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Category Archives: John Wyndham

“Watch the skies!”: my selection of science fiction to read or watch or listen to… above all to enjoy!

A dalek spacecraft from the film “Daleks’ Invasion of Earth: 2150AD”

Watch…

Things to Come (1936)

The film is based on H G  Wells’s novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933)   in which he imagined a future history of the world, beginning with a world war in 1940 which destroys much of civilisation.  After societal collapse humanity is eventually rescued  by a group of aviators. The film version (which Wells assisted) was  produced by  Alexander Korda, directed by William Cameron Menzies,  and starred Ramond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, Pearl Argyle and Margaretta Scott.

You can watch the film  here. 

You can read Wells’ novel here.

 

The Thing From Another World (1951)

The film was   based on the 1938   novella Who Goes There  by John W Campbell.  An American base in the Arctic discovers something buried in the ice – and someone. The scene in which  the   exploring party members  spread out across the ice  – and realise what they have found is a classic. The film ends with an urgent appeal:  “Watch the Skies!”

You can watch it here.

 

X The Unknown (1957)

An early  Hammer film in which a  prehistoric radioactive substance emerges from out of the earth causing   death and  destruction in its  mindless pursuit of radioactive  sources to feed itself. It was produced by  Anthony Hinds, written by Jiimmy Sangster and directed by Leslie Norman and Jospeh Losey. The cast included Dean Jagger, Leo McKern   and  Edward Chapman –  and a  cameo from youthful  Frasier Hines.

You watch the film here

 

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

One of the best British science fiction films of the 1960s, directed by Val Guest.  Simultaneous nuclear explosions by the USA and USSR send the Earth out its orbit and towards the Sun. Only another explosion may perhaps save the world. The  story is told through the eyes  of Peter Stenning (Edward Judd),   a reporter on the Daily Express. The film  include scenes in the newpsaper’s  offices and also makes extensive use of London locations.

You can watch the film  here.

 

A for Andromeda (1961)

This  series was created  by Fred Hoyle and John Elliot.  The plot involves a radio telescope receiving a signal and data from the direction of the Andromeda galaxy which enables scientists  to create a computer and  then life, a young woman they call Andromeda. But who is she and what is her real mssion?  The cast included Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris, Julie Christie and John Hollis. Sadly only the penultimate  episode “The Face of the Tiger”  has survived in its entirety.

You can watch “The Face of the Tiger” here.

You can read my post on the series here.

 

The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962)

Due to the success of A For Andromeda the BBC quickly commissioned a  six part sequel.  As  the BBC had failed to offer a  Julie Christie in time, the part of Andromeda was  now played by Susan Hampshire. Peter Halliday,  Mary Morris and John Hollis reprised their roles, joined by Claude Farell and Barry Linehan.   You can read my post on the series here.  The first four episodes are available on Daily Motion:

Part 1 Cold Front

Part 2, Gale Warning

Part 3, Azaran Forecast

Part 4, Storm Centres

 

These are the Damned (1963)

A British film directed by Joseph  Losey and starring  Sally Ann Field, Macdonald Casey and Oliver Reed.   Hoilday makers  at the  seaside discover a group of   children hidden away  in  a secret government  bunker who,  owing to  an accident  are resistant to nuclear radiation.

You can watch the film  here.

 

The Stranger (1964, 1965)

An Australian science fiction children’s television series written by G K  Saunders and  produced by ABC. In the middle of a rain storm a stranger arrives on the dootstep of a  family claiming  to have lost his memory. Who is he? Where has he come from ?  What does he really want? The stranger was played by Ron Haddrick who lifts  the series out of the ordinary. He went on to become one of Australia’s  best known actors. The series sold well abroad: I watched it on the BBC  in 1965.

You can watch the series here.

 

UFO (1970)

This live action series c was reated by Sylvia and Gerry   Anderson  (creators of Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet etc). It follows the exploits of a secret organisation called SHADO set up to fight attacks by alien spacecraft. It’s set in 1980 by the way. Odd that the purple wigs never happened.  Only one series of 26 episodes was made.

You can watch the series here.

 

Space 1999 (1975-1977)

A massive explosion on the Moon  sends it out of orbit on 13th September 1999  and on a journey across the galaxy. The inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha  meet a variety of aliens along the way – some friendly, some not, of course. The series was created by Sylvia  and Gerry Anderson. Two series were made.

You can watch series 1 here.

