If you're into science fiction, intelligent female characters, clever ideas or just a great storyline, John Wyndham is for you. His novels are mostly set in post-apocalyptic scenarios with themes of mankind's struggle to survive against the odds and hold on to some form of morality in the face of our impending extinction. Although they are often horrifying, Wyndham's imagined futures are never entirely bleak. There is always the hope that with enough determination and a bit of common sense humanity can prevail. They're very British that way.
Unlike H.G. Wells, whom Wyndham cited as as an influence, Wyndham seems to have a real respect for women, which comes through in his work. You know the saying "behind every great man stands a great woman?" That describes just about every protagonist in Wyndham's stories. The main characters tend to be male, but they rely on female offsiders to help them achieve their goals which I find refreshing.
Wyndham's books are often gripping and always thought provoking and deserve a place on your bookshelf. Discover them today!
If you haven't read any of his novels or short stories the following list is a good place to start. These are not all of his books, just a selection of my personal favourites.
The Day of The Triffids (1951)
A botanical drawing of a triffid by Bryan Poole for the Science Fiction Classics (1998)
The Day of the Triffids was the first novel Wyndham wrote under the name John Wyndham (as opposed to his full name John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris or other combinations of two of his names, such as John Beynon or Lucas Parkes). His best known work today, it was made into numerous radio adaptations, a pretty terrible film in 1962 and two BBC mini-series in 1981 and 2009.
It is the story of humanity being threatened by killer plants, which is nowhere near as silly as it sounds. Triffids are no ordinary plants. They are six feet tall, capable of walking on three woody stems and able to communicate with one another. Most frighteningly, they have a sting with a deadly venom which can kill a large animal or a human, allowing the triffid to absorb the nutrients then released from the corpse. Despite all this, humans don't really take the danger posed by the triffids seriously until almost the entire population of the Earth is struck blind after a mysterious meteor shower. The inability to see makes people vulnerable not only to the triffids, but also other survivors who turn on each other as civilisation begins to break down.
The hero, Bill Mason, awakes in a hospital where he had his eyes bandaged following an accident to find he is one of the few sighted people remaining in London. He teams up with, and later falls in love with, a sighted woman named Josella Playton and the two of them decide to get out of London and try and find a safe place to live. While Bill Mason does rescue Josella from imprisonment when they meet, she's not just a passive heroine waiting for a man to come and save her. In fact, it is only through his partnership with her that Bill is able to survive and start a new life.
The Kraken Wakes (1953)
With Hollywood mining just about every possible old book, movie and even board game (Battleship the movie!) for ideas it seems strange that this book has not yet been made into a movie. The story involves humanity's struggle to survive rising sea levels, which is even more relevant today than when the book was written.
In this story it is not humans who create climate change but an alien invasion. These aliens are quite different from the creatures in the tripods of The War of the Worlds or the little grey men in The X Files. In fact, no-one in the story really knows what they look like because they can only live in the high pressure environment of the planet's deepest oceans. When a bathysphere sent down by the humans to investigate is destroyed, the humans respond by dropping a nuclear bomb on the aliens. The aliens in turn begin to melt the polar ice caps, flooding the planet and sinking much of human civilisation. The heroes then need to find a way to survive on this new wetter planet. As in The Day of the Triffids, the narrator would be lost without his wife, who understood the coming danger far better than he did and made some impressive preparations ahead of time.
It was refreshing to read about some truly alien aliens which are just beyond human comprehension. The scene where they harvest humans to take with them into the ocean for some unknown purpose is bizarre and chilling.
Trouble With Lichen (1960)
The story is about the amazing discovery of a type of lichen which has properties which can slow the ageing process. A drug manufactured from the lichen can extend the human lifespan up to three hundred years, but the lichen is very rare and only a small quantity of the drug can be produced. Naturally this discovery is worth millions and various organisations and governments fight over control of the source of the lichen but the female biochemist who discovered it has something other than money in mind.
Published posthumously, this is one is not for the arachnophobia. I'm not normally afraid of creepy crawly things (I'm from Queensland, you get used to them), but this book made me itch. What's scarier than a great big hairy spider? Millions upon millions of tiny little spiders with a hive mind, working together towards a common goal. Read it, but not late at night if you want to actually sleep.