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1 April 2014

Personal opinions really in play – Last week I replied to a survey asking how and if I’d vote this year. I replied that I would certainly be voting, I always do. I regard it as a civic duty. However for whom I’d vote is trickier. National? I don’t like that smarmy, cold-eyed, gladhander. Labour? Please, they aren’t labour any more, they’re barely left of centre and their leader is a pompous self-righteous prat. Greens? Too unrealistic. So, in the end I guess I’m voting for Winston. Why? Because any time he’s got in he’s made the lives of the other parties a misery. And right now I see that as the best solution. If they’re coping with him, they may have less time to make the lives of ordinary people difficult, and that’ll do me!

Hardcover, published Michael Joseph 1980, (original publication 1953.)

Frankly I have always liked this book more than The Day of the Triffids although I do really like that one as well. But with Kraken I like the main characters Mike and Phyllis better, and the story of their survival I find slightly more interesting as well. One of the things I like about the book too is that it doesn’t cater to the lowest denominator. In one place Mike doesn’t just quote a very appropriate Latin tag, Phyllis responds, also in Latin and in the correct singular. How many authors could get away with that these days? Poetry (again appropriately) is quoted several times too, and then on the other side, a clever and amusing original song appears. Nor, as were many of the books from the 1950s, is this a ‘slim volume’, it’s a good 100,000 words plus. Buy this book and get genuine value for money.

The story was written before much was known about Global Warming, nowadays if you write SF about that, you have all the scientific stuff. In the day when this was written if you wanted to drown the world you needed a McGuffin. Wyndam found it in a possible invasion from outer space by something that needed the world to have increased darkness and water pressure. (Around this time Murray Leinster produced a very similar book The Listeners.) In The Kraken wakes, Mike and Phyllis Watson are journalists for the English Broadcasting Corporation. (mildly amusingly, they keep having to explain that they work for the EBC not the BBC.) They work mostly as a team and have good jobs and two comfortable homes, one a flat in London, the other a cottage in Cornwall. And in case we get the impression they’re overpaid, the information is given that the latter was purchased with a legacy Phyllis received. The book is ‘written by Mike’ and begins with a couple of pages that take up the story towards the end of events, it then reverts to the very beginning, always a fine device for catching the reader’s attention.

Briefly the plot goes as follows, while on honeymoon Mike and Phyllis see five strange objects come down from the sky into the sea. They later discover that a number of sightings of this kind are being made but mostly brushed off as fitting into the area of UFOs and cranks. However events escalate and ships are being sunk until Governments realise that they are in a war. They retaliate, and in counter-retaliation from the deeps, warm currents begin to circulate that melt ice caps. The water rises, Mike and Phyllis, originally broadcasting from the London HQ of their organisation, finally decide to retreat to their cottage in Cornwall. They reach there safely and are startled some time later to receive a visit from a neighbour saying that the authorities are asking for them in radio messages. Having reorganised and gained better control again the Government wants them back to do their old job and the book ends with Mike and Phyllis deciding to return as requested and musing on events.

The characters of Mike and Phyllis were both believable and likeable and the whole plot hung together extremely well. They don’t live a life that’s unusual, they live and work in a major city, they have a tragedy (the loss of a child at 18 months) they have good jobs that they enjoy, and a rock-solid marriage that fuels much of the background. Both have strengths and weaknesses and they know this, so that they tend to step back and give either the best opportunity for whatever they’ll do best. The book’s time line is obscure. There is very little internal evidence of exactly how much time is passing but reading it most recently I realise that the events take place over quite a number of years, perhaps as much as a decade. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment, rather the reverse, as being told over and over again exactly how many weeks/months/years are passing and hammering on and on about it have on occasion slowed down a book’s plot and decreased my pleasure in reading it. There is just sufficient mention in throwaway phrases now and again to provide the knowledge that events are taking place over a span of years and that was all that I found necessary. In short, written in 1953 or not, this book still holds up as an excellent read and I recommend it.

(It may have also inspired Thunder my Ocicat. I was reading clever one-liners to him from the book when I reread it recently when he suddenly leapt off the bed and charged several times around the house, leaving odd items crashing in his wake. An attempt to emulate the book title as a charade perhaps…?)

My story, The Steam-Powered Camera has just been contracted for David Riley’s annual Steampunk Trails anthology. I’ve been selling to Dave for around 12 years, and it’s nice to make another sale to him and his editor (Julie Campbell) for these Steampunk anthologies.

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