You can watch series 2 here.

 

Children of the Stones (1977)

Astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas)  and his young son Matthew (Peter Demin)  arrive in the small village of Milbury, which is built in the midst of a megalithic stone circle.   Increasingly strange phenomenon are happening,  while  many of the villagers are in thrall to a cult, the “Happy Ones.” The series  was filmed  in Avebury.

You can watch the series  here.

 

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

A  BBC dramatisation of the novel by John Wyndham,  which  is by far  the best version, scripted by Douglas Livingstone. The cast includes John Duttine, Emma Relph and Maurice Colbourne.

Bill Masen is in hospital, having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages. He calls repeatedly, but nobody comes. Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. Can humanity survive this catastrophe?

Other than updating it to the 1980s the producers sensibly left the plot intact. You can read my post on the novel here.

You can watch the six episodes  as follows

Episodes 1 and 2

Episodes 3 and 4

Episodes 5 and 6.

 

Blakes 7 (1978-1981)

Created by Terry Nation this BBC series  ran for four seasons.  In the far future a group of resistance fighters led by Blake (Gareth Thomas)   and later Avon (Paul Darrow) take on the oprressive Federation. Their chief opponent  is the effortlessly cool and  unfailingly evil Servalan (Jacqueline Peace)

You watch the series here.

 

Quatermass IV (1979)

Often overlooked, the conclusion to the Quatermass series. The four episode  series  was written by Nigel Kneale, of course,  and starred John Mills as Bernard Quatermass.

It is set in a near future in which large numbers of young people are joining a  cult, the Planet People, and gathering at prehistoric sites, believing they will be transported to a better life on another planet. Professor Quatermass arrives  in London to look for his granddaughter, Hettie Carlson, and witnesses  the destruction of two spacecraft and the disappearance of a group of Planet People at a stone circle by an unknown force.

You watch the series here

 

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

I dream.  You dream. We all dream. Every night. And then forget them. Mostly.  But suppose our dreams came true?  This is the intriguing premise  of Ursula Le Guin’s 1971 novel  which follows the dreams and story of  an ordinary man George Orr  with an ordinary job living in an ordinary flat who has  an extraordinary ability. The Lathe of Heaven was made into a television movie in 1980 by WNET and  starred   Bruce Davison,   Kevin Conway, and Margaret Avery.

You can watch the film here.

You read my post on the novel here.

 

Chocky (1984)

A Thames  television series,  based on John Wyndham’s  last novel,  and written by Anthony Read.  Matthew  is 12 and has an imaginary friend called Chocky  whom he insists is real  to the increasing alarm of his parents. But  just how imaginary is Chocky? The cast includes James Hazeldine, Carol Drinkwater  and Andrw Ellams.

You can watch the series here.

It was followed by two sequels, not based on the book,  but using some  of the the same characters.

Chocky’s  Children  (1985)  which you can watch here

Chocky’s Challenge  (1986) which you can watch here.

 

Listen…

The Time Machine by H G Wells (1895)

One of the novels in the 1890s  in which Wells invented modern science fiction. The story of an unnamed scientist whose   time machine  takes  him far into the distant future, AD 802701.  Here humanity has evolved into the Eloi, childlike creatures who live on fruits and whose simple  life seems idyllic. But this Eden has serpents. The traveller discovers that   in the depths underground there are other, darker, creatures..

The Time Machine was dramatised  on the radion by the BBC in 2009. The cast included Robert Glenister , William Gaunt, Jill Cardo and Dan Starkey.

You can listen to this broadcast here.

 

The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, 1938

On 30th  Ocober 1938 the Mercury Theatre  on the Air made a radio broadcast  on Columbia Radio of the  H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1897), adapted  and directed by Orson Welles, who  transferred the story to contemporray USA. After an inital announcement music was played for half an hour until it interrupted by a newsflash announcing that  a projectile had fallen in New Jersey. Then the story is carried forward with a series of dramatic  news bulletins  and  vivid  outside broadcasts describing the Martians emerging from the cylinder and then  using a heat ray.  The first half  of the broadcast ends  with a reporter on a skyscraper  describing  New York being enveloped by black poisonous gas.

Some listeners, who had missed the start of the broadcast,   believed that what they were hearing was real and there was a panic in some parts of the East  Coast, but not as much as the  myths about the broadcast  might have you believe.

You  can listen to the broadcast here.

This  is an article about the broadcast.

