John Wyndham - lotsa rambling!

Neil Ward neilward at
Wed Jul 26 17:40:46 EDT 2000

Through half-closed eyes* I picked up the recent comments about John
Wyndham, who happens to be one of the few authors I have read extensively.
I'd forgotten how obsessed I was a few years ago and my memories are fading
fast (time for a refresher course, I think!).  

*[I'm trying to avoid spoiling DWJ books I haven't read yet!]

Of the stuff JW wrote in the 1950s, and later, we all remember some: The
Kraken Wakes, Day of the Triffids and the Midwich Cuckoos being the most
famous (I studied the first of these at school, which is how I got into his
stuff in the first place), and The Chrysalids, Trouble With Lichen and
Chocky (the last written in the late 60s) being less famous.  The TV version
of Chocky was pretty good for the 1970s, and was followed up with a sequel -
Chocky's Challenge.  JW published a couple of decent short story collections
in the 50s and 60s - Consider Her Ways and Others (CHW itself being more of
a novella) and the Seeds of Time (which includes Pawley's Peepholes and
Compassion Circuit).

I love what I call '1950s Hairdo' science fiction, and wish more people
would write like that these days.  Much as I enjoy hard sci-fi, with its
cosmic scale and highbrow lectures, I long for the pipe-smoking
biologist-hero and the Professor's daughter, plying the armed forces with
coffee and doughnuts before falling over a craggy rock at the crucial moment
(I'm thinking cinematically here, I guess).  It's probably the same comfort
factor, being cosseted by nostalgia, that draws me to DWJ, CS Lewis and
[cough] Harry Potter.  
Back to JW - being a completist, I'd dug out some of his earlier work, from
the 1930s, and read that too.  He was writing to order for Sci-Fi mags back
then, and his books were cliché-ridden and riddled with upper middle-class
prejudices.  I found books like The Secret People, Stowaway To Mars and The
Sleepers of Mars rigid and formulaic, but I could see the germs of wonderful
ideas and hints at the wonderful books to come.  His transformation taught
me never to give up on anything - writing or otherwise - because mediocrity
can be turned to genius.  

At the other end of the JW scale is Web, a book of his 'discovered' after he
died.  I tried to read it and couldn't finish it.  Now I think of it, he
tried to write it and couldn't finish it.  The perfect symbiosis of reader
and writer! 


Getting back on topic - DWJ - I read a few of the stories in Minor Arcana
and found them a bit lacking.  The only way I can deal with them is to see
them as rough pencil sketches she was making for the massive, rich oil
paintings that came later.  She admits that some of them were used to
exorcise bad dreams, and, although most of them were included in fantasy
story collections, she wasn't writing them to order, but handing over
something she'd already written that seemed to fit the brief.

So, I left Minor Arcana and started Black Maria, the only other DWJ I have
in the stack at the moment.  I'm really enjoying it so far, but I sense that
it's not the most popular egg in the basket.  Correct me if I'm wrong, and
be ready for me to fire off a naive review in a few days' time!


PS - I'd love to have written something for that essay collection, but can't
reasonably classify myself as a DWJ scholar!!! Yet :)   



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