Well, mostly rambling. Spoiler alert for the major of Wyndham’s works, and I suppose King’s too, since I’m going to mention them too.
So I just finished the Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. I’ve read two of his other two works, The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids quite some time earlier, but hadn’t got round to reading this. I still have to read three of his other works, including the The Kraken Wakes, which is fairly famous, like the three I’ve already read.
For those of you who don’t know Wyndham, he writes science fiction books. They’re sort of like classic science fiction. He’s not as famous nor as prolific as Arthur C. Clarke or Asimov or the other sci-fi giants, but his works are really really good, they’re like compulsory reading for sci-fi fans. The books are not really futuristic the way Asimov is, and two of the ones I read including Midwich are actually based in contemporary England, also his style is very cosy British-like and rambling (like classics usually are, which is why I like him). But the scifi aspect is also pronounced and unique, and he brings a creeping sense of horror into the stories using very prudish prose, which is a contrast that is delicious when you pause to think about it afterwards.
When I started The Midwich Cuckoos I was struck by how similar it was to Under the Dome, the Stephen King book I recently finished. In the Midwich Cuckoos, a small village in the middle of England is suddenly surrounded by an invisible barrier, crossing which causes animals and humans to become unconscious. In the King book, there is a similar situation, except in that case the invisible barrier is actually solid and cannot be crossed. The King book revolves around the town trapped under the dome and the problems it encounters – like all good King stories, it ends almost apocalyptically. In the Midwich book however, the barrier is lifted within a day, and it is the consequences of that almost innocuous-seeming twenty-four hours that is the real crux of the story.
The second notable thing about the books was the use of telepathy. In The Chrysalids, telepathy is a secret talent acquired by individuals as a result of a genetic mutation, which latter are common in the post-nuclear explosion world described in the book. Telepathy is what sets the main characters aside, it is portrayed as a good thing to have, though it’s also the reason why the main characters’ lives are in danger. (all aberrations are regarded as abnormal and therefore have to be destroyed). In Midwich, however, the alien children’s ability to communicate mentally is actually the eerie thing about them, and is regarded as evidence of the fact that they are all one consciousness, one giant being divided into individual bodies. It is regarded in the sort of creeping horror that I described in the beginning. I found it interesting how the same talent was portrayed in such different lights by the same author in the different books as a result of the varying storylines.
In both Chrysalids and Midwich however, the telepathy is limited to individuals who have the talent ingrained in them, that is, it is not the sort of mind-reading telepathy one envisions when one hears the term. Individuals in either book can only communicate telepathically with other individuals who have the talent – they cannot “read” minds of people who don’t have the skill. This was a consistent aspect of the telepathy described in both books, though in Midwich the explanation for the phenomena is different.
Anyway. I recently finished the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson too, it was pretty fantastic. I especially like the character of Lisbeth Salander – ruthless, cold, emotionless, rational, practical, rebellious and with almost boundless internal strength. The stories themselves were your typical thriller-mystery-action-crime novel type things, but well-constructed, and the major theme in them, that is, of eventual punishment of men who hate women, was something that would obviously appeal to me in the feminist mood overtaking me these days 🙂 I might do a more detailed post on Salander, because its been ages since I admired so deeply a character, female no less, but this is enough rambling for this post. Just wanted to mention them since they’re fresh on my mind.