 

The Invisible Man by H G Wells  (1897)

The novel begins with a mysterious traveller staying in an Inn  In West Sussex whose  actions  and appearance  increasingly draw suspicion  from the locals. Who is he?  And why does he conceal his face?

You  can listen to a dramatisation  starring John Hurt  here.

 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

One of the most influential and pessimistic novels of the twentieth century, It is  set in a socialist  England (EngSoc)  (now called Airsrip One)  in which the citizens are  controlled and surveyed at all times  by an all powerful state headed by Big Brother. The Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love and Ministry of Truth are the chief organs of the state.  Winston Smith  attempts his own personal revolt. Can he succeed?

It was dramatised for the radio by the BBC in 1965.  The cast included Patrick Troughton. You can listen to this here.

 

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

In his second novel  The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham again imagines  the  breakdown of  human civilisation, but in a very different  way and from a very different kind of menace. By contrast with  The Day of the Triffids  –  in which the Triffids were home-grown destroyers and  highly visible throughout the novel – in The Kraken Wakes  the  invaders appear  to be  from another planet,   and  are almost  never seen, having based themselves in the ocean deeps.

In 1998 the BBC broadcast an adaptation  by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by Jonathan Cake, Phyllis Watson was played by Saira Todd.  You can listen to the series   here.

In 2004 the BBC broadcast a reading of the novel  in 16 parts, read by  Stephen Moore. You can listen to this  here.

 

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1954)

Set in a future in which most of humanity  is packed into  “caves  of steel” –  huge underground cities – the novel is a murder mystery.  Detective Elijah Bailey,  who has been  given the task of finding out who murdered a Spacer  ambassador, is assigned a robot –  R Daneel Olivaw –  as his partner, much to his horror.

Thel novel  was dramatised in 1989 by the BBC,  adapted by Bert Coules. The cast included Ed Bishop,  Sam Dastor  and Matt Zimmermann.

You can listen to this here.

 

The Chrysalids  by John Wyndham (1955)

The novel set in the future, perhaps several centuries after our own time. The story is told through the eyes of David Strorm as he grows up in a rural part of Labrador. This is a religiously fundamentalist society, fearful of any kind of physical difference in human bodies. “Watch Thou For The Mutant!”is drummed into the population. . We, the readers, soon divine that the “Tribulation” of which they talk was in fact a nuclear war, and that this is the society that has somehow survived, plunged back into a subsistence way of life, based on farming, with no technology. But within this ossified society the seeds of a new kind of human being are emerging into the light. In my opinion this is John Wyndham’s masterpiece.

The novel  was dramatised by the BBC in 1981 in an adapation by Barbara Clegg. The cast included Stephen Garlick, Amanda Murray. Judy Bennett and  Jane Knowles.   You can listen to  the series   here

You can read my post on the book here.

 

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham  (1957)

The story begins with a small ordinary English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle unconscious for a whole day on Tuesday . The authorities outside cannot get in: an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village with “a pale oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly come to call  “the Dayout”.

Some months later, however, every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. When the children are born they have golden eyes and,  as they grow up,  reveal disquieting powers.  Who are they and what is their real mission?

The novel was adapted by William Ingram for the BBC World Service in  1982. The cast included  Charles Kay, William Gaun , Manning Wilson  and  Pauline Yates.

You can listen to the radio series here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Slide by Victor Pemberton (1966)

A  chilling seven part  radio series in which a small seaside town  is menaced by an eruption of  sentient mud which seems to have a  mental hold on some of the inhabitants. I listened to The Slide when it was broadcast, aged 11,  and it left a vivid impression  on me.  When I listened again more than  40 years later, I thought it was still very effective.

The cast included  Roger Delgado, Maurice Denham, David Spenser and Miriam Margolyes. The producer was John Tydeman and the sound effects were, of course, by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Victor Pemberton  also wrote the Doctor Who serial “Fury from the Deep” (1968).

You can listen to the series  here.

