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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 7 July 2011
I absolutely loved this. Wyndham is one of my favourite authors anyway and I have read and re read his novels. But the BBC dramatisation is a cracker. The sound balance is great - you can hear all the dialogue easily. And there is the added twist of the contemporary threat of global warming. The voices were nicely set with accents from the BBC of the 1950s, and all the actors impressed with their presentation.
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on 26 November 2015
A classic story. A 'must have' for a personal library.
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on 17 June 2015
One of John Wyndham's best stories.....excellent!
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on 17 November 2015
As expected - another good product from Amazon
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on 25 September 2011
In po-faced defiance of its title, The Kraken Wakes contains no tentacular sea monsters of Scandinavian mythological origin whatsoever. Neither does it so much as allude to giant squid, octopodes or cephalopods of any kind. Rather, the title is a bastardisation of a line from the Tennyson sonnet `The Kraken' [1830], which is a sea shanty-esque verse about the propensity of the ocean to be simultaneously both calm and deadly. The book itself is a fictional work of journalism by Mike Watson (with some monstrously unsubtle suggestions of a personality correlation with Sherlock Holmes' similarly surnamed sidekick), who narrates in the first person and describes his experiences of (and involvement in stopping) an alien invasion. The USP of these extra-terrestrial nasties is that, rather than saucering over cities and blasting us from the air, they land their crafts in Earth's Oceans and conduct a slow invasion from the world's deepest underwater trenches - you've gotta credit their originality.

Wyndham crafts his alien invaders with a set of narrative proclivities that are more in keeping with horror fiction than traditional sci-fi. The aliens themselves, for example, are never actually seen, either by character or reader; - they always function off-stage, as it were. They begin their take-over of Earth by pulling ships into the oceans, making any travel by boat untenable; later there are some suggestions of living tank-like weapons crawling up beaches, and finally, over several years, the sea-levels rise to apocalyptic heights and it looks like lights out for the human race. That all this violence occurs without a single physical description of or appearance by the aliens is what makes them seem so damn, well... alien. The ardent lack of description and the glacial pace of the aliens' progress allow the reader's imagination to run riot with speculation over what these things look like. This lack of any specificity whatsoever creates the uncanny impression that these non-visual invaders are simply too alien and too horrific to be adequately described with language. Wyndham's rejection of the standard anthropomorphised extra-terrestrial is markedly refreshing, and it's the latent inability of the cast to truly know their enemy that's responsible for the horror fiction vibe that dominates this book's tone.

But unfortunately, little else about The Kraken Wakes is as successful as its alien invaders. There are significant pacing problems, to the extent that I began to wonder whether Wyndham was deliberately dragging his feet with story progression in some kind of postmodern narrative reflection of the grass-growingly slow invasion of his alien antagonists. Frequently 50 pages will pass without a single synoptic `event'; the characters merely spend their time rushing around England asking if anybody knows what the hell is going on (in this regard, I suppose they echo my own sentiments). Similarly, much of the book's language is dull and clunky - often leaden with unhelpful adjectives and long, long passages of extraneous, journalistic musings about the international response to the invasion. Such chapters are frustrating because much of the book's scientific terminology is now obsolete; I often found myself reaching for the dictionary to look-up some esoteric phrase or other, only to discover that it is no longer in use: `coelenterate' being the most commonly used of such out-dated nomenclature (in case you're wondering: it describes a kind of jellyfish-like tentacle).

As far as I can tell, the most frequent modern criticism levelled at The Kraken Wakes is that it's very much a product of its time, and hasn't aged well. Large chunks of the book reflect contemporary societal fears that're just no longer applicable. The Americans initially refuse to believe in the alien invaders, choosing instead to apportion blame to some new and secret Soviet weaponry. Likewise the Russians accuse the Brits of sinking their ships, and vice versa. I don't entirely agree that this Cold War slant alienates a modern readership, because all a reader needs to do is replace every reference to `Soviets' with the word `terrorists', and this should do a more than adequate job of contextualising the Cold War climate of fear and suspicion for 21st Century readers. Besides, I don't think that a book being a `product of its time' is any kind of valid criticism at all.

