For me, John Wyndham is the very best science fiction writer there has ever been. I think he’s even better than Kurt Vonnegut. I know that is very bold statement to make but here’s why.
1.The Midwich Cuckoos
Published in 1957 and set in the fictional village of Midwich, every woman of childbearing age becomes mysteriously pregnant. The children, all born at the same time and with eerie golden eyes, have supernatural abilities and the villagers soon realise they must be destroyed. Filmed as ‘The Village of the Damned’, the Midwich Cuckoos is a powerful and unpleasant tale that mixes just the right amount of sci-fi with human relationships.
2. The Day of the Triffids.
I remember watching the TV show on the BBC in the eighties (below) and being terrified. It wasn’t a jump scare, it was deeper than that, like looking out of the window before I went to bed and worrying if there were triffids in the darkness, or riding my pushbike home and worrying they were following me, for weeks. Even now…
Years later, when I read the book, I found that like all good apocalypse stories, it’s not about the monsters, it is about the monsters that humans become. If you remember, the whole world was left blind after watching strange lights in the sky and this allowed the slow moving plants to pick off us humans. We’re used to apocalypse zombie/ weather / monster / virus films but back in 1951, when Day of the Triffids was published, this wasn’t so common. Arthur C Clark called it an ‘immortal story’. There’s even a bit of love in there.
3. The Chrysalids
A 1955 classic and regarded by some as Wyndham’s best novel, it’s in third place for me. Set in a post apocalyptic kind of cowboy world, mutants are regarded as the work of the devil and mercilessly hunted and tortured. Lead character David can read minds and communicate with others and because he looks normal he can hide his powers. Wyndham manages to capture his terrible journey and conflict between his powers and society he lives in. A bit like us all eh?
There was also a girl in the story with six toes. That’s my kind of mutant. Not a bit like Wolverine…