 

The Dispossesd by Ursula Le Guin (1974)

In her new introduction to the Library of America reprint in 2017, Ursula  wrote:

The Dispossessed started as a very bad short story, which I didn’t try to finish but couldn’t quite let go. There was a book in it, and I knew it, but the book had to wait for me to learn what I was writing about and how to write about it. I needed to understand my own passionate opposition to the war that we were, endlessly it seemed, waging in Vietnam, and endlessly protesting at home. If I had known then that my country would continue making aggressive wars for the rest of my life, I might have had less energy for protesting that one. But, knowing only that I didn’t want to study war no more, I studied peace. I started by reading a whole mess of utopias and learning something about pacifism and Gandhi and nonviolent resistance. This led me to the nonviolent anarchist writers such as Peter Kropotkin and Paul Goodman. With them I felt a great, immediate affinity. They made sense to me in the way Lao Tzu did. They enabled me to think about war, peace, politics, how we govern one another and ourselves, the value of failure, and the strength of what is weak.

So, when I realised that nobody had yet written an anarchist utopia, I finally began to see what my book might be. And I found that its principal character, whom I’d first glimpsed in the original misbegotten story, was alive and well—my guide to Anarres.”

You can listen to a dramatisation of this novel by CBC radio  here.

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

 Lighting Out

Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?

The Vorkuta event.

The Entire Immense Superstructure’: An Installation

 

Read…

From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne (1865)

Jules Verne invented a good deal of what later came to be called “science fiction,”  his work was  widely read not just in France but in Anglophone countries as well.   In this early novel the Baltimore Gun Club decide to visit the Moon, not using a rocket,  but instead  by  building  a huge gun In Florida  and firing a shell towards our satellite.- with themselves inside ! The novel was adapted as the opera in 1875, with music by Offenbach. It also  inspired the first science fiction film A Trip to the Moon.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel All Around The Moon (1870)  (and find out  if the  three adventurers  survived the trip) here.

You can watch  A Trip to the Moon here.

 

20,000 Leagues under Sea  by Jules Verne (1871)

Three adventurers in pursuit of what is though to be a giant narwhal which  has been attacking  shipping  discover it  is in fact  an electric powered submarine  and are taken aboard. Commanded by Captain  Nemo,  the Nautilus  roams the world’s occens gathering scientific knowledge but also attacking ship in a personal vendetta by Nemo.  it has been filmed several times.

You can read the novel here.

You can read the sequel  The Mysterious Island here.

You can watch the 1916 silent  film of the novel  here.

 

When The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1898)

Graham wakes up after being asleep for 203 years, having fallen into a coma at the end of the C19th. Whilst asleep he  has not only became a symbol of hope for the common people, but also, because of the investments made in his name by his friends, which have grown enormously during his time asleep, he is actually “the Owner” – the Master of the world. The moment he wakes up, he is plunged into the midst of a revolution as the people, led by Boss Ostrog, battle and defeat the oppressive White Council, which was ruling the world in his name. The rest of the novel follows his adventures in this future society,  whose real nature he only slowly comes to comprehend.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

The Sorcery Shop: an Impossible Romance by Robert Blatchford (1907)

In The Sorcery Shop Robert Blatchford attempts to describe what a Socialist utopia might look like, imagining the grimy, smoke-clogged city of Manchester, which he knew very well, transformed a sunlit city of flowers, fountains and crystal towers. It is of a piece, therefore, with other socialist utopian novels of the period, including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), H G Wells’ A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923), and Charlote Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915)

Robert Blatchford and his friends were the founders in 1891 of the Clarion newspaper: the most influential Socialist newspaper ever published in Britain, which created thousands of Socialists and inspired a whole social movement.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

October the First is Too Late by Fred Hoyle (1966)

In his introduction to this novel Hoyle writes: “The ‘science’ in this book is mostly scaffolding for the story, story-telling in the traditional sense. However, the discussions of the significance of time and of the meaning of consciousness are intended to be quite serious…”

Hoyle’s novels often have a scientist as the main protagonist, but in this novel it is a musician and composer named Dick: accordingly each chapter is named after a musical theme or style eg “Fugue” and “Coda.”. The novel begins in 1966 when he runs into an old university friend John Sinclair, now a scientist, and on an impulse they set off together on a trip to Scotland. Something very odd happens here. Sinclair disappears for half a day, and on returning cannot explain or recall what has happened to him. The trip is cut short when Sinclair is recalled to the USA to assist in the investigation of a strange solar phemonena. Dick accompanies him to Hawaii, where Sinclair and others establish that the Sun is somehow being used as a signalling device with an enormous amount of data being transmitted. Barely have they absorbed this astonishing fact when all contact is lost with the USA: it is feared that a nuclear war has begun.

