fall is kind of on my mental list of things I'm going to re-read fairly soon.
Jaymee Goh
4. Jha
I never even knew that genre existed in that way, and that sounds absolutely fascinating! And slightly depressing, but fascinating anyway!
Spearmint
5. R. Emrys
It's interesting to hear you describe the cosy catastrophe as a British phenomenon, because I always thought of it as an American one. Ours were often explicitly about nuclear war, and reassured everyone that it was survivable. On a bad day, it could even be secretly, guiltily desirable: all those people who fit so well in the modern world, but didn't know how to deal with *real* change, would be swept away. And the people who knew how to prepare would be vindicated. The reader is implicitly in the category of people who can deal with change, of course, by virtue of having read the book. Varley's "The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged)" was very explicitly a counterargument to those stories.

I don't know who in America read (reads?) cosy catastrophes, aside from disaffected teenage science fiction fans. I loved them in high school, and devoted two out of four first-year projects in college to tearing them apart.
Helen Wright
6. arkessian
As I was reading, Nevile Shute came to mind... and then you mentioned him. On the Beach might qualify as as another example: not exactly cosy, as the survivors don't thrive, or even survive in the end, but they're all overwhelmingly middle-class and determined to preserve their version of normality at all costs.
Ken Walton
7. carandol
Of course, by the standards of the 1950s, we're all middle class in Britain now - a holiday in the south of France is equivalent to a week in Morecambe then, and we don't need servants because we've got washing machines and microwaves. The real working classes are all hidden away in China and the third world. Meanwhile the long slow cosy catastrophe of global warming goes on, and will probably wipe out the world's poor long before it gets to us.

There is a network of local organisations in Britain (whose name escapes me, sadly) who are working away at self-sufficiency in preparation for the "coming catastrophe" (I think peak oil is one of their themes), which is explicitly modelled on the middle-class survivalist groups in John Wyndham & John Christopher. Unlike most green groups, they have self-appointed leaders, who the other members are expected to follow, no democracy allowed (if you don't like the way the bunker's run, find one of your own!)
Jo Walton
8. bluejo
Carandol: I think the same was true about the third world, then called the Empire, at the time. Orwell certainly thought so. Fascinating -- and creepy! -- about the modern groups.

Ashnistrike: I think American survivalist novels are a different, though clearly related, genre. I haven't read all that many of them, but the threat is usually, as you noted, explicitly nuclear and the angle of approach is different. And then there's Spider Robinson's Telepathist which throws off the whole classification.
Spearmint
9. Andy White
Huh?

I have read a number of these books and can't see how they relate to the 'cosy catastrophe' stereotype? Taking Day of the Triffids as an example you have to ignore whole chapters of the book that are anything but cosy / middle classed people swanning about mooning over lost 'restaurants and symphony orchestras' to make it fit the classification.

You have to ignore pivotal characters such as Coker and his failed attempts in London (working class and fairly horrific), his latter failings (which do happen off screen as it were). The failings of the 'elite' in London, those (the ones who actually fit into the CC mindset) who go off to Tynsham manor and their complete failure to adapt and survive. Torrence's gang in London and their later re-appearance at the end of the book when they are trying to build a new way of doing things. Ignore all those things, as well any number of little bits of the book about the failings of all sorts of life to work this as 'cosy catastrophe'.

That's not to say that DotT isn't primarily about the survival of a middle class man, and his belle who is upper/upper middle class. It is... but why is that something that the book should be criticised for? Its British fiction written by a British author that sets its pre-catastrophe world in British society.
Tim Nolan
10. Dr_Fidelius
Re: American survivalist novels, is it fair to say that the scourge of big government is substituted for the beastly working classes? The few examples I've read had that kind of flavour.
Jo Walton
11. bluejo
Andy: It was the scene in Day of the Triffids where the narrator is literally shackled to the group of blind people that first made me think something odd was going on. I don't think there's anything wrong with one person writing one story like that -- which is what Triffids was -- but when you have a whole explosion of a bestselling genre it does start to make you wonder.
Spearmint
12. CarlosSkullsplitter
There's a very strong element of class resentment in American survivalist novels, but it doesn't map to Britain at all. Case in point:
Have you ever wished your house would burn down? I have. Not really, of course; but there could be advantages... the frightening part of universal disaster is its attractiveness. It would make things so easy. Clear off the deadwood, chop down the surplus population in one sweeping tragedy. The result would be horrible, but a billion dead is not a billion times more tragic than a single death: and we could build such a beautiful world on the ashes!
I skip Pournelle's psychological and genetic theories which immediately follow. (Note: he's speaking directly to the reader, not through a fictional stand-in.)

