This novel is perhaps one of the best treatments of the ecological disaster theme, written with both intelligence and a clear understanding of the human condition when faced with life-threatening circumstances. The storyline starts out with the news that a deadly, resilient plant virus known as the Chung-Li virus has virtually wiped all cereal crops, including rice, in China. Due to an initial Chinese government decision to suppress details of the ensuing famine, the full scale of the disaster is not made known until it is quite too late. Vaccine developed hastily by Western countries proves ultimately to be ineffective and before long, the virus has rapidly spread, reaching Europe including England and wiping out all the cereal crops (with the exception of potatoes) and grass of that particular region. Life in England starts breaking down with catastrophic consequences and the story then focuses on the attempts of the protagonist John Custance, his family and close friends, to reach safety in northern England where his brother has a farm newly set up for potato farming.