At tor.com, James Davis Nicoll: Four Stories That Subvert the Cosy Catastrophe Genre
My first response: There is something that fits a sub-sub-genre called “cozy catastrophe”? Apparently this is enough of a thing that there are also multiple books that subvert the common tropes of this category. What could this sub-sub-genre be? What sort of catastrophe is “cozy?”
My second response: Hmm, still not coming up with anything that could be described in this way.
So let’s take a look at the article and see what Nicoll has to say:
It seems that some authors are happy to kill off most of humanity as long there’s interstellar colonization. Perhaps getting rid of most of the population is the point? Jo Walton would describe this as a cosy catastrophe. Finally, an end to all those other people while the virtuous get a brand-new world. …
Oh, so this is Jo Walton’s term? Let us pause and click through to Walton’s post on this topic:
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.
Huh. Well, this is a new one on me.
I am not completely on board with this concept. For example, let’s consider SM Stirling’s Dies The Fire. In this world, all electronics quit working and we’re back to swords and horses and so on. The primary protagonists do indeed survive and thrive, eventually. But cozy? I wouldn’t say so. They have lots of struggles and not many crumpets. This isn’t cozy. It’s an adventure story. Is Jo Walton familiar with a significant number of stories like this, except with afternoon tea rather than dire struggles against bad guys?
She would say yes. You can click through and read her post, if you wish. I haven’t read any of her examples. Day of the Triffids is the one she uses to define the type.
Triffids are odd, interesting little plants that grow in everyone’s garden. Triffids are no more than mere curiosities—until an event occurs that alters human life forever. What seems to be a spectacular meteor shower turns into a bizarre, green inferno that blinds everyone and renders humankind helpless. What follows is even stranger: spores from the inferno cause the triffids to suddenly take on a life of their own. They become large, crawling vegetation, with the ability to uproot and roam about the country, attacking humans and inflicting pain and agony. William Masen somehow managed to escape being blinded in the inferno, and now after leaving the hospital, he is one of the few survivors who can see. And he may be the only one who can save his species from chaos and eventual extinction . . .
I am not sure this sounds all that cozy. But I haven’t read it. Maybe it feels less like a dire struggle than this description makes it sound.
Well, back to Nicoll’s post:
Firefly’s backstory provides a marvelous example of the sort of thing I don’t ever want to see again: The Earth was somehow used up, despite which an astonishingly homogeneous subset of humanity managed to make it to another star system armed with the exact sort of terraforming technology that should have made repairing Earth easy-peasy.…
I grant, that is indeed implausible. Though the people who colonized space don’t seem all that homogeneous to me, so that is an odd complaint. But it’s true that if you could terraform a planet like Mars, you could certainly turn around and repair Earth. No question there.
Nicoll’s goes on to describe four books he feels subverts this general type. Without going on and on about whether the type exists and whether “cozy” is a appropriate adjective, I will say that this first one sounds really kind of neat:
A UN report predicting the near-certainty of nuclear war spurred a golden age of space colonization R&D. Twenty years later, atomic war having failed to materialize, the product of that R&D was available for a group of Quakers to purchase as surplus. Imagine their surprise when they reached their destination to hear only ominous silence from the Solar System. Apparently, that UN report was correct after all, and Earth has perished in fire. Except, as we learn at the beginning of the novel, that is not quite correct either. Foxfield’s colonists, isolated for generations, must deal with sudden and unexpected contact from a world they assumed dead.
I never heard of Still Forms on Foxfield. Sounds intriguing! It does not, however, appear to be available as an ebook. It IS available as a paper book. Copies range from a non-insane $18 to a remarkably insane $920, which may be the highest price I’ve seen for an out-of-print used book. Wow.