An aged cuckoo

I love John Wyndham's work. After an initial rocky start (see Day of the Triffids post) I adored Wyndham's sci-fi writing, and have read most of his works since. Although Wyndham's attitudes may sometimes come over as rather old-fashioned and reflecting his age (the majority of the works were written in the 1950s, pre-sexual revolution and feminism); the works themselves stay vividly readable. Although inevitably they reflect the prejudices and concerns of a world wrapped in the Cold War, there is still a realism about them. I think that for any post-apocalyptic novel to work well, the reader must have at least a small level of conviction that there might (Heaven forbid) be the possibility of an apocalypse. And even post-Cold War this sadly remains a possibility.

So his apocalyptic fiction remains relavant, entertaining, and often very scary. The Midwich cuckoos is a rather different novel. A small English village is changed overnight when there appears to be some kind of visitation from Outer Space. Life continues normally until the majority of the women in the village find themselves pregnant, and then give birth to an army of beautiful golden-eyed children....

It's very much a product of its time. Written in the late 1950s as the possibility of space-travel loomed nearer, there was much preoccupation with thoughts of what was out there. Was there life on other planets? What would happen if it ever came in contact with Earth? This was dealt with in a much gentler way in Wyndham's last novel Chocky (which I suspect inspired ET), and much more scarily in The Quatermass Experiment for instance

Midwich Cuckoos is also a product of the Cold War itself. It's probably no coincidence that it has at least a little in common with Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was released around the same time as Wyndham's book. Both deal with alien cuckoos in the nests of small town America or Britain, and probably reflect as much about society's preoccupations about the enemy within in a Cold War world as any real threat of alien invasion.

Some of Cuckoos struck me as being incredibly ahead of its time - there is talk of Artificial Insemination, for example - but the standards and morals that its characters adhere to, and especially its portrayal of women make this science-fiction tale a bit of a timepiece.

It's entertaining enough, even if it does have enormous flaws. The writing doesn't zip along as seamlessly as Wyndham usually does; and it just feels a little more contrived than usual. I think the trick with first class science fiction is that however fantastical the content it should make the reader effortlessly suspend disbelief. Cuckoos feels a bit clunky, a science-fiction tale partly preserved in amber. Not his best story (although the film based on it Village of the damned was pretty good), for Wyndham on the top of his form look at the apocalyptic tales such as Triffids, Chrysalids or The kraken wakes, or why not try the short stories?


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