It’s the end of the world, but we feel fine… or will very shortly: That’s the cozy catastrophe genre in a nutshell. An event of some sort has brought modern society to a grinding halt, and now our heroes are on the road to recovery. There’s danger afoot, of course, but sooner or later, things will improve and maybe even be better than before. If the apocalypse sounds kind of like a nice change of pace, then you’re probably reading a cozy catastrophe.
Science-fiction author Brian Aldiss coined the phrase as a criticism of disaster literature as wish-fulfillment fantasy. According to Aldiss, “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 everyone else is dying off.”
Aldiss certainly has a point. I’ve noticed reading through the cozy catastrophe genre that there aren’t very many works by women or writers of color. It isn’t a very diverse genre, at all. I suspect that this might be reflective of the implicit privilege of the premise.
A catastrophe is likely to be much cozier if you’re already a healthy white guy, and especially if you’re already reasonably well-off. For women, minorities, and the economically disadvantaged, a catastrophe and its aftermath aren’t going to be very cozy at all and may not be so for a very, very long time. Cozy catastrophes usually gloss over or ignore this unpleasant fact altogether.
Does this mean one should not read cozy catastrophes? It’s a good question, and one that applies to a lot of problematic literature. I firmly believe that this is a decision one should come to on one’s own. In my own case, I enjoy quite a few cozy catastrophe novels, but it hasn’t kept me from openly engaging with the genre’s blind spots and implicit biases. If anything it has made me more aware of them.
The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
Brian Aldiss coined the phrase “cozy catastrophe” with The Day of the Triffids author John Wyndham in mind. That’s okay, though: It’s still a great book. A meteor storm leaves most of England blind and at the mercy of escaped triffids: a species of carnivorous, venomous, and predatory plants that mysteriously appeared around the planet some time before the novel. Bill Masen, an expert on the plants who escaped being blinded by pure chance, heroically leads a group of blind survivors through London and onward to safety.
World Made by Hand
by James Howard Kunstler
Peak oil theorist and social commentator James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand series takes place in and around a small New York town that has returned to a 19th century standard of living after the collapse of the United States. Kunstler’s townsfolk do their best to keep the worst dangers of the post-collapse world at bay as they struggle to build a more sustainable way of life.
by George R. Stewart
A mysterious plague sweeps across the globe, leaving billions dead in its wake. “Ish”, one of a handful of survivors, sets out on a cross-country journey to find others like himself. He discovers that civilization as he knew it is over, but a new one is already taking root. Will the technological world ever reassert itself? Should it?
The Death of Grass
by John Christopher
A virus mutates and kills off grass of all sorts, including staple food crops like wheat and barley. With millions starving, and rumors of war in the air, two men and their families flee the city and head in the direction of a relative’s potato farm. The Death of Grass is a controversial addition to this list. The novel gets kind of cozy toward the end, but there’s no small amount of bloodshed and savagery along the way.