This is zanier than Enoch Powell after a bottle of gin and a chaser of diet pills. "Lebensraum: not all bad!" But this was published in 1990.
Spearmint
13. Andy White
@bluejo, I just feel that you have ignore huge chunks of most of these novels (I haven't read them all so can't make sweeping comments) to fit them into this rather dismissive sub-genre.

I wonder if the problem isn't so much with the books but certain people/ groups problems with the class issue. A lot of these same criticisms were thrown at the recently remade survivors (and the original TV series) and were just as blind to what actually happened in the show (I haven't seen the 70s show so can't defend it). It also seems to me that there is an under current of want catastrophe to actually mean apocalyptic and being disappointed that people can survive and try to move on with their lives (which is more realistic).

A lot of these 'cc' novels were written post ww2, and I am sure that given the state of society then and the fact that authors were writing to an audience that had survived that influenced how they wrote. Personally I grew up in the 80's and read/ watched the likes of When the Wind Blows, Threads, Z for Zacharia which were a very different style of post-apocalypse/catastrophe novel/ tv show.

There are different sub-genres, I just feel that 'cc' and the description of it is rather ugly and dismissive of a number of very good novels. I would define them as post-catastrophe and post-apocalyptic the difference being one the even leaves survivors who can make a new start and one were they are just lingering till the extinction of the human race occurs.
Jo Walton
14. bluejo
Andy: They were all written post WW2, and not only that but post the new settlement afterwards. They were almost all written in that precise band of time between 1950 and 1970, and by people who had seen that fall in their standard of living.

I'm not dismissing them -- I like them, and they were one of my favourite reads when I was a teenager, that's why I've read so many of them. I'm just trying to explain some common features of them. I'm not ignoring anything, I'm concentrating on the things that have in common.

It's perfectly reasonable to disagree, but if it's just a case of "survivors" why aren't there any with ordinary people? You mentioned Z for Zachariah which is a much later and grimmer book (with a "real" nuclear catastrophe, not a bizarre weird one) and has ordinary protagonists. I think the difference is the generational one.
Spearmint
15. R. Emrys
Carlosskullsplitter @ 12: Yes, that thing.

Bluejo @ 8: I didn't notice much difference between the American ones and Day of the Triffids when I read them, but then again it's been well over a decade. I wasn't very sensitive to class issues, so I may just have been glossing them as, "And then all the stupid people die, especially the popular kids."

I think Telepathist has a different title here; is that the one with the dancing aliens who bring the singularity, or the time-traveling future humans who bring the singularity?

There's something a little bit CC about Lovecraft, to the modern reader--but I'm quite sure that no authorial intent was involved. Charlie Stross plays with that in the Laundry books. He points out that it's all ways of learning to live sanely with cosmic horror.
Spearmint
16. jonc
One of the first post-catastrophe series I read was The Pelbar Cycle back in 1986. I dunno if it's `cosy', but it's a good yarn of how Amererican civilisation would have morphed post-catastrophe.

The appendices are an easter basket full of eggs containing humourous anecdotes to the post-fall kickstart of the tale's societies.
Spearmint
17. MNPundit
I was linked today of John Clute's Strangehorizons review of your Half-Crown. Wow, they don't think you're any good, not even a little. I have to say it makes me suspect of your writing a bit.
Chuk Goodin
18. Chuk
Telepathist is Telempath...I didn't know it had any other title.

I still like a good cosy catastrophe but don't think I've read any in years. Don't think Telempath would really count. It seems more post-apocolyptic to me.
Jo Walton
19. bluejo
MNPundit: Yup, I wouldn't bother with it if I were you.
Spearmint
20. MarcL
It's been years since I read Keith Roberts's THE FURIES, so I don't remember how cozy the survivors were in their world of giant wasps. But there was a stark edge to his apocalypse that perhaps pushed back against the Wyndham example? Maybe?
Clifton Royston
21. CliftonR
And then as a real opposite pole, there's Disch's The Genocides.
Christopher Chittleborough
22. CChittleborough
Carlosskullsplitter @ 12: What are you quoting from? (Having just learned that two despicable quotes from Rush Limbaugh were in fact concocted by a lying left-wing Wikiquote editor, I'm feeling more skeptical than usual.)

