Apocalypse 1953: Homicidal Alien Blobs

Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End was my main pick for 1953 in our survey of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, but John Wyndham’s Kraken Wakes is another great apocalypse novel from the same year. (It was published as Out of the Deeps in the US. Apparently Americans weren’t expected to know what Kraken means, until the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, because now China Mieville can publish a novel just called Kraken and people purchase it.)

Kraken Wakes is much like The Day of the Triffids in style and development. It’s an apocalypse that develops slowly at first, and then suddenly there’s a tipping point and civilization as we know it could end. Mysterious fireballs from space land in the ocean. There is soon evidence that an intelligent deep-water species has invaded Earth. Ocean-going ships occasionally disappear, and human retaliate with blind deep-water bombing. The escalating conflict leads to raids on coastal areas by the deep-water, blob aliens, and then, after the raids are successfully repelled, the aliens melt the polar ice caps and flood the world.

One of Wyndham’s main themes is that science, which has rendered nature largely familiar and predictable, has also made us incapable of contemplating catastrophic change in spite of the evidence that catastrophic change has occurred in history. (I’ll resist explicitly discussing the parallel here with the catastrophic change threatening us today.) The main scientist character in the book, Dr. Bocker, is a Cassandra who argues early that the world is facing a major threat, but he’s naturally ridiculed as an alarmist.

As the crisis worsens by steps (first ocean travel is rendered unsafe, then coastal raids are a danger, and finally, the sea level slowly rises), society refuses to recognize the threat, or when it does, is confident that a scientific solution is just around the corner. People are unwilling to contemplate that the terms of humanity’s existence on Earth are about to change.

Thus, Kraken Wakes solidly takes on one of the big themes of the End of the World genre. As in Triffids, the story is told with controlled, artfully constructed prose, which makes Wyndham one of the most enjoyable writers of 1950’s (post)-apocalyptic sci-fi.

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7 responses to “Apocalypse 1953: Homicidal Alien Blobs

  1. Have you seen the film ‘Five’ dir/ Arch Oboler? It’s VERY first post-apocalyptical movie made about the effects of a nuclear war. It’s absolutely terrible but as a historically important moment in cinema it’s worth watching.

    I hadn’t heard of this particular Wyndham novel — it looks great! I loved The Day of the Triffids when I read it as a kid…. It might deserve a reread.

  2. I’ve never hear of Five, but thanks for the recommendation. I’m definitely interested in early portrayals of the effects of nuclear war, eve if the production quality is terrible. I’ll check it out.

    If you loved Triffids, you’ll love Kraken Wakes/Out of the Deeps. It’s very similar to Triffids, but different enough to keep it interesting. I see cheap copies in used bookstores all the time, so it’s not hard to find.

  3. Pingback: Apocalypse 1958: The Tide Went Out | The Finch and Pea

  4. Virtually everything about Five (1951) is terrible — besides its historical importance. I wrote a review if you’re curious…

    http://sciencefictionruminations.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/a-film-rumination-five-arch-oboler-1951/

  5. Pingback: What the End of the World says about science | The Finch and Pea

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