on 3 November 2015
The Day of the Triffids
The Kraken Wakes
The Seeds of Time
Trouble with Lichen
The Midwich Cuckoos
I first read John Wyndham’s science fiction novels in the 1960s and I purchased this omnibus edition recently as piece of nostalgia. The second-hand copy I received was in very good condition. However, the publishers have allowed a fair number of minor errors to escape the eyes of their proof-readers.
I have enjoyed re-reading these stories. They are of course somewhat dated by having been written in the 1950s but, as I can remember those days, it was no problem for me to put my mind back into that setting. Most of Wyndham’s science fiction ideas are still highly original, even after fifty years; interplanetary invasions, from H G Wells to the present, still focus on aliens with advanced weaponry. They lack the subtlety of the Midwich Cuckoos or the mystery of the Kraken.
So which is the best of these five novels (The Seeds of Time is a collection of short stories)?
Trouble with Lichen is the least original – the anti-ageing medication is discovered in exactly the same way as Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. The story degenerates into a sort of popular social report on the impact of the medication rather than a novel.
The two alien invasion stories (the Kraken and the Cuckoos) are, as noted above, highly original but the narrator in each case is a passive reporter of events.
The Chrysalids is a credible vision of a people struggling to recover from a thermonuclear war but it has a “deus ex machina” ending as the telepaths (the Chrysalids of the title) are rescued by technically advanced telepaths from Sealand (New Zealand).
The Day of the Triffids has the brilliant invention of the walking, stinging plants and also focusses on the adventures of the hero, Bill Masen, who is active, resourceful and self-reliant. There is also the wonderful character of Wilfred Coker, the self-educated man: “Meetings addressed. Subject no object…I kind of supply the spoken word just like a printer supplies the printed word.”
Overall I think that the Triffids (the earliest novel) is the best.