Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore

(Note this was originally posted by me at several other groups, but it seems appropriate. It's also mentioned here on the Reading California Fiction blog.)
Apocalyptic science fiction novels have been around for a long time. H G Wells's War Of The Worlds(1898) was one of the first and still remainspopular. The plot of the book usually involves some Threat To Life On Earth As We Know It which is thwarted by a dashing young scientist. The style remains popular to this day. Both Independence Day(1996) and The Day After Tomorrow(2004) are good examples of this genre in film. Greener Than You Think was Ward Moore's contribution. Known for his other SF novels, such as Bring The Jubilee (1953), Moore considers this threat to humanity: ordinary lawn grass.
In Greener, an amateur chemist named Josephine Spencer Francis formulates a product she calls "the metamorphizer". This compound can cause plant life to take advantage of just about any raw material for growing. Thus, wheat fields could spring forth in the desert and corn could be grown on a highway. She hires a plucky young salesman named Albert Weener to sell the metamorphizer to the agricultural industry. Unfortunately, Weener decides to market the product to suburbanite home owners with bad lawns. When nobody wants to buy it, he sprays it on a pathetic yard near Los Angeles as a demonstration.
The next day he returns to find the sickly lawn a beautiful green. But there is one problem: the home owner's antique lawn mower soon chokes up while cutting the grass and expires. And the grass grows. And grows. and grows....
Soon, the entire city of Los Angeles is covered by the grass as it spreads across the city. Next, the population of California flees as it envelopes the state. Nothing can stop its deadly march and the whole country is soon threatened. The book tends to the melodramatic side, which is it's major weakness.
Moore's style seems reminiscent of the pulp writers of the depression, not very sophisticated, but determined to tell a good yarn. His characters also tend to the one dimensional side, but they are outlandish: the army general who wanted to be a musician and the newspaper editor who continues to write about the grass as its spreads closer.
The book is narrated by Weener, who, by sheer luck and guile, becomes the richest man in the world. One of the book's strong points is how is shown to be totally clueless as to the damage he has and continues to cause. It could be Moore was making a not-so-sutle jibe at the spread of post WW2 suburbia in the USA.
Not a "must-read" book, but definitely worth your time if you can find a reprint, which is what I did. Greener also predicted the controversies over biotechnology and nanotechnology.

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