Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Whilst I was reading The Weft and The Warp on my iPhone, I needed a paperback to read in the bath (as all my students know I am obssessed with not letting a drop of water near any Apple device - ever since I dropped my 80gb iPod Classic in the washing-up bowl).

I finished that last night too. First published in 1955, my copy is tatty old one which belonged to my dad.  I have read it before, but when I was still at school so I couldn't remember much more than the opening with Sophie and her six toed footprint on the wet rock.

John Wyndham is famous for science-fiction, most notably The Day of the Triffids which is one of my all time favourites. The Chrysalids is an interesting premise although the story is not as exciting as Triffids.  It is set in a post-apocolyptical world in which genetic disorders are rife.  The apocolyptical event is not made clear, the characters in the book call it the Tribulation and believe it was sent from God.  However, the genetic damage it has caused suggests some kind of nuclear catastrophe.

Society, and in particular the main protagonist David's father, believe that genetic mutation must be eradicated and that only those made in the image of God should be allowed to live.  The image of God is, of course, the one prescribed by them and as the novel progresses we see that it can be a fairly loosely interpreted if an economic advantage is gained, for instance when David's uncle buys some giant workhorses.

In the novel, David, his cousin Rosalind and several other young people discover they have the gift of telepathy and can converse with each other in thought-pictures over reasonably long distances.  Then David's mother has another daughter who appears to be 'normal' but reveals accidently to David and his friends that she has an immensely strong gift of telepathy.

Inevitably this aberration is discovered and David, Rosalind and Petra go on the run. Because their 'defect' is not instantly visible, the authorities, including David's father are not content to let them flee to the Fringes where all the other mutants live, and instead hunt them down.  However, Petra's immense gift allows them to contact a superior race of humans, who can all use thought-pictures, living thousands of miles away in Zealand.

The race is on to see who will get to the 'deviants' first.

This novel is clearly a commentary on the dangers of messing about with genetics and the possible catastrophic effects of nuclear fallout - it was written, of course, at the height of the Cold War.  However, it also explores the idea of normality and evolution.  Mutation, is after all, the way that evolution works and to see all mutations as inherently bad or wrong, risks stifling evolution and physical and mental progress.

As I said, it's not the most exciting sci-fi novel ever and not particularl
y fantastical.  The ending is a bit obvious.  For a novel written in the fifties though, it does feature some strong female characters and it's a great easy and light read.

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