Posts Tagged Science

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, Reviewed by Alexicon

FringesThe expression goes ‘never judge a book by its cover’. But John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids goes far beyond that. The cover in question is the image in the top left corner. It’s his name, in block caital letters, the title underneath and then an image of an alien lizard thing. It’s green. It has crab claws. It’s wearing armour which looks like it fell out of an early episode of Doctor Who and it’s carrying a rather brutal looking mace. One would surmise, and rightly so seeing as this alien sounding name is written above an alien looking creature, that it is a Chrysalid. One would be wrong.

This book has nothing at all to do with this apparent depiction of Chrysalids whatever they might be. This creature does not get a mention in the entire two hundred pages of novel. In fact, nothing even remotely like this creature gets a mention in this novel. But here I am, judging a cover by its book. A grossly misleading cover, I might add. But nonetheless, it’s a good book.

The Chrysalids is a novel about a boy called David Strorm who lives in the closeted, fundamentalist Christian village of Waknuk, in a futuristic projection of Labrador, in the Canadian province of Newfoundland. The villagers are obsessed with what they refer to as purity. A true form of person, if you will. Any deviation which crosses their path, they destroy. If a field is deemed to have too many variants from what is considered the norm, then it is burned. If a baby is born and is not considered the norm, then it is killed, and the mother is punished. David, as a child, meets a girl called Sophie, who has been living with the secret of having an extra toe on each foot and over the course of the novel he comes to realise he doesn’t fit the norm as well as he thought he did. David, and a collection of others from the village can communicate with each other with what they call thought shapes. It’s telepathy by another name, but it immediately put David and his friends in danger.

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Certainly a better cover!

The book is good. The characters are interesting and well rounded; the plot is interesting, if a little predictable. As per with Wyndham’s work, there is a sense that everything will be okay. It came through very strongly in the Day of the Triffids that there was never any real danger to the protagonists and it feels similar here. The characters are too good at surviving for there to be any real urgency. It was this, perhaps, which made it such a demotivating read for me. It’s a book which you can put down. It just doesn’t carry you very well. I think the concept is very imaginative, and the characters portray it well. The sense of oppression is excellent and the communication between the characters is fantastic. But for me it can’t really carry it.

In the USA, this book is called Re-birth. It’s a title which makes a lot more sense to me. Potentially, it’s possible to surmise The Chrysalids is a reference to change, changing situations, attitudes, lives. It’s a novel about change. But as a title it’s an abstract way of saying this. It’s not often I prefer the American titles of novels but in this case I do. The cover on the other hand, I cannot see what it has to do with the novel, but thankfully, it’s hardly a point to stick at. Just be careful if you have an old Penguin edition of this book. I came into the novel expecting one thing and was left confused at the end and the cover was a large influence on my expectations.

Nevertheless, Wyndham writes brilliantly. His narrative style is relaxed yet interesting, he manages to avoid cliché neatly, while giving insightful commentary on a violent and twisted society brainwashed by their obsession with perfection. The novel was first published in 1955; I’d hedge a bet that he was drawing influence from the Nazi Aryan ideal. Overall, it’s worth a read, it’s a very interesting concept and well told, if a little slow, but it’s definitely worth the time spent reading it.

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Apologies for the lateness of this review! I’ve had a fair bit to do this week. I will also be missing next week’s review post and all of my P365 posts as I will be away on holiday. So expect a load of posts next weekend. 🙂

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The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, Review by Alexicon

76740Alfred Bester has been lauded as one of the science fiction greats of the Twentieth Century. His two must critically acclaimed novels are The Stars, My Destination and the subject of this review, The Demolished Man. The novel follows the undeniably unpleasant protagonist Ben Reich. Reich is the CEO of Monarch Utilities & Resources, a prolific and gargantuan cartel which has all but enveloped all business it deals with. The exception of which is Monarch’s rival: The D’Courtney Cartel to which Monarch are losing.

Reich plots to murder Craye D’Courtney. But there is a significant additional complication to his plans. The world in which Reich lives is policed by telepaths. Bester calls them ‘espers’ or ‘peepers’ and they fill the roles of doctors, psychologists, even a seedy club owner cum psychic medium, and of course, the police. The Guild of Espers is a fascinating concept, described as a psychiatric hospital in the novel. The place comes across as a realisation of a bitter and confining life which plagues all espers. An esper can only marry another esper and each person with esper powers must join the guild. Reich, unfortunately, does not have these powers. The result is a constant struggle for him to keep his plans from peeping minds.

He recites a rhyme:

‘Eight sir, seven, sir,
six, sir, five, sir
four, sir, three, sir,
two, sir, one.

Tension, apprehension
and dissention have begun. ‘

The infectious rhyme blocks out his thoughts to peepers and with the help of Augustus Tate, a first grade esper in the guild his plans slowly roll into action.

Bester’s style is captivating and post-modern. He effortlessly designs the future of the Earth while keeping the science entirely plausible, despite being able to get to Venus in a matter of hours. The world he builds is as detailed as a photograph in comparison to his characters; the novel reads like a moving image in the mind. His characterisation is exquisitely done and each character has their own human flaws, creating a realistic and deep set of complexities to dwell over while reading. Reich seems to be as much an enemy of himself as he is of Lincoln Powell, the esper police prefect determined to send him to be ‘demolished.’ Bester’s writing as well is inundated with the futuristic naming schemes of the world he created. He replaces sections of names with similar sounding grammatical and mathematical symbols: @kins, ¼maine and Wyg&, to name a few. The effect is an alienation from the contemporary world in which he was writing, planting the novel squarely in the realms of the yet to be.

Bester is a science fiction master and a must for anyone even remotely interested in science fiction. The Demolished Man is among his finest novels. Think about it.

The Demolished Man is £6 on Amazon.co.uk and $16 on Amazon.com

NEWS: I have finished Under the Eagle and I am now on to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, so you can expect that review in three weeks time after The Pact and Under the Eagle.

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