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A Very British Outer Limits
The Seeds of Time - John Wyndham
Member Name: mjn
The Seeds of Time - John Wyndham
Date: 08/12/01, updated on 08/12/01 (1953 review reads)
Advantages: Easy read
Penguin ISBN 0-140-01385-7
First Published in 1956 this collection of ten short stories were written, in John Wyndham's own words, "over a fifteen year period" as "experiments in adapting the science-fiction motif to various styles of short story." In short, "they are experiments on the theme: I wonder what might happen if...""
So what are these stories? What follows is a brief description of each story that I hope gives you a flavour of their content without giving away the plot too much. I have entered John Wyndham's description of each story in brackets to give you a feel for the experimental nature of these works. He was, from the impression given in his introduction, clearly trying to break into what, I assume, must have been a lucrative market of American Science-Fiction magazines.
Some people might like to skip the numbered paragraphs below as they do tend to give the game away. Below the short descriptions I give my opinions about the stories.
1 Chronoclasm (A romantic comedy) This story, which to me is closest to his style in such books as the Day of the Triffids, centres on the mysterious appearance of a woman in the life of the narrator. She is dressed strangely, clearly knows the hero and is distressed when it appears that he doesn't know her. What follows is a series of meeting with both the girl and a collection of other individuals clearly bent on preventing any further contact between the two.
2 Time to rest (Pastoral) What if Mars was inhabited by an indigenous race and what if an Earth space ship, with a large crew, were stranded on Mars with no hope of a return to Earth?
3 Meteor (Adventure) The earliest of the stories, this tale poses the question what would happen if an Alien race, intent on colonising Earth, forgot to check the relative scale of their intended target? Shades of the Hitch Hiker's Guide here, maybe.
4 Survival (Style of the Eng
lish short story in its heyday) Here we have another story about colonisation gone wrong, as we follow the twists and turns of a mother's efforts to protect and nurture the life of her child.
5 Pawley's Peepholes (satirical farce). What if someday in the not to distant future someone managed to make a time machine that could allow people to go back and see how their ancestors lived? How would the ancestors feel? Could they do anything about it?
6 Opposite Number (The light presentation of a somewhat complicated idea.) Here is a tale in which JW plays around with the idea of a multiverse, multiple realities, in which the lives of people take different courses. What effect might there be if people from one reality visited their "opposite number" in another reality. A chance to put things right perhaps?
7 Pillar to Post (Written to suit the American style). What if a bored, sterile and superior race found a way to transfer the essence of a person, through time and space, between two bodies? What if the person picked for transfer was a paraplegic in great pain?
8 Dumb Martian (Style of the English short story in its hey day) Here is a story written through the eyes of a murderous bully, who underestimates the quite demeanor of the Martian wife that he bought.
9 Compassion Circuit (Short Horror story) Robots [Androids in modern terms] are physically and mentally superior to their frail masters, so what is the only solution when humans get sick?
10 Wild Flower (In the form of the modern short story) a story told through the senses of an English teacher who is a technophobe, perhaps. JW tries to contrast her world with that of technology and show how each effects the other. Who will win? A latter day environmentalist's tale perhaps.
As with any science-fiction the reader is obliged to suspend belief to one degree or another and with this collection of stories that suspension is even more necessary. Our "modern&quo
t; knowledge of such things as space flight, the nature of Mars as a habitat and the almost insurmountable technical problems with producing a time machine will make these tales seem naive. But that aside they are enjoyable and give the reader an interesting insight into the mind of John Wyndham and his view of the world. I don't know enough about his work to be able to place these works in context with his more famous novels, but there do seem to be trends concerning the effect of technology on peoples lives, colonisation and the interaction between species evident here that might have been experiments in some of the themes tackled by such books as Midwich Cuckoos, The Kraken Awakes and Day of the Triffids.
The stories come over "dreadfully British" (although I suspect John Wyndham might have preferred to use the word "English") and some people might have trouble with the characterisation of most of the women in the stories. They have a tendency to be overcome emotionally with events, or be preoccupied with having tea at the correct time, or become obsessed with such things as "the other woman's" choice of drapes. But don't hold these old fashioned prejudices against him, the stories make a good read.
I recommend The Seeds of Time as an easy read in the old style.