I spent Invasion Day 2017 going back to reread John Wyndham’s ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (1953). The invasion is from space in this instance. The aliens take up residence in The Deeps of the oceans and attempt to depopulate the planet.
I recently saw ‘The Kraken Wakes’ on a list of Climate Change novels. This new genre has the obvious – but not really catchy – contraction of Cli-Fi. I’d previously understood the term to refer to books that incorporate the anthropogenic influenced changes in our environment while my memory of John Wyndham is all the terror of alien invasions.
I read piles of his books when I was young: ‘The Day of the Triffids’ (1951), ‘The Chrysalids’ (1955), ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ (1957), ‘Trouble with Lichen’ (1960) and ‘Chocky’ (1968). (The dates are when the novels were published – not when I read them!)
Kids who stare and large menacing plants still freak me out.
The third section of ‘The Kraken Wakes’ titled Phase Three, definitely resonates with recent publications in the Cli-Fi genre. The clever aliens are doing their best to drown us out and sea level rise is their weapon of choice. The Arctic icesheets are birthing iceberg after iceberg. Before everything melts completely. The oceans rise and rise and flood the earth.
There is horror in this idea – whether the threat is from outer space or at our own hands. Perhaps it is easier to externalise the threat. I have a theory about the huge popularity of zombie novels in this climate.
The tone of John Wyndham’s writing now feels dry and unemotional, more reportage than visceral story. Partly this is because we are told the story from the point of view of a journalist, partly because this was written in a different era and there were different expectations of authors then.
The aliens in their half-egg shaped tanks, with their mucousy tentacles, are slightly laughable. Too much Dr Who since I first lost myself in the Wyndham horror stories has spoiled me.
There is something really frightening in the novel though. This is the responses of the world governments, the media, and the individual citizens, armed and under threat. And the way science and scientists are derided and ignored for years.
Spoiler alert! The boffins (how to deride a scientist – give them a buffoonish title) do find a way in the end.
A happy ending then. For the 1/5 of the human population left on the planet.
As I know I would have been in the majority who were lost, just as I’ll be one of the first to go come the zombie apocalypse, I am giving myself a treat in my reading next.
Forget P.J. O’Rourke’s advice, ‘Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.’ Rather – always be reading something you’re enjoying in case the end of the world comes. No better author to turn to than Kate Atkinson.
The Iceberg painting is by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)