Twenty five years ago, the last woman on earth gave birth. There have been no births since…
Sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss once came up with a phrase: “A Cosy Catastrophe” – a world where disaster has struck, but where the characters still have a decent quality of life. The world is ending, but the milk still comes daily and there are clean plates for crumpets and tea.
The Children of Men is a lot like that. The world is in slow, ageing decline after a worldwide loss of fertility. The playgrounds stand empty and silent, and the schools are closed. Yet our main character can go round to his ex-wife for tea and biscuits without it turning into a shouting match. It’s a very British end of the world. There’s a sense of a nation saying, “Oh, well”, shrugging it shoulders and carrying on as normal.
Yet under it, we see glimpses of humanity winding down into its old age: the roads are crumbling, the loss of power and lighting is starting to shrink communities. There are empty homes and silent, silent streets and countryside. There are government organised mass suicides.
All this atmosphere is wonderful. It’s just what I look for in an apocalyptic end of the world story. It’s the only reason this book rates two stars and not one.
Personally, I couldn’t help but comparing it to Day of The Triffids. Both have a similar 1950s feel to them, even though this was written in the 1990s. But whereas Triffids kicks into high gear immediately, CoM takes forty of its first 288 pages in back story and exposition before the plot arrives.
And there’s the biggest problem with the story: The pacing. James spends paragraphs lovingly writing about how Theo, the main character, lights a fire in a woodshed, or explains in long detail about his childhood summers spent with his cousin, the dictator now ruling England.
The book doesn’t pick up steam until the second half, when Theo goes on the run with a heavily pregnant woman. All the back story of the first half could have been woven in here and made more of an interesting time of it.
Don’t tell me about how much Theo loved his room when he visited his cousin. I came here for the bleakness of a coastal town where the elderly come to commit suicide – whether they want to or not. I came here for the absolute silence of a shrinking world when Theo gets out of the car in the middle of the night.
I came here for the end of the world.
Do yourself a favour: Read Day of The Triffids instead.