Book Review: The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

The Kraken Wakes, titled Out of the Deep in America is a science fiction novel by John Wyndham. Wyndham is better known for his novels The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos.

The Kraken Wakes published in 1953 was Wyndham’s second major science fiction novel following The Day of the Triffids. The novel is written as the journal of Mike Watson, a broadcaster for the fiction English Broadcasting Company, as the Earth is invaded by deep sea dwelling aliens.

At the start of the novel Mike and his new wife and co-worker Phyllis see five glowing balls falling from outer space into the sea. The creatures that invade the earth can only exist in the deepest sea, yet humanity is not willing to let them be. At the start humanity barely notices the aliens, in fact many characters speculate as to what is actually going on. But when a British submersible sent to investigate the aliens is destroyed, Britain responses with a nuke. This attack and response sets off a series of attacks by the aliens on human shipping and isolated islands. These attacks are followed by the aliens melting the polar ice caps. The rising sea disrupts human civilization and millions die as civilization collapses. The narrator takes to the hills with his wife to ride out the fall of humanity.

Kraken plays some very familiar themes from early fifties British science fiction: a human apocalypse, the seeming helplessness of the average person to affect their fate against some overwhelming and mysterious disaster. It also features some of Wyndham’s more familiar themes as well; an everyman narrator with the “hero” more as an observer than an actor in the events of the story and a scientist that really knows what is going on but is ignored by the authorities.

Playing on themes straight from the much better War of the Worlds, The Kraken Wakes is an oddly interesting book. While by no means an action novel, some of the scenes are very affective and suspenseful. The description of a drowning London is eerie and evocative and attacks of the aliens in “Sea-tanks” on humans, dragging the human victims to some unknown fate beneath the sea, are truly horrifying and the best written part of the book.

The Kraken Wakes is not Wyndham’s best work. But if you want a good, quick read and interesting “historical” insight into 1950’s scifi, you could do worse than this novel.

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