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SF Subgenre Guides
Cosy Catastrophe Science Fiction
What is Cosy Catastrophe Science Fiction?
The Cosy Catastrophe, or Cozy Catastrophe depending on where you learned English, is a narrowly defined sub-genre that was hugely popular in the 1950s and 60s, especially in Britain. The term was first used by Brian Aldiss in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, describing John Wyndham's books: “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.”
More generally, Cosy Catastrophe features an upheaval that significantly changes the world, usually many many people die, but the event itself is rather short lived and the characters in the story don't dwell on it. The world itself is an everyday sort of world, it's familiar (and therefore “cosy”), it's even sometimes a bit of a retreat—a new life where you get to quit your day job and steal luxury cars. The world may be falling apart, but you can still enjoy a cup of tea and rejoice in the fact that you don't have to deal with your boss on Monday.
Other Features of Cosy Catastrophe Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Low. Science isn't usually important in this sub-genre. The science present in the world isn't necessarily unbelievable, it's just that explaining it is not really necessary to the story.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
Moderate. Cosy Catastrophes aren't great philosophical inquiries, but anytime there is an upheaval in the world there are social implications. Often, the cause of the catastrophe is a big idea too—nuclear war, plague, aliens, environmental abuse, whatever it is, there is significance to the event itself.
- Level of Characterization
Low. Cosy Catastrophe stories tend to reuse the same characters. Most characters are white, middle class, and very often British. The protagonist tends to be brave, curious, and lamenting the loss of civilized luxuries (restaurants, football, symphonies, etc.).
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate. Cosy Catastrophe is a rather formulaic sub-genre and so too are its plots. There is some horrible event that causes most of the population to die, the city is empty, the protagonist is lonely and tries to build up civilization a bit, and there's almost always tea.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Cosy Catastrophe presents a world, that even though it has undergone significant upheaval, the characters have a relatively comfortable life, which can mean violence is kept to a minimum. In other stories, following the catastrophe and subsequent fall of civilization, gangs are formed, gangs with some pretty violent tendencies.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Pulp Science Fiction. Cosy Catastrophe was hugely popular in the 1950s, which means it came after the Pulp Sci Fi era, but it's also influenced by that era. The formulaic nature of the sub-genre is perhaps drawn from the pulps.
Young Adult Science Fiction. Cosy Catastrophe has appealed too this audience and there are many examples of the sub-genre that are written for YA readers.
Cosy Catastrophe Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you don't want a formulaic story. If you don't like stories about middle class, middle-aged white people.
- 1 Earth Abides
By George R. Stewart. A plague kills most of the world's population and those who are left are ordinary folks comforted by the fact that the spirit of humanity lives on.
- 2 On The Beach
By Nevil Shute. Nuclear war has devastated the world and Australia is merely waiting for the winds to bring the radiation—but life, and teatime, go on as normal
- 3 Empty World
By John Christopher. In a book great for teenagers—all the grown-ups go away. (Several other books by Christopher also fall into this sub-genre).
- 4 The Girl Who Owned a City
By O.T. Nelson. A plague kills anyone over the age of 12, leaving a world full of children with no one to care for them. The heroine takes charge to unite the other children and teach them how to care of themselves. The world is surprisingly clean and free of decay.
- 5 The Day of the Triffids
By John Wyndham. Set the mould for the sub-genre. Most of the population has been blinded by meteors and civilization has collapsed overnight. Plus, some really strange, mobile, carnivorous plants. Many other books by Wyndham are great examples of the sub-genre.
- 6 The Drowned World
By JG Ballard. Most of the Earth is underwater and the world has entered a new Triassic era—in this world we meet the protagonist, who lives in the penthouse of the Ritz.
- 7 The Ice People
By Maggie Gee This novel is set in a recognizable future and explores some big ideas about the sexes, about the parent/child relationship, about politics, all while the world freezes.
- 8 Childhood's End
By Arthur C. Clarke. uman life and society, however it appears in the book, is comfortable and self-important, making the transformation of the children even more shocking.
- 9 The Time Machine
By H.G Wells. The catastrophe of this novel is caused by humans, but not environmental in nature, rather the catastrophe is the result of the evolution of inequalities in society.
- 10 Memoirs of a Survivor
By Doris Lessing. The specifics of the catastrophe are unknown. The narrator watches the world fall apart and records what she witnesses.