jonc @ 16: The Pelbar cycle has a recurring theme of societies in which the people in charge are sure they know How Things Should Work, only to be proven wrong by rebels or outsiders. So I wouldn't call those books "cosy". Also, they are set many generations after a nuclear war, so they're not really "catastrophe" stories either.
Spearmint
23. CarlosSkullsplitter
CChittleborough @ 22: Pournelle's foreword to volume nine of the There Will Be War Tor anthology series, After Armageddon. It's a revised version of a piece he wrote for Destinies in 1978 which I don't have on hand.
Jo Walton
24. bluejo
CChittleborough: That quote is definitely Pournelle in Destinies, I recognised it. It's sort of the argument about how much easier it is to go to Alpha Centauri in Civ because you can just tell your cities what to build, whereas in democratic countries you have problems with other people having other priorities. In the article in Destinies at least -- I haven't read the revision -- Pournelle is making the larger argument that it would be easier to talk about how to get into space if the dissenting deadwood people went away and you still had the tech, the Lucifer's Hammer scenario, but surely it ought to be possible to get there from here.

Ah, Destinies, with its Spider Robinson reviews, its libertarian rants, its excellent stories -- how delighted I used to be when I found an issue!
Jo Walton
25. bluejo
Clifton: Yes, it was The Gencides and Christopher Priest's Fugue For a Darkening Island that stopped me indisciminately reading anything that looked as if it might be a cosy catastrophe. I don't think I've ever re-read either of those.
Spearmint
26. CarlosSkullsplitter
Bluejo: it's not as peculiar as Pournelle's foreword in the previous volume, Armageddon:
Modern prophets tell us that Megiddo will again be important, but only after the rise of a new Roman Empire. Some see that in the Common Market established by the Treaty of Rome.

Perhaps. Whatever the truth of the prophecy, Armageddon, that one last battle which will settle the fate of mankind, looms large above us.
1989, no prior publication. It's a nice link between survivalist fiction and the religious apocalypses recently popular in the United States. They tap into similar veins of American social resentment.
Martin Wisse
27. Martin_Wisse
The difference between English (rather than British) cozy catastrophes and American survivalist fantasies is the issue of race, so much more in the picture in the US than it was in Britain at the time Jo talks about (though it was there of course). In a cozy catastrophe the focus is all on recapturing lost middle class pleasures, in the American stories it seems to be about creating a new world out of the ashes of the old, with the "deadwood" cleared away and the Right People in charge. The Pournelle quotes give a good flavour of this attitude, though in his defence he recognised the fatal attraction of this idea as well, that it would be "too easy".

I've just read Fugue For a Darkening Island, which for those who haven't read it, follows the adventures of a nice white middleclass man looking for his family in a Britain swamped by African refugees after a nuclear war there and which almost crosses the line into being National Front propaganda. It's a rather uncomfortable book, because it makes explicit the attitude behind the cozy catastrophe genre, but for that reason worth reading. I'm not sure what Christopher Priest's intentions were in writing the book and how well it turned out, as it is borderline racist at points, but it was interesting to read it.
Spearmint
28. filkferengi
When I was in third grade, the teacher read us a book I've never been able to find since. From the sound of it, it may well have been John Christopher's _Empty World_. Thanks for helping me find a book I've hunted off-and-on for over 35 years!
Spearmint
29. aleistra
R. Emrys @5:

I think most American post-apocalyptic novels are different; they're much less cozy, and seem to be influenced more by the idea of the frontier and the rugged libertarian individualist -- wishing that they could live in an era when there was empty land to move into (which there never really was, of course, but the sort of people with those fantasies tend to ignore that issue) and survive on their own. Preferably with lots of supplies from cities where the catastrophe killed off all the people but conveniently left well-stocked stores to get started with. Brin's The Postman is an explicit reaction to this sort of "return of the frontier" post-apocalypse book.
Spearmint
30. James Davis Nicoll
16: One of the first post-catastrophe series I read was The Pelbar Cycle back in 1986. I dunno if it's `cosy', but it's a good yarn of how Amererican civilisation would have morphed post-catastrophe.

I reread that series a couple of years ago. The Big Whoops killed an unusually large fraction of humanity: many of the major groups we see turn out to have been founded by a couple of dozen people, implying that at one point, all of North America may have been occupied by fewer than a thousand people.

I thought it was interesting that a major theme of the series was finding ways for the various groups to give up past differences and live together, at the cost of some sympathetic protagonists who had done OK under the old ways.
Spearmint
31. vgrimm
I find myself thinking of what counts as a cozy catastrophe and wonder if, even if it pretends not to be scifi, P.D. James' "Children of Men" counts . . .

