Cosy Catastrophy Books?

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Cosy Catastrophy Books?

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Sep 30, 2010, 4:16pm

I have recently become more interested in this genre of dystopian books. From Wikepedia with some examples that I will add to my wishlist. I am hoping this group may have some further suggestions?

Cosy catastrophe

The "cosy catastrophe" is a name given to a style of post-apocalyptic science fiction that was particularly prevalent after World War II among British science fiction writers. A "cosy catastrophe" is typically one in which civilization (as we know it) comes to an end and everyone is killed except for a handful of survivors, who then set about rebuilding their version of civilization. The term was coined by Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. The concept, however, can be dated back as far as 1890's Caesar's Column by Ignatius L. Donnelly (under the pseudonym Edmund Boisgilbert), where the violent uprising of the lower class against a plutocratic oligarchy leads to the destruction of civilization, while the protagonist survives back home in a now-fortified European colony in the Ugandan highlands. The cosy mystery is an analogous genre in mystery fiction.6

English author John Wyndham was the figure at whom Aldiss was primarily directing his remarks, especially his novel The Day of the Triffids. The critic L. J. Hurst dismissed Aldiss's accusations, pointing out that in the book the main character witnesses several murders, suicides, and misadventures, and is frequently in mortal danger himself.7

John Christopher's The World in Winter (1962) also falls into this category, with the main character being able to avoid the worst excesses of the collapse of European civilization, due to a fall in solar radiation. Those who are fortunate enough to escape move to Africa where they find themselves treated as second class citizens. Eventually, an expedition is made by hovercraft to London by Nigerian soldiers and the main character, who sabotages the mission in order to remain with his new wife who has joined a growing group of survivors there.

The Catalan author Manuel de Pedrolo wrote Mecanoscrit del segon origen (Second origin typescript). It was published in 1974 and is a post-apocalyptic novel where two children accidentally survive an alien holocaust that eradicates all life on earth. They take up the mission of preserving human culture and repopulating the Earth.

David Graham's Down to a Sunless Sea (1979) starts off with a seeming "cosy catastrophe" - i.e., the rest of the world is completely destroyed in an all-out nuclear war spreading deadly radioactivity over the world, but the small band of survivors led by a heroic jetliner pilot manage to set up a colony in Antarctica and start a new life for humanity.

Sep 30, 2010, 6:29pm

The Furies by Keith Roberts. Giant wasps.
A Wrinkle In The Skin by John Christopher. Massive earthquakes. Man walks from Guernsey to the UK mainland to find his daughter.
Malevil by Robert Merle (a representative from France). Some people survive a nuclear war in the wine cellar of a chateau.

Oct 8, 2010, 12:08am

I don't quite understand what the term 'cosy' implies. Is it that the book focuses on the small group of people remaining? Focuses on the rebuilding of society? Or that the group does not experience any particular dangers or meet with outside conflict during rebuilding (per your second paragraph, above)? In most "small group survives" PA fiction I've read the group eventually runs into other survivors, if only to keep the plot moving. E.g., Malevil as andyl mentioned.

If we assume that only the first or second requirements are needed:

Wyndham's The Chrysalids (US title: Re-Birth) certainly qualifies and is a good read.
Earth Abides by George Steward had that feel to it.
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban has perhaps a large group of survivors rebuilding, but they are doing so in fascinating ways. The book is excellent.
Non-Stop by Aldiss himself might fit the bill (generation starship).
And perhaps The Postman, David Brin, which focuses on rebuilding the American society.

