Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No explanation for this catastrophe

Icebergs melting and water levels rising. Ships sinking for no apparent reason. Fireballs falling from the sky. Deep-sea explorations going haywire. No, this isn't a contemporary sci-fi apocalyptic novel. The Kraken Wakes was published in the 1950s, and because of that, it was way, way, way ahead of its time.

I've been having a love affair with John Wyndham since I read The Chrysalids. I haven't been disappointed with any of his works. The Kraken Wakes is considered to be one of his finest works. Hands down, I agree. It's a harrowing piece of science fiction, one that warns us of the effects of climate change and guerilla alien invasion.

The novel begins with a bang, literally. A couple on a cruise, Phyllis and Mike Watson, spot fireballs from the sky which rapidly descend into the ocean. This sounds innocuous enough, no? But no one has been able to come up with a solid theory on what these fireballs are, and why they seem always fall in the ocean.

Of course, this being the 1950s, the most obvious reason would be the Russians. Surely, the Russians also have the capability of sinking aircraft carriers and other huge maritime vessels. Sinking ships have followed the fireballs, but only a few have established the connection yet. However, the Russian theory is soon scrapped because of, shall we say, extraterrestrial reasons.

Next we see huge metallic orbs crawl out of the sea. Out of these alien structures protrude large cilia which aim for people. Once you get hit, there's no escaping. When the cilia contracts, you find yourself being pulled into these alien structures. Naturally, this causes a panic among people living along the shorelines. Countries that are more or less composed of small islands seem to be particularly affected. When things normalize (i.e., when there are no apparent alien abductions reported), people think it's over. The worse is still to come though when water levels rise significantly and people are forced to evacuate. It's the end of civilization as we know it.

The Kraken Wakes is a novel of ideas. Wyndham postulates how people would behave when confronted with the implausible. There's denial, mass hysteria, finger pointing, and even a few media personalities who capitalize on the unfortunate events. Wyndham captures all the craziness vividly.

And you gotta hand it to Wyndham for somehow showing us what'll happen should the polar ice caps melt. It's a grim picture that Wydham paints in The Kraken Wakes. It'll make you want to do anything just to lessen your carbon footprint.

The Kraken Wakes is a terrific novel about alien invasion, even though we hardly get to see any of these aliens in the novel, much less krakens. All we know is that they are in the ocean depths. Wyndham shows us what happens to humanity when the oceans who have sustained life on this planet eventually turn out to be the thing that we'll be most afraid of.

Read this book if:

  1. You like apocalyptic science fiction.
  2. You'll read anything by Wyndham.
  3. You love vintage science fiction.


Stepford Mum said...

I completely agree with you - Wyndham's books are so ahead of their time, or, shall we say, timeless, since they all seem to remain relevant today.

Looking forward to reading this one, and the others I've not read yet!

Peter S. said...

Hello, Stepford Mum! I really should thank you for introducing me to this writer. You told me about him after the Blindness discussion. You mentioned that I try Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids since it had similar themes, more or less, as Saramago's opus.

Kaz said...

Hi Peter,

You finally got to this book - you can pick up that bookmark now and read my post!! I just went back and read it myself. I'd quite forgotten how many tangental spins I'd found... Methinks life was a little less stressful those months ago, and I had a bit more headspace to think about what I was reading.

Nice post, by the way - do you have any Wyndhams left, or are you going to have to start re-reading?


Peter S. said...

Hi, Kaz! I have yet to read his short stories! I hope I can find copies. I don't think these have been reissued.

Arabella said...

I think I must re-read this soon, Wyndham was a favourite of mine at high school (which was a fair while ago). I have re-read Triffids and The Chrysalids not that long ago and what always amazes me is how relevant Wyndham remains.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Arabella! Wyndham has become a favorite of mine too, ever since I read The Chrysalids, which was a great read.

Kaz said...

Ebay for the short stories - that's where I picked up my 'Seeds of Time' for a suprisingly low price. You'll have to settle for a vintage paperback though...