And perhaps, that Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower" series may be the antidote (not the right word) to this sort of thing?
Spearmint
32. EllaOllivander
Walking in a bit late, but R. Emyrs' description way up at #5 ("Ours were often explicitly about nuclear war, and reassured everyone that it was survivable.") brought "Alas, Babylon" immediately to mind. Which, as I recall, has a somewhat utopian bent to it -- the survivors go back to nature and simpler ways of life, people generally try to be nicer to each other because those are the only people left, etc. Had no idea there was such a boom of that sort of story on both sides of the Atlantic!
Spearmint
33. James Davis Nicoll
As I recall, Alas Babylon was inspired by a conversation the author had with a friend in which the friend commented that N million deaths could lead to a depression. Frank thought the reality would be somewhat worse, thus the book.
Spearmint
34. NickL09
For an interesting new version of the Cosy Catastrophe -> Post Apocalyptic theme, there is John Birmingham's "Without Warning"

"On the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 the bulk of the United States' population (along with the bulk of the populations of Canada, Mexico, and Cuba) disappears as the result of a large energy field that becomes known as The Wave. Without Warning deals with the international consequences of the disappearance of the world's last super power on the eve of war."

"Birmingham said he was inspired to write the novel after hearing someone during a student riot at the University of Queensland say the world would be a better place if the United States disappeared."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Without_Warning_(novel)

I think the motivation of this is close to the "Cosy Catastrophe" books - what would it be like if Imperial America disappeared. It's a lot darker than "Cosy Catastrophe" books, though - things don't work out so well.
Christopher Chittleborough
35. CChittleborough
Hmm. After the text quoted @ 12, Pournelle goes on to write:
It is morbidly attractive. Not that we'd choose it, of course ... That's what I find so terrifying: ... if I, with all my commitment to technology and man's vast future, can get into a mood in which the only way out seems to be through destruction of some large fraction of the human race, then there must be very many more out there who see no hope for the future at all. And that's senseless.
(Italics in original, bold added.) He then spends several pages explaining how to make a New Beginning without any preliminary disaster.

So ISTM that Carlosskullsplitter was maliciously deceptive.
Cera Shields
36. diony
The idea that these books appealed to middle-class British people who found the radical idea that the working classes were people hard to deal with, and wished they would all just go away brings me directly to Angela Thirkell, whose many novels I'm reading for the first time. Her post-WW2 books are absolutely full of this sentiment, and I can easily imagine her characters settling down with a cozy catastrophe instead of the American crime thrillers they so far seem to favour. Elegiac mourning for the lost days of "civilisation" when only wealthy people went to the opera is right up her alley.
Jo Walton
37. bluejo
CJShields: I have read only half of one Angela Thirkell, one of her Barsetshire fanfic novels. I absolutely hated it -- not only was there oddles of that sentiment, but it all seemed so mean spirited. That's the one thing I really can't stand.
Spearmint
38. Steve AJD
I'm surprised no one's mentioned the recent spate of Zombie Apocalypse flicks, which really are gorified versions of Day of the Triffids. Society breaks down, most of humanity become food for monsters, and the survivors get to run rampant in shopping malls and liquor stores.

I would have thought they'd be more to your liking: no one laments the passing of the symphony orchestra and no scientific elite attempts to rebuild anything.

I'm not just being facetious either: the popularity of these films on both sides of the Atlantic convince me that there is an audience for these "cosy catastrophes" far beyond the British middle-class (and SF readership in general). The desire to be freed of social constraints and to get fat off humanity's detritus crosses the economic divide.

At least Wyndham wanted to rebuild something. The more populist cinematic catastrophes tend to just wallow in the destruction. I know which vision I prefer!

(And yes, I would miss the symphony orchestra.)
Spearmint
40. The Lurking Librarian
This year, I reread John Wyndham's novels "The Day Of The Triffids", "The Chrysalids", "The Midwich Cuckoos" and "The Kraken Wakes".....

I'm sorry, but I couldn't disagree more with Jo Walton, and I think this article is one of the most shallow and misleading analyses of Wyndham I've ever read.

The idea that Wyndham's novels represent a fantasy of wiping out the working class are just ludicrous.... in "Day Of The Triffids", the middle class protagonist is forced to cast aside his complacent, lazy middle class apathy in order to survive. Those characters who try to live their lives as though nothing has happened, and attempt to found communities run with a cosy middle class mindset - these characters all wind up dead.... whereas the elitist characters who attempt to establish a feudal dictatorship with themselves as the new "ruling class" are portrayed in an extremely unsympathetic light.

