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Literature / The Genocides

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Here and there, scuttling about the rubble, the incendiary mechanisms could be glimpsed attending their business.
At this remove they seemed quite innocuous. They reminded Jackie of nothing so much as of Volkswagens of the early Fifties, when all Volkswagens seemed to be grey. They were diligent, tidy, and quick.
"We should be getting on our way," he said. "They'll be mopping up the suburbs soon."
"Well, good-bye, Western Civilization," Jackie said, waving at the bright inferno, unafraid. For how can one be afraid of Volkswagens?
The Genocides, chapter 4
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The Genocides is the debut novel of the late sci-fi writer Thomas M. Disch. Published in 1965, it introduced many readers to his trademark nihilism and misanthropic characterization. The novel is also considered a cult classic of the New Wave Science Fiction movement of the 1960s.

The Year is 1979. It's been nearly a decade since a mysterious race of aliens used giant 'Plants' and floating metallic spheres that breathe fire to wipe out most of humanity. One of the last remaining communities on Earth is the small farming town of Tassel, which is surrounded by the ever-encroaching Plants. The 200 or so survivors meek out a miserable existence by siphoning sap from the Plants to irrigate their corn crops. Any marauders that attack the town are killed and chopped up into meat, which helps the townspeople reserve their cattle supply. They are led by the conservative farmer Anderson and his sons, the brawny but stupid Neil, and the liberal yet loyal Buddy. A fundamentally religious man, Anderson uses the Old Testament to rule with an iron fist, successfully keeping the town intact up until this point.

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One day in late summer, Anderson and his men kill a group of other survivors. They spare two people they deem useful: Alice Nemerov, a doctor, and Jeremiah Orville, a former miner turned survivalist. Orville experiences a personal loss during the massacre and vows revenge against the Andersons. Meanwhile, a trio of the metal orbs close in on the town. And from there, things go to hell...


The novel provides examples of:

