Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Chrysalids

 

If you're up for some sci-fi noir then this is for you. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham was first published in 1955 and calls to mind all those vintage black and white science fiction films from that era. Far from being scary, this book was a fun and exciting read. 

A bleak and primitive society has emerged from the ruins of civilization. It's not quite clear what kind of event devastated the world but it may have been a nuclear disaster. The story is set in Labrador, a province populated by a religiously fervent society that believes in purity of race. Any forms of deviation from the norm in terms of strange plants,crops, animals or humans are either eliminated or banished into the Fringes, a barbaric land bordering Labrador. David, a young boy grows up in this strange society not quite sharing the beliefs of his family and neighbors. He further questions his fleeting faith when his best friend Sophie is discovered and hunted for being a deviant solely because she has six toes on each foot. Apart from all this, David discovers he is able to communicate telepathically  using 'thought-shapes' with a number of other children, some of them even miles away. As years pass the children feel more isolated and grow closer even as the youngest among them emerges with a much stronger power. Their peaceful existence is further shattered when one of them decides to marry a 'norm,' a person unlike themselves, putting them all in danger.

Other people seem so dim, so half-perceived, compared with those whom one knows their thought-shapes; and I don't suppose 'normals', who can never share their thoughts, can understand how we are so much more a part of one another... And we don't have to flounder among the shortcoming of words; it is difficult for us to falsify or pretend a thought even if we want to; on the other hand, it is almost impossible for us to misunderstand one another.

The Chrysalids is also about David growing up and his search for himself and his identity. He ultimately feels he belongs with the other children and people like themselves. 

I was a normal little boy, growing up in a normal way, taking the ways of the world about me for granted. And I kept on like that until the day I met Sophie...It is hindsight that enables me to fix that as the day when my first small doubts started to germinate.

The book also explores themes such as religion, genetic mutation and evolution and you can choose to ponder the author's ideas which were actually ahead of their time. I chose to read this book purely as an entertaining classic science fiction novel and I did enjoy it very much. This is so much better than most contemporary dystopian fiction written today. John Wyndham is a very good writer and I appreciated the way he revealed things piece by piece, building the suspense quite slowly. The characters were very well-drawn especially that of David. The ending was a bit of a Hollywood one but then again I didn't really mind. It was all part of the fun.

14 comments:

  1. Great review. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. What a great review! I hear about this book on occasion, and always think to myself that it sounds right up my alley - and I always then promptly forget about.

    This time I am going to add it to my wishlist with a link to your review.

    I really want to read this.

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  3. That sounds like a fascinating find. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. I've never read any dystopian fiction...this sounds very interesting. The boy I used to sit next to at school was always reading John Wyndham and he was a bit odd so I have always thought Wyndham was for oddballs but now it seems I have perhaps been mistaken all these years! One day I'm sure I'll pick this up. It's good to read about books I'd never normally come across. Thank you!

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  5. Great review - sounds like such an interesting read. Another one to add to the TBR list. Cheers!

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  6. I have been looking to this review of yours. Since reading The Day of the Triffids last year I have been wanting to read more of Wyndham. What a perfect choice The Chrysalids would be, as I always mean to try dystopian fiction. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. I've seen Wyndham featured on a few blogs the past few months, and I'm definitely intrigued. Generally my husband is the sci-fi buff, but he sounds like the kind of author even I might enjoy!

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  8. Oh how I loved this book when I read it as a teenager. There was something really magical about it and it lead me on to read many other John Wyndham novels. I'm not a big sci-fi lover, but I do make an exception for John Wyndham!

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  9. After The Day of the Triffids last month I have been craving some more but I am pacing myself ... The Chrysalids and Plan for Chaos will definitely be read over the coming months though, I'm sure.

    From,

    A fellow "oddball" ;)

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  10. Oh no! You're no oddball Claire!!! ;)

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  11. Great post-this is a new to me author that I will look for-

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  12. Great review, dystopian fiction usually leaves me with a sense of despair and yet Wyndham never seems to have that effect. I don't think you have to be a sci-fi fan to enjoy Wyndham, he seems to have a broader appeal, I can really relate to Alison's comment, I also discoved Wyndham as a younger reader and couldn't get enough.
    Sorry I am so late to comment, I am playing weekend catch up on my favourite blogs at the moment.

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  13. Great review. I'm excited because I just bought this book. I'm on page 3. So far, the boarding school setting isn't pulling me in, but I'll wait for the story to actually start.

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