Dick and Sinclair manage to get places on a plane sent to investigate what has happened. Flying above Los Angeles there is no sign of a war: the city is simply no longer there, just woods and grassland in its place. Journeying on, they see the same across the continent. Crossing the Atlantic they find to their relief that the England of 1966 is still there but Europe has reverted to 1917 with the First World War raging. The rest of the novel explores the implications and possible cause of this extraordinary situation. .

You can read the novel online here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Mutant 59: the Plastic Eater by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler (1972)

Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler met in 1966 when Gerry was the script editor at Doctor Who, and was looking for a scientific advisor to inject a greater degree of scientific speculation into the programme. Kit was head of a research unit at the Institute of Opthamalmology at the University of London.

Kit suggested that the newly built Post Office Tower, then the tallest structure in London, could be used by a computer to take over the capital using the telephone network to control the minds of humans. This evolved into the serial The War Machines, broadcast in the summer of 1966, featuring the computer WOTAN and its war machines. They then came up with the idea of the Cybermen: humanoids who have replaced so much of their bodies with technology that they have lost all emotion and empathy. Their first story featuring the Cybermen “The Tenth Planet” aired in the autumn 1966. The silver monsters were a big hit with the public, and were quickly brought back in “The Moonbase” (February 1967) and then in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” (September 1967). After Gerry left Doctor Who Kit worked with Victor Pemberton on “The Wheel in Space” (May 1968), and with Derrick Sherwin on another Cybermen serial “The Invasion” (November 1968). This was Kit’s last involvement with Doctor Who.

By 1970 Kit was becoming disillusioned by science and increasingly alarmed about the effect that technology and the headlong rush for economic growth at all costs was having on the environment. He, and many others around the globe, feared the possibility of ecological collapse. Working together again, Kit and Gerry created a series for the BBC called Doomwatch. “Doomwatch” is the nickname for special government unit established to monitor environmental and other threats to the public. The first series created a sensation with storylines on issues such as transplants, genetic mutation of rats, chemical poisoning, and a crashed nuclear bomb on the south coast. The extensive scientific research done by Kit for the series meant that the storylines appeared to anticipate news stories.

After Doomwatch Gerry and Kit wrote three novels together, the first of which was Mutant 59, partly based on a storyline in Doomwatch.

You can read the novel  here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

You can read a 1973 interview with Gerry and Kit here.

You can read  my post on their second  novel  Brainrack (1974)  here.

You can read my post on  their third novel  The Dynostar Menace (1975) here.

 

The Exile In Waiting by Vonda  N McIntyre (1975)

The novel is set on a future Earth, turned into a desert  by some environmental catastrophe.  The only surviving city is Center,  an underground city run by a handful of wealthy families who control the air, food,  power and water.  Many of the inhabitants are little more than slave in thrall to the familiess.

Mischa is a teenager, scraping a living  in the back streets of Center by any means possible, including stealing. She is also an empath who senses the moods of others, including her sister Gemmi with whom she has a strong emotional  link that keeps her trapped in Center. The novel follows her quest for freedom and happiness.

You can read the novel here.

You can read my post on the novel here.

 

Dreamsnake by Vonda N  McIntyre (1978)

The novel seems to be set in the world outside Center. Snake is a healer who uses  her three snakes to cure people. But her  very rare dreamsnake  is  killed and she needs to find another. The novel follows her quest and her adventures and encounters on the journey.

You can read the novel here.

 

Superluminal by Vonda McIntyre (1983)

Often overshadowed  by  Vonda’s first two novel. Laenea Trevelyan, has her heart replaced with a machine so she can survive faster-than-light travel and become a pilot. Orca, a diver, divides her time between starships and the Strait of Georgia, where her relatives include a family of killer whales and a group of other divers, human beings who can exist underwater.  Radu Dracul, a colonist from the alien world Twilight, having chosen to leave his home and become a starship crew member, discovers he has abilities he never dreamed of…

You can read the novel here.

 

Short Stories by Ken Macleod

A Tulip for Lucretius

Earth Hour

Jesus Christ Reanimator

 

Learn…

Andrew Pixley

For the last 30 years Andrew has  written about almost anything to do with television if people will pay him – and occasionally when they won’t… He has made many  contributions to the Doctor Who magazine,  worked as a consultant and researcher on tv documentaries  such as Thirty Years in the Tardis, written The Avengers Files and The Daleks; a history from BBC Video,    as well  providing the accompanying notes to  a variety of  boxsets of televison and radio series,  including  Doctor Who,  A for Andromeda, Callan,  Public Eye, The Prisoner and Journey into Space.

