Tag Archives | John Wyndham

Wanderers of Time | John Wyndham

The cover of Wyndham's Wanderers of TimeGolden Age science fiction science fiction is fascinating. Imagine the challenge of writing about space travel when no human had yet escaped our planet’s atmosphere!

In “Derelict of Space,” one of five short stories in Wanderers of Time, Wyndham describes just what it’s like to match velocity and trajectory in an atmosphere-free environment. You can forgive Wyndham for imagining an almost-breathable oxygen level in the bottom of some of the moon’s craters (“The Last Lunarians”).

In “Child of Power” and “The Puff-ball Menace,” Wyndham first writes in short-story form about the ideas which would form his full length novels, Chocky and The Day of the Triffids. The title story, “Wanderers of Time,” takes cues from H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine in portraying a world no longer governed by homo sapiens.

Like much Golden Age science fiction, Wyndham doesn’t develop his characters (although he does attempt a secondary love story in “Wanderers of Time”). What these stories lack in character development, they repay in nineteen-thirties novelty.

Wyndham, John. Wanderers of Time. London: Coronet Books, 1973.

Stowaway to Mars | John Wyndham

The cover of Wyndham's Stowaway to MarsI love John Wyndham’s science fiction. I have been a fan since my college days when I read The Chrysalids (in an effort to read all the books I was supposed to read in High School).

Wyndham first published this work with the title, Planet Plane in 1936 under the pen name John Beynon. It was later published as a serial novel under the names The Space Machine and Stowaway to Mars. Stowaway is one of his first works, and it shows. The plot lacks the drive and balance of his later efforts.

The story centres around one person’s drive to be the first to reach Mars and return. Of course, there is a stowaway—a woman named Joan.

It’s interesting to see how Wyndham handled gender issues. On the one hand, Joan is portrayed as a tough woman who is determined to break free of preassigned roles (in contrast to the protagonists’s earthbound and pregnant wife). Her iconoclastic role is undermined, however, as the story continues.

The philosophic role of machines and technology in society is the most interesting part of the book. The protagonist is enamored with his machines and the accolades they have won him. His wife, on the other hand, is threatened by them. Martian society has fully accepted and allowed machinery to flourish. Joan, in a conversation with the Martian Vaygan questions his acceptance of them:

‘The Machines?’ Joan repeated. ‘What are the Machines? They are the puzzle which brought me here.’ She told him of the machine which had somehow reached Earth. ‘I felt nervous of it,’ she owned, ‘and I felt nervous of your machines last night. I think that is the first reaction of all of us to our own machines. Some never get beyond it, others get used to it, but when we think of machines we feel that in spite of all they have given us and all they do for us there is something malignant about them. Their very presence forces us down ways we do not want to go.’ (149)

Joan continues to question the Martian’s apparent subservience to their machines. Vaygan later admits:

‘In a sense the machine must rule from the moment it is put to work. One surrenders to its higher efficiency—that is why it was made.’ (168)

These thoughts anticipate the work of Jacques Ellul!

Stowaway is not one of Wyndham’s great stories, but it’s still a thought-provoking read.

—John Wyndham, Stowaway to Mars (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977).

Consider Her Ways and Others | John Wyndham

If your only experience with Wyndham was being forced to read The Crysalids in high school, it’s time to pay this science fiction master another visit. In addition to rereading all of his major books (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids, The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, and The Midwich Cukoos), I’ve been reading through his lesser known forays such as Chocky, The Outward Urge and Web. I recently continued this journey with his collection of short stories entitled,Consider Her Ways and Others.

As with most collections, there are highlights and lowlights. The novella, “Consider Her Ways” is the shining light here. It’s a disorienting horror story about the future of men and women with a distinctive Wyndham twist at the end. Many of the stories in this collection deal with time travel, Wyndham’s bread and butter, in some form.

Wyndham falls short when he stretches too far from his base such as “Oh, Where, Now, is Peggy MacRafferty?”, a cultural satire where prospective movie starlets are groomed and modified to the point where they are all indiscernible.

The final story, “A Long Spoon,” was a clever surprise. It’s quite a twist on the old idea of selling your soul!

These stories are well worth reading.

Web | John Wyndham

  • Web © 1979
  • Penguin (1980)
  • 141 pages

Web is a posthumously published novel by one of the last century’s greatest science fiction writers: John Wyndham. Like his more famous works (i.e. The Chrysalids, The Day of the Triffids), Web rides the line between science fiction and horror—this time swerving more towards horror.

Lord Foxfield was an aging mogul with a desire to leave a lasting name for himself. He decided to buy a deserted island with a spotted past to create an ideal society. As you might guess, things degenerate. There’s some obvious social commentary there about the inability of humanity to create a perfectly synergistic society while other creatures . . . well, just read the book.

I love Wyndham, but I have to admit this is one of his more lackluster efforts. The first few chapters border on tedium, while the middle of the book races along like pulp fiction. Unfortunately, this is only worth reading if you’re a fan of the author.

The Outward Urge | John Wyndham

You can enjoy The Outward Urge on a couple different levels. On the surface, it’s a collection of short stories about humanity’s exploration of space. Dig a little deeper and a couple sub-themes stand out. These stories cover 200 years of the history of the Troon family to show how the desire to explore can follow a family line. The stories are also thinly veiled rhetoric on how human infighting undermines technical acumen.

On another level altogether, you can read this series of stories that were written over a decade before humans landed on the moon to examine the hopes and dreams of a generation. This was written when our own solar system was still so full of habitable promise.

Some of the short stories are better than others. The first story has a cowboy flair to it, while the last episode deals with the human effects of cryogenic freezing. I picked up this book because I enjoy Wyndam and wanted a light read. I found that, plus a little extra.

Do We Dream of Peace? | John Wyndham

Occasionally you find something profound in the most unlikely place. While reading Wyndham’s The Outward Urge, one of his characters explains why there’s no peace in the world with poignant accuracy:

We are here because the quintessential quality of our age is that of dreams coming true. Just think of it. For centuries we have dreamt of flying; recently we made that come true: we have always hankered for speed; now we have speeds greater than we can stand: we wanted to speak to far parts of the Earth; we can: we wanted to explore the sea bottom; we have: and so on, and so on: and, too, we wanted the power to smash our enemies utterly; we have it. If we had truly wanted peace, we should have had that as well. But true peace has never been one of the genuine dreams – we have got little further than preaching against war in order to appease our consciences.

Chocky | John Wyndham

Chocky’s a fine science fiction tale. In it, a boy named Matthew begins to have conversations with an imaginary friend—who turns out to be more than imaginary. The back cover states that the friend, “was far too intelligent and frightening” to spring from the mind of Matthew alone.

This story pulls you in from the first couple pages. There’s an element of potential horror surrounding the plot that makes it compelling. There’s a some depth here, too. It’s interesting to hear about the family dynamics of Matthew’s mother. Wyndham could have made much more use of that side-story.

On the whole, this book ranks just slightly above average. The climax was a bit of a let down for me. Still, I love Wyndham, so it was a pleasant read. If you’re not a Wyndham fan, there are other more interesting books to begin with.

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