Every time I review a John Wyndham I can not resist defending him against the “Cosy Catastrophe” label foisted upon him by [a: Brian Aldiss|33297|Brian W. Aldiss|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1333457329p2/33297.jpg]. The allegation is that Wyndham tends to write books where the middle class white protagonist is not much inconvenienced by the catastrophe affecting the general populace. He just holes up somewhere nice, smoking his cigars until it is all over. I have always felt this is unfair as his central characters get into plenty of scrapes in the books I read.
Having said that, the first half of The Kraken Wakes
really does seem to justify this denunciation. It starts off very cosy and shuffles along amiably until all hell breaks loose in the novel's second half. The basic storyline is that some mysterious fireballs from outer space fall into deep oceans and soon ships start disappearing in the middle of their voyage. The word "alien" is not used in this book but yeah, bloody aliens are at it again. On the whole The Kraken Wakes
reminds me a little bit of Wells’ [b: The War of the Worlds|497179|The Time Machine/The War of the Worlds|H.G. Wells|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1357744876s/497179.jpg|1156369] in that some aliens show up, start decimating mankind with their weird death machines, then bugger off
. I would say that on the whole Wells’ book is superior but the second half of this book gives Wells a run for his money.The Kraken Wakes
is split into three “phases” (excluding the prologue), in the first phase the fireballs appear and ships start disappearing, in the second phase the aliens begin their attack on coastal towns, and the third phase is the apocalypse. The book is quite nicely structured with the occasional jumps in the timeline to up the intrigue factor. There is an obvious tonal shift from the first half of the book to the second. Initially the first person narrative is written in rather jovial vernacular language. A lot of time is spent on investigating the underwater mystery through news reports and expositions from the novel’s main boffin, Professor Bocker. The two main characters Mike and Phyllis Watson are journalists through whose eyes we see the events of the novel. They are a lovely couple, always ready with their cute bantering and terms of endearment, some of their lovey dovey dialogue made me a little nauseous. In the meantime the scientists and the military spend half the book barking up the wrong tree.
I was getting a little tired of the cosy jocularity until the middle of Phase 2 when the aliens proceed with their land incursions. The book suddenly becomes quite thrilling with the advent of the invading “sea tanks” which are made from organic matter rather than metal; an early example of biotechnological machines. The war with the aliens takes up the rest of Phase 2 with humanity giving a pretty good account of ourselves though the war continues. In Phase 3 the aliens engineer a major global disaster and civilization has broken down. This is the most thrilling part of the book, as despair sets in and the cosy atmosphere is suddenly gone. The situation looks grim for mankind and even our middle class protagonists are in danger. The ending of the war again reminds me of [b: The War of the Worlds|497179|The Time Machine/The War of the Worlds|H.G. Wells|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1357744876s/497179.jpg|1156369] as it is almost a “deus ex machina”, even though it makes sense there is no build up to it and it feels like Wyndham just simply pulled the solution out of his posterior. Though I like the more epic feel of the story as the war with the aliens goes on for several years rather than just over a wild weekend, and life on Earth is never the same again afterwards.
By the end of the book my faith in John Wyndham is entirely restored. I feel like the lighthearted tone of the earlier part of the book is a misstep for the story Wyndham wanted to tell, once the tone shifts into darker apocalyptic territory he is firing from all cylinders. So 3 stars for the first half of the book, and 5 stars for the second, that averages out to 3.5 but as this is not actually maths I’d say 4 stars is more appropriate!