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

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