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Friday, November 28, 2003

Book Review
I just finished reading an incredible book: Greener Than You Think, by Ward Moore. I read a review somewhere (can't find it now) which compares it to Vonnegut. I'd add in quite a bit of George Orwell. It was written around the same time as 1984 (published 1947), and is pretty hard to find. Neither the Ann Arbor nor UM libraries have it, but I was able to get it from the Ecorse(!) Michigan library via the Michigan Interlibrary Exchange. Used copies were also available at several used-book stores around the country. The copy I got from Ecorse was a 1985 edition, published as part of a "Classics of Modern Science Fiction" collection. It looked as though it had never been checked out before.

In any case, the book is amazing. I'll try to tell you about it without ruining it for you. The book is written in the first person, that person being one Albert Weener, a none-too-successful salesman who has a tendency to overestimate his limited skills. He answers an ad in the paper from a woman looking for a sales representative for her not-quite-perfected miracle plant-growth product. Since she hopes the product, which appears to do some sort of genetic engineering, will vastly improve the yields of grass-family food crops such as corn and wheat, she asks Weener to try and sell it to some farmers in the San Fernando Valley. Lacking bus fare to get there, Weener instead tries to sell the stuff door-to-door in Hollywood as a lawn fertilizer. Finally making a sale, he ignores the instructions for the application of the miracle product. By the next day, a nearly dead Bermuda grass lawn has become a lush, impenetrable jungle. Defeating all attempts to mow it, poison it, or burn it, the lawn grows completely out of control, taking over most of Hollywood within a few weeks.

Anyway, that's just the first 40 pages or so; the story goes WAY beyond that. The most interesting part, I guess, is the weird insight into the character of Albert Weener. Though a hodge-podge of faults, he almost universally sees himself as faultless and in no way responsible for the many calamaties he causes. (Remind you of someone?) The book gets pretty self-referential at times, especially when Weener is describing what a fine writer he is, using a particularly awful sample as an example. (A little inconsistent, because the text, supposedly written by Weener himself--his writing of it is described near the end--is much better-written than the sample he presents.) In any case, you could easily see the book as an "unwitting" indictment of arrogant American capitalist types. I say "unwitting" in terms of supposed author Albert Weener, who never has a harsh word for himself. Real author Ward Moore of course knew he was writing an indictment of sorts, but he anticipated my easy identification of the defendant and refutes it. Right at the start of the first chapter, before the story starts, he put this note:

Neither the vegetation or people in this book are entirely fictitious. But, reader, no person pictured here is you. With one exception. You, Sir, Miss, or Madam--whatever your country or station--are Albert Weener. As I am Albert Weener.

Okay, you're probably totally confused now. Read the book! You can probably get it one way or another through your local library or used book shop. Just don't get it through Amazon until the Borders' strike is settled.

You may be wondering what possessed me to go hunting for a 56-year-old sci-fi book in the first place. Greener Than You Think was given a rave review in another fine book: Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Mike Davis. I started reading that book when the LA fires were going on. Very interesting stuff. And that book is easy to find.