“ Author: John Wyndham / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 07 August 2008 / Genre: Science Fiction / Subcategory: Science Fiction General / Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd / Title: The Kraken Wakes / ISBN 13: 9780141032993 / ISBN 10: 0141032993 „
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Possibly my favourite book ever. It follows the adventures of a couple who write radio documentaries together, who witness the first indication of the end of the world, on their honeymoon. It follows the development of the crisis through their eyes, with provocative scientist Bocker acting as a Cassandric messenger whom nobody ever quite believes - but who grasps the nature and scope of the crisis almost immediately. It is divided up into three parts, the first their introduction to the phenomena, the second it's development and the third l'écroulement de angleterre. It has been labelled a 'cosy catastrophe' in that none of the principal characters suffer too much; both the UK and the World try to go on as normal until it becomes impossible; but this seems more realistic to me than the sudden and brutal degeneration popular in most apocalyptic fiction. It also gently mocks the predictable nature of both politicians and the press, who are more concerned with scoring points and increasing their circulation figures than they are about the end of the world. It's also way ahead of it's time with a pertinent eco message.
"The Kraken Wakes" (1953) by John Wyndham is possibly one of his lesser known works when compared to books such as "The Day of the Triffids", "The Midwich Cuckoos" and "Chocky" to name a few BUT I would argue that in no other way is it a lesser work.
In the book, two broadcast journalists cover the events around them as fireballs start raining down from the sky into the sea. People all around the world become nervous. An atom bomb is then dropped to quell whatever is in the ocean's deeps. Then ships start sinking mysteriously and the sea levels begin to rise...
As mentioned before, John Wyndham is probably better known for "The Day of The Triffids" and he is often criticised for being the author of very cosy and very English catastrophes.
On the downside, possibly stylistically the book has dated somewhat. In particular the Cold War allusions to Russia date it badly and the dialogue can at times veer towards Brief Encounter-esque moments of stiff upper lip absurdity. Some parts are also a little slow and a little dense in terms of unnecessarily mundane descriptions of things.
However for me these are minor issues and ultimately beside the point.
Wyndham's works still remain incredibly thought-provoking because the idea is key here.
And the premise of the novel is still a worthy question:
What if we did encounter life from another planet?
Could we co-exist together?
How would we cope as a society with the threat of extinction?
Indeed, when you come to think that it was only April this year that Professor Stephen Hawking was quoted as saying: "Aliens almost certainly exist but humans should avoid making contact." and that
"If aliens [do] visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," then you start to realise how prophetic Wyndham was being when he wrote this over fifty years ago.
Now, if you are thinking that this sounds all too nerdy and science fictiony for you to bother with then please believe me when I say that I am not a blind devotee to all things science-fiction related. I recognise only too well how badly thought-out and badly written a lot of the genre can be.
However, for Wyndham the notion of aliens on our planet is really just a plot device to allow him to exact his scathing political and social commentary on the societies around the world as they slowly react to the perceived threat and then blindly try to deal with something they cannot understand with catastrophic consequences.
Ultimately if you are like me and you enjoy something that has a plot that motors along and grabs you in terms of ideas discussed then this book may well be for you.