Monday, June 20, 2011

Who doesn't love sci-fi?

Especially if it's well written and has a very unique story line, no? Oh, but you'll probably tell me that the subject matter of mutants, post-nuclear societies, and evolution gone haywire isn't something new anymore. Yes, I would have to agree, it's not. But when John Wyndham wrote about it in 1955 in his novel The Chrysalids, it was groundbreaking.

The time is the future. People are living in an era after a nuclear holocaust. Groups of people, the survivors, have formed communities. And in these communities, they persecute everything and everyone that deviates from the "norm." If they find a person with an extra toe or finger, or an animal with an extra leg, that individual is thrown out of the community into the Fringes. But why, you may ask. Well, these people, religious fundamentalists actually, have their "rules."
'And God greated man in His own image. And God decreed that man should have one body, one head, two arms and two legs: that each arm should be joined in two places and end in one hand: that each hand should have four fingers and one thumb: that each finger should bear a flat finger-nail...'
And so on until:
'Then God created woman, also, and in the same image, but with these differences, according to her nature: her voice should be of higher pitch than man's: she should grow no beard: she should have two breasts...' [p. 11]
Then we meet David, a child who is the novel's hero. David questions his community's ideals. Who among them can really say that these deviations are not God's will? And it doesn't help that his father is the community's leader, a man so uncompromising that he would be willing to sacrifice his child if that child is showing any deviation. When David befriends a girl who has 12 toes, his father shows no mercy. After the girl and her mother is thrown into the Fringes, his father gives him several lashes on his back.

But deviations don't always manifest in the physical, as David finds out. For as you see, David is telepathic; he can communicate with a few other children who also have the same ability. When one of David's adult guardians find this out, he tells David to keep it a secret; it is, after all, also a deviation. But secrets have a way of coming out, especially within a small community.

Two telepathic sisters are kidnapped and tortured, forced to reveal the names of other children who share their ability. David flees with his younger sister Petra and another girl named Rosalind. They have nowhere to go but the Fringes. And in the Fringes, they find out that what they have may actually be the norm in other societies.

The Chrysalids is one suspenseful science fiction novel. Think X-Men without the cheesy costumes. Now add a dash of philosophical thought on the nature of individual differences and you have one thought-provoking novel. It's gritty in the way of story lines involving paranoia, fear of the unknown and different, and religious madness are. It's a story that asks questions, which I feel are still relevant today.

Who would've thought that a sci-fi novel published in the 1955 would have groundbreaking ideas. No wonder that the 1950s was called the golden age of science fiction. It was the time when Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. It was when classic science fiction movies came out -- The Day the Earth Stood Still, It Came from Outer Space, The Fly, Invaders from Mars, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, just to name a few. Let's face it, novelists and film makers have been going back to this period for inspiration.

I'm glad I was able to find this book. I've been looking for The Chrysalids for the longest time ever, say, for 5 years, I think. But let me tell you, Wyndham's novel is definitely worth the long wait.

Read this book if:
  1. You love classic science fiction.
  2. You've always wanted to be a mutant.
  3. You have no fear of the unknown.