A couple of juveniles definitely fit:
Children of the Dust, Louise Lawrence (recommended)
Devil On My Back, Monica Hughes

Oct 8, 2010, 11:37am

Thanks to both of you! Lots of good books here. I did love The Chrysalids but especially The day of the Triffids. I think the term cosy catastrophe has evolved to refer to a few things:
1) Gradual calamity as opposed to a sudden near extinction due to natural disaster (eg. world freezing over, triffids running amok)
"The phrase is attributed to the British author Brian Aldiss, who mentions it in his fascinating history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree, while talking about the author of Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham. While Triffids, with its blinded populace and sinister, stalking plants, could hardly be described as "cosy", it is an example of a largely non-violent, non-destructive doom. Wyndham also wrote The Kraken Wakes, in which an alien invasion gradually destroys civilisation by way of melting the ice caps rather than with death rays and war machines. The book chronicles the rebuilding of a massively de-populated world once the aliens have been despatched.

John Christopher is another British author who embraced the idea of a cosy catastrophe. While his novel, The Death of Grass – which so worried Sam Jordison when he was younger – does feature an ecological disaster that causes often violent social breakdown, Christopher (real name Sam Youd) also wrote The World in Winter, a very much more British version of Emmerich's movie The Day After Tomorrow, in which increasingly harsh winters drive the population of western Europe towards the suddenly more temperate African regions. And then there's JG Ballard, who employed ecological apocalypse in his debut novel The Wind from Nowhere, as well as in his more famous works The Drowned World, The Burning World, and many of his short stories."

2) Lack of focus on the original disaster, with a focus on the rebuilding after.
a) They are usually managing to rebuild and form some sort of society (think Day of the Triffids again)
b) The society is often based around a set of specific moral values (The Chrysalids, etc).

Oct 8, 2010, 7:47pm

Ahh, then. Definitely post-apocalyptic, post-catastrophic works, rather than focusing on the event itself, and emphasizing the rebuilding of society.

Given that, I would remove Non-Stop from the list. It's an adventure story set on a PA generational starship, and while it does deal with the rebuilding of society the characters are not generally aware of their own circumstance. The others listed above fit in fairly well, especially Earth Abides and Children of the Dust.

I didn't list Ballard before because in his apocalyptic works (The Drowned World, The Crystal world, The Cage of Sand, etc.) the characters don't seem particularly interested in rebuilding anything. When they're not actively dooming themselves they seem at most content with living among the debris.

I will add a few that might be more controversial:

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, in which the "sole survivor" of a plague struggles to stay sane and contribute to the rebuilding of the world. He does, though in a way he doesn't expect.
Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson, considering the lives of nuclear survivors in the Florida Keys grappling with the meaning of survival and letting go of the past.
And finally, Dhalgren by Samuel Delany, where people struggle to build a society inside the fictional city of Bellona, USA, where some sort of event has occurred cutting it off from the rest of the country.

A warning that the last two are not straight sf works and are not easy reads. They are as someone once informed me "that literary crap" that people either love or hate. Fiskadoro is a favorite and I think is fits into this genre perfectly.

Oct 16, 2010, 3:45pm

It seems Aldiss is using the term 'cozy' much like it is used to describe a certain sub-genre of mystery - those mysteries which tell their story with little or no graphic violence, minimal blood...etc. - a gentle approach.

My husband just told me something interesting, that a lot of these catastrophe novels of that post-war era were "psychologized" as responding to the "end of the empire."

Oct 16, 2010, 4:23pm

Cozy catastrophe as "end of empire". Yes that has been remarked on quite a lot in non-fiction. Probably why virtually all of it is British, apart from Merle and France had their own empire ending.

I haven't read Fiskadoro and can't remember much of Earth Abides but for me 'cozy catastrophe' definitely implies a particular tonal quality that many US novels don't have. For me cozy catastrophe usually involves something of the English pastoral sentiment.

Oct 16, 2010, 5:54pm

Agreed! And thank everyone above for your great recommendations, I can see I am going to have my reading cut out for me this winter :P

I think a good Lapsang Souchon tea to go with a dystopian novel. Heheh.