You can read his posts on the Critical  Studies in Television blog   here 

 

Bergcast

A podcast  about Nigel Kneale and the Quatermass series.

 

Blogtor Who :the definite article you might say.

Extensive news and resources site  on Doctor Who, Big Finish releases. etc.

 

Doctor Who

The  official  BBC site with many  resources on the series, past and present

The Early Days of a Better Nation

Science fiction Ken Macleodreflects on science fiction, socilaist politics and much else. the title comes from two sources: “Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray. “If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

Now in its third edition, edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls (emeritus) and Graham Sleight (managing). It has more than 18,000 entries  which are free to read online.

 

Galactic Journey. 55 years ago science fact and fiction

The website looks back 55 years to another world, another time,  with sections on science  fiction, music and much more from 1965.

 

H G Wells Society

The H.G. Wells Society was founded by Dr. John Hammond in 1960. It has an international membership, and aims to promote a widespread interest in the life, work and thought of Herbert George Wells. The society publishes a peer-reviewed annual journal, The Wellsian, and issues a biannual newsletter. It has published a comprehensive bibliography of Wells’s published works, and other publications, including a number of works by Wells which have been out of print for many years.

 

K U Gunn Centre for the Study of Science Fiction

This site provides a wealth of information and informed commentary about science fiction and the Center’s programs, including awards, course syllabi, writing resources, and much more.

 

Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy

A non-circulating research collection of over 80,000 items of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in ‘fringe’ areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.

 

The Time Ladies

“A blog for all Doctor Who fans, ran by female Doctor Who fans.”

 

Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round

In honour of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, Toby Hadoke embarked on an epic quest: to interview someone from every single Doctor Who story. Feeling Doctors or companions are a bit too easy, he travels the country meeting legends from the show’s history from both in front of and behind the cameras, and chats to them about their time working on Doctor Who and the lives they have led since (and, indeed, before).

The interviews are in the form of podcasts on the Big Finish website, which you can download or stream here, or subscribe on iTunes, Spotify or other podcast outlets. All episodes are free, so if you’ve enjoyed Toby’s chat, all he asks is that you give a donation to a charity nominated by the interview subject.

Una McCormack

Una  is a New York Times bestselling science fiction author. She is passionate about women’s writing, science fiction, and helping people find their words and voices. Her work includes Doctor Who novels and  Doctor Who stories for Big Finish eg Red Planets as well as  Star Trek novels and other work.

 

Univerity of Liverpool; Science fiction collection.

The book stock at Liverpool is mainly formed by the Science Fiction Foundation Library. It represents the largest catalogued collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and related literary criticism in Europe, totalling over 35,000 books.

 

Unwilling Adventurer

Run by sisters Katie and Claire and devoted to their varied  interests,  including Hartnell era Doctor Who.

 

Ursula Le Guin

Put simply Ursula was the most influential science  fiction  writer of the past half century.

 

Verity Podcast

“A Doctor Who podcast where a rotating cast of six women, from across the globe, talk all things Doctor Who. We have opinions.”

 

Wells at the Worlds End.

Adam Roberts  read through the whole of HG  Wells’ work  for a book and blogged about each book as he went along. The book  H G Wells,  A Literary Life, was published by Palgrave.

 

The work of Lisa Yaszek

Lisa is Professor of Science Fiction Studies in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, where she researches and teaches science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures. She is particularly interested in issues of gender, race, and science and technology in science fiction across media as well as the recovery of lost voices in science fiction history and the discovery of new voices from around the globe

“A grim fantasy” : remaking American history in Octavia Butler’s Kindred

 

Women’s Press Science Fiction series

Between 1983 and  1990  the  Women’s Press published a series  of feminist science fiction novels and collections by women writers. The titles included a mix of classsics  and new work.  Some  bear rereading, some less so.

You can read  reviews I have written  of  a number of the novels here.

You can read more about the series   here –  SF Mistressworks website

 

Out of the Unknown: Series 1, episode 1.”No Place Like Earth” (October, 1965)

“No Place Like Earth”  was broadcast by the BBC on  4th October 1965.

