The 1950’s is famous for goofy monster movies in which lizards, spiders, and other critters grow to enormous dimensions after being exposed to radiation and rampage across the landscape, flattening civilization in the process. These classics of scientific paranoia were presaged by a little-known science fiction novel published in 1947: Greener Than You Think, by Ward Moore.
The story begins when a lowlife salesman by the name of Albert Weener meets an ambitious scientist by the name of Josephine Francis and a makeshift workshop in suburban L.A. Francis has developed a new compound that will allow plants to derive nutrition from any substance. Weener decides to demonstrate by spraying it on an ugly patch of lawn in an ugly neighborhood. Within days, the grass on the lawn has grown taller than the surrounding trees and no one is able to cut it. Soon it is destroying buildings and the military is called into to combat the weed. Those familiar with genre conventions can probably guess the rest.
What makes this novel stand out from the crowd is the character development and the sharp, satirical tone. Ward Moore is a keen observer of human nature and he gives us a plethora of unique characters to laugh at. Besides Albert and Jospehine, we get a montage of newspaper writers and editors, military men and their offspring, religious leaders, explorers, servants, and business types. The story is all about the every-growing, devilish grass, but all of the characters respond in different ways. Some seek to make a profit of it, others turn to it for artistic inspiration, and others take a purely scientific approach. Nobody in the story truly understands the magnitude of the situation or really responds appropriately–an astute warning at a time when global warming and national debt loom on the horizon.
The main idea of the book, though, is simply to wring humor from the outlandish characters. Albert Weener manages to land a job as a newspaper columnist, and his adventures in writing and publishing take up a good chunk of the story. He works under an abusive editor named W. R. le ffacase–no typo there–and their personalities rebound off each other to hilarious effect. Moore includes some pointed parodies of writing styles from his time period. Today, it seems amazing that newspaper articles ever included so much flourish. All-in-all, Greener Than You Think is an excellent satiric science fiction novel and well worth a bit of time and money to procure.