Edited: Oct 17, 2010, 5:30am

Unless "cozy" is meant ironically, I personally would not include Children of the Dust or Fiskadoro. While both are impressive works, they're also some of of the harshest, most disturbing books I've read within the genre. The last part of "Dust" touches on civilization being rebuilt (or perhaps "replaced"), but the imagery that sticks with me is the opening, the abandoned children dying from radiation sickness and starvation. "Fiskadoro" is open to interpretation, but left an overall impression of despair and entropy. (Having written that, I'll of course have to re-read both to see what I've missed :-)

Here's a couple of other American titles I feel has some of that Wyndhamish quality:

*Emergence by David R. Palmer - eleven year old girl genius searching for other survivors of bio-nuclear war. Not at all the The Road precursor it sounds like, but a very Wyndhamish tale of dealing with the post-catastrophe challenges and finding new hope for mankind in the end.
*Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - 1950s extended Florida family dealing with nuclear war and it's aftermath in a rural / small town setting. "Rebuilding of a civil society by civilized people", as one of the reviewers aptly remarked.
*The World Ends in Hickory Hollow by Ardath Mayhar - A 1980s cousin of Pat Frank's book. Back-to-earth smalltime farmers in a Texas outback, their families and neighbours living though the after-effects of nuclear war and national collapse. Focusing on the forgotten manual skills and values of the past.

Oct 17, 2010, 1:37pm

Ooo. I have Alas Babylon on mount TBR, and will add the other two to my wishlist. Thank you!

Oct 17, 2010, 6:51pm

>9 geitebukkeskjegg: Perhaps you're right about these two works not being "cozy." The opening of Children of the Dust is really what makes that book memorable and if "cozy" implies not showing the immediate, graphic impacts of the disaster, it is certainly is ruled out. The majority of the work though was about the survivors dealing with their paths forward, and it definitely ended on a tone of "life goes on." That was the message I was suggesting it for.

I don't agree with you about a tone of entropy and despair in Fiskadoro however, not at all. I found it pretty much life affirming from beginning (Mr. Cheung planting sugar cane for children) to end (a celebration at the arrival of the white ships). In the middle you have music lessons, book clubs, and beach parties! Definitely a book open to interpretation, definitely dealing with some harsh topics, but each of characters are survivors and Johnson focuses each of their stories on how they survive.

I mentioned that this one is a controversial pick. :) This might be a good thread actually: Upbeat v. Downbeat catastrophy novels. It would be nice to have a list to help pace out my reading.

Edited: Oct 19, 2010, 2:26am

>11 ogodei: I'll certainly not claim to possess the truth about Fiskadoro, or any book. All above is IMO only. It's fascinating that you should find the ending upbeat, while I found it somewhat nightmarish :-)

On diverging viewpoints, Aldiss himself employed the term "cosy catastrophe" to heap derision on a very popular sub-genre: "The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while every one is dying off". Yet he acknowledged the lure of the genre: "...yet there is magic in The Day of the Triffids, and in the excitement of the hero and his girl moving through a collapsing London". Personally I'm both taken in by the magic of "Triffids" and hypnotised by the dark glow from the more extreme works of the genre.

Some works that would fall under Aldiss original definition is, perhaps -
*The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber - Delightful tale of global catastrophe as moon-sized spaceship carrying cat-like aliens appear within Earth's gravitional field
*Wolf and Iron by Gordon R. Dickson - economical collapse, man taking to the wilderness and linking up with a wolf. No bed at the Savoy or fast cars, but the man-animal bonding is a wishfulfilment fantasy in itself
*Without Warning by John Birmingham - cosmic energy event wipes out most of USA, inhabitants of the remaining north-western corner are left to deal with a planet running wild once there's no world policeman on guard

Nov 15, 2011, 3:31pm

I stand in wonder that no one has mentioned what is probably the most widely read apocalyptic novel of modern times; 'THE STAND' by Stephen King. This one was so popular that it was reissued years later in it's full, unexpurgated version. It also received the award for 'Dust-jacket illustration least relevant to the plot.' Readers will remember this from those days.

Nov 15, 2011, 3:43pm


Maybe because it isn't very cozy.

Nov 27, 2011, 4:48pm

Sounds like Colson Whitehead's Zone One might qualify, though it's still in my TBR dump.