By the end of "Day Of The Triffids", the survivors have essentially become working class, having to learn to live off the land as farmers.

"The Kraken Wakes" is extremely critical of middle and upper class social apathy. The number one thing that condemns humanity in "The Kraken Wakes" is the inability of the ruling elite to put aside their own petty squabbling and shake themselves out of pointless bureaucratic routines. It's telling that it's not the politicians or the upper classes that identify the threat and see what must be done... throughout the whole book it's the politicians and upper classes who delay any real action from being taken. Throughout the book it's the ordinary people who make more astute comments on the proceedings than any of the politicians.

Similarly, in "The Midwich Cuckoos", it's the cosy middle class complacency that allows the alien children to develop such a strong hold on the community initially.... the one proactively heroic deed that any of the main characters make involves rejecting this attitude and adopting it's most militant opposite instead.

"The Chrysalids" takes place in a theocratic dystopia and, without exception, all of the ruling elite are portrayed as bigoted tyrants, utterly devoid of compassion - the heroes, on the other hand, are all farmers' children.

How anyone could read these four books and straightfacedly say that Wyndham had it in for the working class astounds me. It would seem more accurate to say that the opposite is true.... in each of these three books, the elitist ruling class are portrayed as tyrants or fools, whose incompetence and cruelty damns humanity... whereas the heroes are either working class, or else middle class people that ultimately reject their previously held values and basically become working class by the end of the novel.

There are many other blatant inaccuracies in Walton's article. Most notably the implication that the survivors never lose anyone significant to them... friends, colleagues and family members all die in Wyndham's books, and at pivotal moments in the plot. "The Midwich Cuckoos" ends with the narrator's friend committing suicide... one of the hero's friends in "The Chrysalids" is killed by a mob of religious bigots...

I agree with the previous comment that Walton (and Brian Aldiss too, come to think of it) has ignored a great many incidents in Wyndham's books so that she could pidgeonhole him into this bogus "cosy catastrophe" subgenre.
Spearmint
41. walkerp
In the wake of John Christopher's recent death, I feel I have to also take significant issue with the simplistic and erroneous thesis of this essay, particularly in concerning Christopher's works. I appreciate the recognition paid to the sub-genre and some small attempt to take a look at it as a whole, but the notion that Christopher's books are about a bourgeois middle-class trying to create a cosily exciting new world for itself are utterly off the mark. There is a marked lack of reference to any of the actual text from the referenced novels that further weakens its argument.

Christopher's adult post-apocalyptic works are decidedly critical of the middle class and each novel finds some way in which the protagonists' comfort levels are stripped away and their status quos upended. The World in Winter is ostensibly about the planet getting colder, but what it is really about is a complete reversal of the global racial pecking order. Whites from Northern Europe are forced to move to the equator countries, where they become a new immigrant-working class, subservient to the natives of those countries. The protagonist moves to Africa where he finds his wife has basically been forced to prostitute herself to a a wealthy African. Here are anxieties of racial subjugation, emasculation, loss of control, everything the middle-class white male fears.

Sexual politics and rape are also big themes in Christopher's adult PA novels and the portrayal of sexual relations after a disaster are far from cozy.

Another source of anxiety is the fear of a large and uncontrolled youth population. Read Pendulum for a portrayal of a society where the bourgeois comfort is stripped away by gangs of teeny-boppers on motorcycles.



This is dark stuff, strongly influenced by Wyndham, but also evolved from him and moving into an area of profound anxiety and fear that I believe reflects a growing uncertainty towards Britain's post-WWII waining global power and yet is also strongly influenced by the wreckage of that war. J.G. Ballard is also a contemporary of Christopher and his first four PA novels also center around educated, once-comfortable characters in a state of profound despair and cultural anomie as they try to survive in a world where everything they counted on is gone.

For all of you who have not yet read John Christopher's adult stuff, I strongly recommend you check it out. No Blade of Grass is the classic, but I would also recommend The Possessors, A Wrinkle in the Skin and the World in Winter as well. Dark, interesting stuff.
Spearmint
42. Michael Potts
Walkerp - re. your comment on Christopher not being reactionary because he wrote books such as "World in Winter". It's called "reverse colonisation", the fear that ultimately the situation may be reversed and the dominant culture becomes the subserviant one. It's a classic feature of reactionary writing.

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