Elsewhere characterisation is problematic, and somewhat of a double-edged sword. Protagonists Mike and Phyllis have the least believable marriage I've encountered in a long while, and speak to each other in a kind of faux Fleet Street insipidity that bathetically undermines any attempts Wyndham makes at presenting the couple's supposed love and affection. They're entirely without depth, and function purely as vehicles for telling the story - they may have worked better as colleagues, rather than lovers. A major contributing factor to their roboticism of character can be ascertained fairly early in the novel: they lose their newborn baby - an undeniably tragic event that is, bafflingly, never mentioned again; as if such an appallingly terrible event could ever be shrugged off in favour of yet more tedious investigative journalism. Their banality as `main characters' has the inopportune side-effect of making the seldom seen supporting cast that much more interesting. The eccentric appeal of mad scientist Dr Bocker (spookily always one step ahead of the aliens) and comic relief of nosy, opinionated neighbour Petunia only highlights the prosaicism of the leads, and left me longing for the rare appearances of the book's secondary characters.

My final gripe is with The Kraken Wakes' ending. Consider yourself duly spoiler-warned: though I'm sure such augury is obsolete in a review of a 60-year-old novel. Mike and Phyllis have fled to the countryside; most of the world's land is now hundreds of feet underwater; most of the world's population has drowned. It's summer, early evening, they're looking out over the indescribably vast ocean that covers the planet, only a few islands of land (former mountain ranges) remain, and the narrative tone is one of unknowability and question: who are these aliens? How/why have they flooded the Earth? It's beautifully vague, ambiguous and heart-rending. Then we get to the final page. A stranger arrives, announces there's a new weapon that fires an 'ultra-something' (direct quote!) and that the aliens will be defeated. The End.

The picture of an endless ocean drawn immediately before this conversation is so beautiful, well described and evocative that I was preparing myself to forgive the book's myriad failings in light of a brilliant ending; but the dues ex machina undermines the poignancy of the moment in an almost comically bizarre come-down that's entirely out of sorts with both the established pace of the story and the emotional tone of the scene. The Kraken Wakes is an ambitious but unsuccessful attempt at giving the alien invasion trope an unusual twist. The focus on the media reaction to such an event is great; likewise the exploration of international suspicions and fear mongering is convincing. I also enjoyed the horrific presentation of a truly other, unknowable alien life form. But poor characterisation, pacing and a frankly stupid ending ruined the whole experience for me. The Kraken Wakes is slow and boring, and although I've been told that this is a minor blip in an otherwise illustrious sci-fi career (Wyndham wrote the universally praised Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos), I think it'll be a while before I pick up another of his books.
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on 16 January 2012
I loved this book, arrived on time for my holiday in Tenerife, spent the first few days engrossed! (Because that's how enjoyable I found it!) Not normally my genre, but very glad I ventured out of my comfprt zone for this one :)
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on 30 March 2016
Another great John Wyndham tale.
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on 23 March 2015
Typical John Wyndham a good read
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on 3 October 2014
It's John Wyndham - says it all.
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This Wyndham classic is told across three different phases, the first and third probably being the strongest. Like many other Wyndham stories, the world is suffering at the hands of supernatural events - the absolute cause of which is unknown, though some theories are provided...

Normally I feel immersed in a John Wyndham novel, the likes of The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids had me enthralled and I almost didn't want to face 'real life' until I'd finished the book. But The Kraken Wakes didn't draw me in as much. The two main characters through whom the story is told seem a bit two-dimensional. I didn't feel particularly emotionally attached to them, at one point they lose their baby and the whole event is brushed aside after a paragraph only to be briefly mentioned once again later. Such a devastating moment should have been a key device to really develop the characters and give them depth. I felt it was a missed opportunity.

Because of that, the story reads pretty much as a chronological telling of events. There is little emotion despite the loss of both lives and livelihoods as the worlds seas become dangerous places to cross. The main strength of the book is the way it details media manipulation and the political struggles between popularist and logical action, all of which are as relevant today as ever before.

In a nutshell: Not the best book to introduce someone to the dystopian works of John Wyndham, the characters don't inspire any investment of emotion so you don't really care too much about them. The `beasts' of the ocean prick your interest and you read on out of desperate inquisitiveness only for an ending which seems a bit rushed. I've been spoilt by some fantastic reads by this author before and I can't help but think that if the book was by a 'lesser' author then it wouldn't be as widely available.
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