The Kraken Wakes – John Wyndham


Here’s something to think about next time you’re in the bath (it’s where I do all my best thinking) – we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the depths of the oceans on our own planet. Unbelievable, isn’t it? All the technology available to us, allowing us to put probes on other planets or on comets travelling through space at thousands of miles an hour, and we still can’t find out what’s at the deepest points of our own planet. Obviously, the pressures of the water at depths approaching two or three miles are immense – roughly five tons per square inch (compared to roughly fifteen pounds per square inch at sea level); but if we have the technology to defeat atmospheric pressure and gravity in a way that can send an object into space, surely we can think about exploring the oceans?

The reason why I mention all of this is because I’m reading John Wyndham, a master of the short science fiction story that manages to terrify in its utter plausibility. The Kraken Wakes isn’t one of his best known works, but he uses our lack of knowledge about the ocean depths to create an alien invasion story where the aliens take over and use the seas against us.

Unlike the greatest alien invasion story of all (in my opinion), HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, there is very little fanfare and the action takes time – years pass in the course of sixty pages or so, as the aliens consolidate their invasion force and start to colonise the deeps. I think it is this passage of time that makes it all seem so realistic; it’s as if the invasion has sneaked up on us without our knowing.

If there is a problem with the story, it is the distinctly Cold War mindset in the opening pages. That tends to date novels somewhat, but given how global politics shift one way and then back again, perhaps the insight it offers remains valid – countries would start off by blaming each other before realising that the threat is perhaps much more serious and a united front would be better. By which time, of course, it is much too late.

I’d forgotten how much I liked John Wyndham; I’d also forgotten how much I love the mysteries of the deep ocean, and classic science fiction. Perhaps I need to read more.


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