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on 14 December 1998
Excellent, as always, John Wyndham takes a 'what if' scenario and follows it through, just to see what 'would' happen.
While still a gripping novel, this is not along the same lines as, for instance, 'Triffids'. The pace is more laid back, less intense, yet still keeps you glued to the pages from start to finish. I think that this is because Wyndham does not allow the potential horror to emerge in quite the same way as in some of his other books, rather he pats it back and forth, building tension and excitement - and reaches the climax which is... not quite what you expect.
Brilliant. Read it.
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on 23 March 2010
I took a punt on this having been introduced to Wyndham by "Chocky" and enjoyed it immensely. There's something very enjoyable for me about "retro" or "classic" SF, even if it has been somewhat undermined by the passage of time. "...Lichen" begins as a sort of campus novel about real scientists doing science, told in a sparse and gently satirical tone reminiscent of Kingsley Amis and escalates into a peculiarly British take on social revolution.

What makes this book fascinating is also sadly what relegates it to the ranks of "period piece"; Wyndham presents a likeable heroine, a sensible, empowered woman of letters, and rightly prophesies a quasi-feminist revolution based on her scientific discovery. However, the discovery is the wrong one: Unlike R. A. Heinlein in his landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", Wyndham does not foresee sexual revolution arising from reliable contraceptives, but longevity treatments. Nevertheless, this is a charming novel that presents interesting arguments with humour without testing a reader's suspension of disbelief as often Wyndham's American peers.

There are plenty of landmark SF titles that focus predominantly on the subject of super-longevity - Heinlein's "Methuselah's Children", Robert Silverberg's creepy "The Book Of Skulls (S.F. Masterworks)" and the notorious "Bug Jack Barron" - but I consider this the best treatment of the subject, primarily for its measured, academicky approach and making the implications of the science the centre of the plot. So, give it a go if you're a fan of those books, an SF nut or a Wyndham completist.

...Oh yes, I nearly forgot: I've always said "Like-un" and thought that scone should rhyme with gone.
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on 13 February 2007
After reading the Day Of The Triffids (also John Wyndham) this was almost definitely going to be a mild come down, but it did its best at the very least. Again working on the same theme of world disaster, this time Trouble With Lichen is set with a predicted future disaster, whereas Day Of The Triffids, is well and truely stuck in the disaster.

Following two main stories, Francis Saxover and his family (Daughter Zephanie and Son Paul) and Diana Brackley, who runs Nefertiti which claims to be able to 'make you look younger' this is on the whole good, but for me there are three subplots which never go anywhere whatsoever, however there is almost a last minute reference to the possible outcome of one of the subplots which also could explain why the third subplot was needed. Its a shame these don't go anywhere, because a bit more substance to the book is really what it needs!
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VINE VOICEon 15 February 2007
Not one of Wyndham's better known works, but this is a little gem, with some interesting things to say about scientific discoveries, their popularisation in the media and people's desire for medical "miracles" that turn out to have a darker side. The antagonism between the men and women's positions on the "miracle" seems simplistic and unconvincing at least in modern terms, but probably acceptable to an original reader at the end of the 1950s. Well worth reading.
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on 4 January 2001
Is there a cure to aging? Francis Saxover seems to think so and so does Diana Brackley. When a tiny piece of lichen, which is being studied in a lab, is accidentally discovered surrounded by fresh milk in a saucer of sour milk, researcher and scientist Francis Saxover takes the sample and nothing more is heard. Diana Brackley does her own investigations and makes a major discovery - but is the world ready for it?
I've become a big fan of John Wyndham and as much as I enjoy his work, there's something that I can't put my finger on which almost stopped me carrying on with the book after about 50 pages (there are 204). Good thing I didn't as the story did start to warm up after then and the ending did justify the beginning 'slowness'.
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on 17 August 2010
"The Trouble with Lichen" is an example of science fiction in the tradition of HG Wells in that the primary interest is in how normal (or clever) individuals respond to potentially dramatic changes. The inclusion of feminism as an issue is additional interest. There is no scary or shocking element in this book (unlike Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids" where people are dying all over the place). In fact the lichen has no visible effect at all (the cover of this edition of the book is dreadful in this respect), people just age more slowly. But the book is a good read, well paced and sufficiently unpredictable to keep one's interest all the way through. It would be quite possible to read this even if one actively disliked science fiction, etc.

The crux of the matter is a scientific discovery which has huge benefits (makes people live longer) but which cannot be made available to everyone because there isn't enough of the special form of lichen needed. This means that the discovery has moral and political ramifications and it would make a good jumping off point for a philosophical discussion (perhaps I am showing that I studied PPE at university). But this does not detract from the book being a fun read in its own right.

