BooksOfTheMoon

The Kraken Wakes

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

It starts with meteors falling from space into the ocean. Soon ships that try to explore the regions where they fell are sinking, and not long afterwards, no ships that ply the deep oceans are safe. But that’s not all, sea-tanks start raiding coasts, and then the sea level itself starts to rise, slowly but inexorably.

This book is a slow burn, but goodness is it tense. It’s like boiling a frog, it comes on so slowly that you don’t realise just how tense you’ve got.

In some ways, the book is very much of its time, but in others, it’s uncomfortably prescient and very much relevant to the modern world. One thing I liked was the foresight of commercial television, which didn’t make an appearance until several years after the book was published. And, of course, the image of politicians who stick their heads in the sand while the water levels rise is one that climate change has made us very aware of today.

In other ways, the book is very much of its time. The society, the deference to the established order and the ways of thinking feel very different to our own, but that by no means diminishes it as a very powerful story. Wyndham is often accused (or acclaimed, delete as appropriate) of being the master of the cosy catastrophe. I don’t think there’s very much cosy about eighty percent or more of the British population being wiped out. He also doesn’t stint on some of the nastiness that might happen when refugees from the lower areas try to flee to higher ground.

But for all that, Wyndham leaves us with hope. That’s something that some books seem to forget, but most of Wyndham’s novels offer some olive branch of hope that things will improve. There may be some way of fighting back, or the menace has been contained (even if only ‘for now’). This is what makes his novels so much more bearable than most dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels that I’ve read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141032993
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Year of publication: 1953

Chocky

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

Young Matthew is going through a phase of having an invisible friend, or so his parents think. Then he starts doing things that he couldn’t do before, such as counting in binary. And so the story of Chocky comes out – a person living in Matthew’s head who only he can hear.

Most of this book, told in the first person by Matthew’s father, is about parental worry. That of worrying if their child is normal, if he has psychiatric problems and of protecting him from unwanted fame. The worries and attitudes of the time shine through, particularly with Matthew’s mother, although the idea of a police surgeon accepting a glass of whisky while on duty also raised a smile.

Chocky herself remained an enigma for most of the book, with more becoming clear at the end. She’s not always the most likeable of characters, but she’s always interesting. It’s not, perhaps, the most action-laden book, but in some ways this adds to the tension as you wonder what the next episode of Chocky-inspired chaos will be. In the end it turns out to be a remarkably sedate story. Perhaps I might call it a ‘cosy catastrophe’ on a family scale, but I suspect that the Gore family might dispute the adjective ‘cosy’.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140031218
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 1968

The Day of the Triffids

By John Wyndham

Rating: 5 stars

It’s only by chance that Bill Mason’s eyes are bandaged up the night the meteors come. And the next day, he can see but everyone who looked at the strange sight has been struck blind. And that’s not the worst problem – the triffids that have been farmed for years suddenly start to become a real menace to the masses who can no longer see their vicious stings.

Although I’ve read and enjoyed other Wyndham novels, The Day of the Triffids has been a large gap in my scientificional education, and one that I’m very glad that I’ve now filled. I was broadly aware of the plot, but not the details and although I general don’t like post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, I usually make an exception for Wyndham, master of the so-called “cosy catastrophe”. Critics may use this to sneer at Wyndham, but I definitely feel that there’s a place for this sort of writing to explore what happens when society breaks down. And I find it infinitely easier to read than some.

Possibly the best sign of a good book is that this has stayed with me since I read it, still thinking about the logistics of the tiny number of sighted people trying to stave off the triffids, help the blind and husband resources and knowledge to rebuild civilisation as best they can. I still try and think of plans and means to help them, how the existence of the triffids would hinder that, or how different the situation would be without the triffids: with 99-plus percent of the population blind (and new babies unaffected), it makes for an interesting set of thought experiments.

The triffids themselves are wonderful inventions. They still engender a sense of horror and are delightfully creepy in and of themselves. The idea of a mobile plant that has the ability to hunt and kill humans is just a scary thought so used, as we are, to plants being immobile and docile.

Wyndham’s survivors react to their circumstances in several different ways, some of which are indications of his time and others still relevant to today. The idea of the sighted being kidnapped by groups of the blind and forced to act as their eyes is something that I can definitely see, as is the inverse. But in the end, Wyndham ends on a hopeful note, with a fairly safe and stable colony trying to preserve the knowledge that they’ve inherited and find a weapon to drive the triffids back and reclaim the world.

The Day of the Triffids is a classic that has permeated mainstream culture, and with good reason. It’s a lucid, easy to read book with creepy and memorable antagonists and for this reason has been adapted multiple times into other media. But it’s still definitely worth going back to the original

Book details

ISBN: 9781856132527
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year of publication: 1951

The Seeds of Time

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

According to Wyndham in the introduction to this collection of short stories, he’s trying to experiment with the form and bring science fiction to people who wouldn’t necessarily otherwise read it. There are stories here in the pastoral vein, Gothic horror, satire, traditional English short stories, ‘new form’ English short stories and a few others. While I perhaps haven’t read widely enough to judge how well he succeeds in writing to these different genres, the stories themselves are cracking reads.

To name but a few: Time to Rest has an almost Bradbury-esque country gentleness and sadness about it, which is sort of echoed in Wild Flower. Pawley’s Peepholes (about an English town besieged by incorporeal time-tourists) is downright hilarious while Survival (disaster strikes on a ship bound for Mars) is just creepy.

An excellent collection by a master of the genre.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140013856
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year of publication: 1956

The Best of John Wyndham

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

This is a posthumous collection of Wyndham’s best short stories. Wyndham has a dry and somewhat humorous tone that very much fits these stories, although I oddly heard some of his stories in an American accent, despite the man being a very British gent (and I never had the issue with any of his novels). In the collection, Close Behind Him was really rather creepy, while there’s a humour and playfulness about The Perfect Creature and Pawley’s Peepholes which is endearing. A good collection from an excellent author.

Book details

ISBN: 9780722193693
Publisher: Sphere
Year of publication: 1973

The Chrysalids

By John Wyndham

Rating: 4 stars

In a post-apocalyptic world, all deviations from the norm are abhorred. When David and a couple of others discover emerging telepathic powers they must hide them in fear for their lives.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s creepy and often has logic that’s all too plausible, taking you to very uncomfortable places and yet is also optimistic, taking a line on the future of humanity that reminded me of some of Theodore Sturgeon’s work. It’s also a cracking adventure story that’s very readable.

Book details

ISBN: 9780140013085
Publisher: Penguin Books
Year of publication: 1955

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