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.