  • After the End: Most of civilization has been burnt to the ground in the initial cleansing. Groups of survivors are scattered about the United States, the town of Tassel being among them.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Orville is in his early 40s and courts Anderson's 13-year-old, yet physically developed daughter, Blossom. However, she's just a tool in his plan to destroy Anderson's community. Later in the story, he realizes that he does love her when he can't bring himself to kill her with an axe.
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  • Aliens Are Bastards: The aliens, while never seen in the book, are shown communicating between themselves in a scientific report. The report itself is about the process of killing off the human race. No motives are ever given for why they're committing this genocide, and the report's writing is presented in a cold, efficient manner. An extermination date is even set in stone for when the genocide would reach its completion.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 6. Though, in the end the aliens start growing new plant life that humans can't eat or harvest, indicating a possible takeover of the planet once we go extinct.
  • Attack Drone: The 'Incinerators' (named as such on the blurb from the Panther Science Fiction edition). They are spherical orbs made of metal that attack in groups of three. A flamethrower is fitted into each one, which they use to attack any biological target, be it man or animal.
  • Balloon Belly: Greta, Neil Anderson's wife, eats too much of the mysterious fruit within the plant that she ends up becoming morbidly obese.
  • Beneath the Earth: The citizens of Tassel flee the destruction of their town and hide within the hollow roots of a Plant beneath a cave for several months. Their troubles truly begin there...
  • Cannibalism: Having only corn to eat and milk from the cows on a daily basis, Tassel solves its dietary constraits in the holidays by killing and chopping up any marauders they find outside. They even have a functional sausage machine to make it easier. Orville's lover Jackie becomes one of the victims.
  • Dark Shepherd: Slightly subverted with Anderson. He's not a truly evil person but uses harsh judgement based on the Bible to keep people in line and prevent his community from falling apart for as long as need be. It's even mentioned that he struggles with staying pious since Buddy was an illegitimate child from one of Anderson's affairs.
  • Downer Beginning: It's shown that life is not great in Tassel. The work of gathering sap is tedious and straining and its difficult to tell the time because the Plants block out the sun. To make matters worse, Jimmie Lee, Anderson's youngest and most beloved son, is murdered by the Incinerators when he goes out to chase the town's runaway cows. All but one of the cows, the pregnant Gracie, are burnt to a crisp.
  • Downer Ending: After emerging from a long winter inside the Plant, the only survivors, Buddy, Maryanne, Blossom, Orville and Mae Stromberg, discover that the aliens scorched the entire surface of the planet. The oceans have been dried up and no natural flora or fauna exists anywhere. Slowly, a new kind of plant life grows but it's inedible. The group wanders the wasteland, starving to death. In a reversal of the Book of Genesis, The very last description of Orville and Blossom has them walking hand-in-hand, described as the Adam and Eve of mankind's final moments.
  • Driven to Madness: Mae Stromberg loses her whole family to the Incinerators' assault on Tassel. Her son Denny dies within the Plant they take refuge in, and she disappears along with his corpse. Discovered weeks later, she's lost her grip on reality and is still cradling his mostly skeletal corpse.
  • Dumb Muscle: Neil Anderson is supposed to be next in line for the town's leadership, but he's often shown to be an idiot, with only his physical strength being his saving grace.
  • Fantastic Flora: The Plants are gigantic organisms that resemble huge flower stems. They are self-sustaining and the sap they produce can be used to water crops. Some even contain an addictive fruit inside them that comes into play later in the novel.
  • From Bad to Worse: We start with Anderson losing his youngest son and eventually get to that gut punch of a Downer Ending. Everything that happens between them is one crappy situation after another for Anderson.
  • Garden of Evil: The aliens' plan is to cover the entire Earth's surface with their gigantic tree-like Plants. The Incinerators are used to mass murder the humans while they carry out their objective.
  • Kill 'Em All
  • Heel–Face Turn: While he isn't really a villain, Orville starts off as an antagonist. He initially wanted to avenge his sweetheart Jackie and destroy everything Anderson's built, but has a change of heart. It's spurned by two things: his love of Blossom, and the increasingly hopeless situation that forces him to side with his enemies.
  • Hot Guy, Ugly Wife: Buddy is compartively better looking than his wife Maryanne. She's described as short (5'2"), has greyish-brown hair, yellowish teeth (with two large buck teeth) and a small scuzzy moustache.
  • House Fire: The town's commonhouse is where the entire population is crammed in for the winter. The Incinerators arrive one night and set it on fire, causing the surviving population of over 30 people, including the Andersons, Orville and Alice, to escape into the woods. Mae Stromberg's husband and Anderson's wife, Lady, are killed in the attack. The latter runs back into the burning house to fetch Anderson's Bible, only for the walls to collapse on her.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The Andersons are a bickering bunch who allow their power struggles, petty grudges and distrust of outsiders to lead the town to its inevitable doom. Most of the people in the novel, aside from meek characters like Blossom and Maryanne, are ill-mannered, hypocritical and decadent, despite their religious leanings.
  • It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Gracie, the only living cow in Tassel after the Incinerators massacre the rest, goes into labor. As Alice Nemerov tries to deliver the calf, an intoxicated Neil gets the bright idea of 'calming' Gracie down by tying a rope around her neck. She delivers the calf, a male, but suffocates in the process. Upon returning, Anderson sees this and punches his drunken son in the face. He berates him for stupidly killing the only female cow left. Anderson then slits Gracie's throat with a knife before doing the same thing to her calf, purely out of frustration. Neil is confused by this and believed his actions were justified.
  • Kill the Cutie: Orville's younger lover, Jackie, is introduced as a sweet and bubbly girl who kept him company in a bank vault hideout, while the Incinerators decimated the city of Duluth. She gets killed by Anderson and his men who deem her worthless to their cause. Of course, this enrages Orville and he plots his revenge against the farmer's whole family.
  • Manchild: Neil Anderson is this. From the get-go, he's described as an idiot and keeps telling childish jokes that only he laughs at.
  • Minnesota: The setting of the novel.
  • New Wave Science Fiction: An early American example from the genre. The novel is full of social satire, graphic violence and sexual subject matter, despite being relatively tame compared to succeeding new wave material. There's even a bit of Fauxlosophical Narration in the epilogue.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The novel was published in 1965, but begins in the summer of 1979 and ends around spring 1980. The genocide of humanity is implied to have started in the early 70s.
  • Older Than They Look: Blossom Anderson is thirteen when she's introduced. Orville points out she looks fifteen and she remarks that her breasts developed quickly, giving him that impression.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: The townsfolk discover a sweet fruit inside the Plant they're hiding in. They eat it and become addicted. It also makes them high, causing them to have wild sexual urges that culminate in an orgy.
  • Patricide: A dying Anderson tells Neil that Orville is to marry Blossom, therby inheriting leadership of the town. This enrages Neil who smothers his father and then kills Alice in an attempt to cover the murder.
  • Prodigal Hero: Buddy is this. He left the original Tassel and went to the city to attend college, much to his father's disapproval. He returned just in time for the end of human civilization. He gets along with Anderson despite his more liberal stance on things.
  • The Theocracy: Farmer Anderson uses the Bible to rule over Tassel. That also includes punishments such as whipping anyone for making costly mistakes and the immediate stoning of adulterers. Despite this draconian system, the townsfolk are grateful to Anderson.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Neil Anderson is not only mentally challenged but he's described as very plain in appearance. His wife Greta on the other hand is a beauty queen, so much so that Buddy attempts to rekindle their old fling behind Neil's back.
  • The Woobie: Maryanne. She's physically and emotionally weak and acts like a doormat. Her husband, Buddy Anderson, initially hates her but as the novel's events get worse, he finds himself caring for her more, especially when she reveals her pregnancy.
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