“Cosy Catastrophe” is a term coined by Brian Aldiss in his 1973 work ‘Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction’, and is used to describe a certain type of apocalyptic sci-fi that was prevalent in the 1950’s; in particular he was referring critically to the novels of John Wyndham.
Generally speaking, a Cosy Catastrophe is a story in which some kind of apocalyptic event destroys almost all of civilisation except for the protagonists, usually a middle-class, who may struggle for a while but will settle down to live a newly pastoral life in relative comfort, and the tale will end on an optimistic note.
Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’ – where the world is left blind and vulnerable to predatory plants after a meteor shower – and ‘The Kraken Wakes’ – an alien invasion yarn – are presumably the novels that Aldiss meant. Yes, millions of people in the cities around the world presumably suffer horrific fates, but such issues don’t really trouble the small band of survivors, who are left to enjoy the final bottles of champagne and wistfully reminisce about visiting the theatre. If a man finds himself alone, there will inevitably be an attractive young woman for him to stumble across and rescue.
Judith Merrell’s 1950 novel ‘Shadow on the Hearth’ is another excellent example, and serves as an interesting relic of the era of “Duck And Cover” – when the general public seemed to have absolutely no conception of what radiation poisoning actually entails. When Manhattan is obliterated by nuclear bombs, the worst problems encountered by the heroine include a faulty gas pipe and a hysterical neighbour.
Other authors who penned books similar in nature include John Christopher (In ‘The Death of Grass’ and ‘The World in Winter’), JG Ballard (‘The Drowned World’), and George R Stewart (‘The Earth Abides’).
In the shadow of the early days of the Cold War there was apparently an optimism in ignorance, and a hope that Things Won’t Be That Bad Really, which became less prevalent when the truth about nuclear holocaust became widely known. It’s never really gone away entirely of course – Hanna Jameson’s ‘The Last’ fits into the category seamlessly and it was published in 2019. What’s your favourite Cosy Catastrophe story?
Have a good night and take care, everyone!