book-reviews

The Death Guard

by Philip George Chadwick

Rating: ★★★★

The Death Guard is an apocalyptic science-fiction story akin in style to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds or John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids -- set in a Britain still considering itself the pinnacle of civilisation, but dealing with themes of invasion and downfall caused both by a superior external force and the internal corruption of society. In the case of The Death Guard, the theme is biological warfare of a kind quite different to what that phrase means today.

In Chadwick's imagination, the horrors of war lead one brilliant man to invent a way for no man to ever have to physically fight again, creating artificial life which can take the place of soldiers. A neat concept for the time, though my modern imagination is somewhat disappointed that early references to biological killing machines peter out into vaguely zombie-like humanoid blobs. Yet, as you can predict, it doesn't exactly go well for those who would employ these beasts.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the novel is the continued reference to internationally-based peace movements, whose political clout is significant enough to force the initial design and construction of these war machines underground. That political force, that war-weariness, means that a conspiracy of the first order is required to conjure up a war for the biological horrors to be employed in, and seems to reflect in a way the post-WWII ebb in warmongering.

The Death Guard is considered something of a lost classic, and I'd certainly agree that it should take its place among the more famous tales I referenced before. Beyond the super-soldiers, the story delves into esoteric electrified gas, the politics of war and the environmental aftershocks of it. A science-fiction story with some depth.