Edmund Cannon, Bristol
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on 5 May 2006
Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham

This story from the foresighted Mr Wyndham about longevity is not his best work and the pace is a bit slow. Interestingly however, its title inspired author Julien Glazer to pen the matching title 'The Trouble with Cephae' which is almost as good as 'The Triffids' and I have no hesitation in recommending both.
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on 8 December 2014
My father was a John Wyndham fan, and I started reading his novels when I was about 10 years old. I am now revisiting them, and find them quite refreshing for books that were written in the 50's. Wyndham had quite an enlightened attitude towards the female characters in his books, and 'Trouble with Lichen' is no exception. The plot is fairly straightforward, and although filed under the genre of science fiction, it is not fantasy. As ever, Wyndham places the social dilemmas humankind faces when confronted with new science at the core of his writing. However, it must be said that this, one of his later efforts, does suffer from a peculiarly stilted style and rather awkward grammar & syntax at times. Still recommended.
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on 8 November 2015
Diana Brackley works at Darr House Developments where she and her boss, Francis Saxover, discover a compound, derived from a very rare species of Lichen (found only in Manchuria) that slows the ageing process and has the potential to extend the human life span to two hundred years. Saxover is uncertain what to do with this medication, but he uses it on himself and his two children. Brackley leaves Darr and sets up Nefertiti Limited, an exclusive and very expensive beauty salon, where she injects the Antigerone into carefully selected clients, chosen not only for their wealth but for their political and public influence.

In due course, the secret of the antigerone begins to leak out through investigative journalism. There are secret investigations by rivals, serious public and political disturbances and Darr is destroyed in a well-planned and thorough arson attack. The Chinese authorities are reported to have destroyed the source of the Lichen. Brackley fakes her own death and retires to an isolated farm where Saxover eventually tracks her down. Brackley has preserved some lichen and the book ends with them planning to get married and continue their researches in a lab in the barn.

This is Wyndham’s least original, least satisfying and most dated novel. The Antigerone is discovered in exactly the same way that Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Once the secret begins to leak out the novel degenerates into a sort of popular social report on the impact of the medication. Well into the story we learn that Diana Brackley had developed a crush on Francis Saxover while working at Darr. There is no hint of this in the earlier part of the novel describing her time at Darr.

Wyndham is to be congratulated on making his heroine a brilliant female scientist; still quite a rarity in 1960. Not many years before, Rosalind Franklin (whose X-ray crystallography work was key to Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA) was being poorly treated at King’s College, London. However, Wyndham cannot claim a first for this; ten years previously, in 1950, Frank Hampson had made a brilliant female scientist one of his main characters in “Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future” in the boy’s comic “Eagle”. Professor Peabody was a first-class Geologist, Botanist and Agriculturist – and a qualified space pilot as well (“Just in your spare time, I suppose, Professor”).

Wyndham was also unfortunate that his story was published (in 1960) just at the time the Thalidomide disaster (1957-1961) was coming into the news. Diana Brackley’s beauty treatment would certainly be illegal now and her Antigerone would have to pass through far more stringent clinical trials before it might have been made available on prescription.
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on 4 January 2006
This late novel from Wyndham says far more about British Society in the late Nineteen Fifties than it does about its central premise – longevity. As is common for Wyndham, the characters are for the most part very polite Middle Class English people who speak with erudite lucidity and who inhabit a world which seems both alien and quaint from our current perspective.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this book is hardly ever mentioned in connection with Wyndham’s previous work, the three classic novels (‘The Day of The Triffids’, ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ and ‘The Chrysalids’) which turned him into a cult writer for generations of readers, and which crossed readership boundaries in that they were read and enjoyed by many readers who would not otherwise have been seen dead reading SF literature.
The basic premise surrounds the discovery of a lichen, found only in Manchuria, whose singular property retards the normal metabolic process, and thus can extend the expected lifespan to upwards of two hundred years.
When the two main characters (Diana Brackley and Francis Saxover), independently discover the properties of the lichen, their results are suppressed once they have considered the consequences to the world. Diana leaves her employment with Saxover, having kept from him her knowledge of the discovery of the lichen’s properties. She subsequently sets up a Beauty Salon under the name Nefertiti, where she injects her clients with extract of the lichen and so holds back the march of time for several hundred women.
Ten years on, various factors combine to leak the secret into the public domain and Wyndham examines the various reactions to the news from the point of view of the media, the Church and the government, as well as examining, albeit briefly, the consequences of lifespans covering centuries rather than decades.
Sadly, the novel is an anticlimax from the writer who gave us such rich food for thought in his earlier work. On the one hand it attempts to create in-depth characters who live too briefly on the page for us to appreciate them. There is Lady Tewley for instance, who came to Nefertiti as a naïve young woman, newly married into the aristocracy, and who has been subsequently transformed into a formidable member of her new class.
On the other hand this is contrasted with the effect on society, not of Antigerone itself – as the extract is called – but of the news of its existence. The novel reads like a first draft. It takes far too long to get round to examining the consequences of such a discovery and when the news is finally out one feels that Wyndham does not dig deep enough into what is obviously a rich field of possibility.
What is interesting about ‘Trouble With Lichen’ is that Wyndham sees longevity as a tool of emancipation, something which will free women from spending most of their life bringing up the next generation, and it is to his credit that he has peopled this book with assertive intelligent women, such as Diana herself and the formidable Lady Tewley. There is discussion within the novel of humanity evolving into a new longer-lived species, but one can’t help feeling that there is a subtext – particularly at this point in time – of a new species of women emerging, evolving and adapting to the changing times.
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