When I first saw the title of this book, I thought it would be about how lichen would somehow become a danger to mankind, pose a threat that might wipe us all out. But it's not like that at all. Rather lichen offers mankind the solution to one of it's oldest problems, but the two people who discover it fear the social ramifications of it getting out.
I'm not even going to talk about the nature of the benefits this lichen offers to mankind because it's not revealed until about 25% of the way through the book. Though if you happen to glance at the back cover, you'll learn about it right away. But I'm doing my review for people who like to leave as much as a surprise as possible and don't read the backs of books (a very hazardous practice indeed).
This is not a post-apocalyptic story, nor is it even apocalyptic, although it explores the trials and tribulations, moral dilemmas and philosophical discourses of the two main protagonists who semi-independently discover a rare strain of lichen that has the most unusual properties. Both realise that the effects on society could be earth shattering but both envisage different problems. First they wrestle with keeping the secret and when that proves no longer possible, they try to manage what happens.
It is certainly an interesting premise and quite well written (in Wyndham's usual English, middle class way). But I wonder whether this would have been best condensed to a short story? At only around 200 pages it could hardly be described as long but it still felt drawn out at times. Not the best of his books I've read but still worth reading.