Cast: Bert Foster Terence Morgan, Annika Jessica Dunning, Zyalo Hannah Gordon, Freeman Joseph O’Connor, Blane Alan Tilvern, Major Khan George Pastell, Spaceship Capatin Jerry Stovin, Carter Vernon Joyner, Harris Bill Treacher, Chief Officer Geoffrey Palmer, Security Guard Roy Stewart

Writer: Stanley Miller (adapted from a story by John Wyndham). Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik.

“No Place  Like Earth” was the first episode in the science  fiction  series Out of the Unknown which ran for four series from 1965 to 1971, created by Irene Shubik.

Irene  was  born in 1929. She was unable to get a job with the BBC,   and so worked in the USA for a couple of years. On her return to England she got a job  on the   current affairs series This Week before joining the Drama Department at ABC  in 1960 as  the story editor on Armchair Theatre,  which was being produced by Sydney Newman.

In early 1962 she  created British television’s first science fiction anthology series, Out of This World,  bringing  in writers she had already worked with on Armchair Theatre. They adapted a  number  of science fiction classics eg Dumb Martian by John Wyndham, but also   woite a couple of new stories eg Botany Bay by Terry Nation,  who went on to create the Daleks for Doctor Who in 1964. Sadly only one episode from the series,  Little Lost Robot by Isaac Asimov,  has survived and  is available to watch on the BFI Player.

When Sydney Newman moved to the BBC at the beginning of 1963, Irene moved to the Corporation as well.  Here she produced Story Parade  in 1964,  a series of dramatised  novels  which  included one science fiction episode, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, scripted by Terry Nation and  starring Peter Cushing as Elijah Baley and John Carson as R. Daneel Olivaw.   (You can watch the  few surviving clips here).

Irene then  pitched the idea of a  series similar  to Out of this World, this  time on the BBC. Newman was receptive, having seen  the success of Doctor Who, and Irene became the producer with the very experienced George Spenton-Foster as associate producer.  She followed the template of Out of This World,   looking for novels that would work on television and then commissioning writers to dramatise them.  Most dramatisations remained pretty faithful to the original stories (something that you wish would happen more often, the recent dramatisation of  The City and the City  being an example of pointless alterations).  After contemplating  a number of possibilities such as Dimension 4  Irene settled on Out of the Unknown as the series title.

All new series need to catch the attention of the public – and keep it. It’s  quite puzzling therefore that the producers  chose the lacklustre “No Place Like Earth” as the first broadcast episode, rather than the far superior “The Counterfeit Man” which had also been completed. Apparently it was Sydney Newman who made the decision, and not Irene, on the basis that it was based on a John Wyndham short story and would attract viewers familar with The Day of the TriffidsThe Kraken Wakes  etc.  ( The story appeared in a 1952  anthology  of the same name,  edited by John Carnell,  but  I had never heard of it prior to watching this  and I had  read all Wyndham’s  work that I  could get hold of  as a teenager in  the 1960s.)

“No Place  Like Earth” is set  on Mars and Venus. The Earth has been destroyed in some catastophe 14 years before, marooning  the Earth colonists (who all seem to be men) on Mars.  Bert  Foster makes his living as a tinker,  travelling in a battered boat along  the canals (yes there are canals in this  version of Mars),  repairing  things for the Martians who seem to have lost the knack.  These  Martians are not insects as in Quatermass or Ice Warriors as in Doctor Who but  humanoids, indistinguishable   from the Earthmen,  apart from slightly different  teeth.

Bert (Terence Morgan)

The Martians live a simple  peasant life amidst  the ruins of the civilisation of “the Great Ones”, but  what led to its collapse is not explained.  Annika, the matriarch  of this clan of  Martians, tells Bert, “You  are  not like the other ones who came from Earth.” “I should hope not,” he responds, “I feel ashamed  of what they did when they first came to Mars, it was cruel.” That evening over the camp-fire Bert tells the Martians  story of how the Earth exploded and is now “nothing but a shower of cosmic pebbles, chasing around the sun.”

Next morning, Annika invites him to stay, but   Bert  tells her that  he does not belong there,  “I do not belong anywhere so  I  keep moving on.” Annika answers him, ” You are merely existing, and it is not enough. One exists by barter, but one lives by giving  – and taking when it is offered. And  then there is Zaylo…” Though tempted,  Bert moves on after repairing pots and pans and the water-wheel for them.  As he leaves Annika tells Zaylo, ” He will come back,  one day.”

Zaylo (Hannah Gordon) and Annika (Jessica Dunning

When he returns to the stranded colonists he finds a spaceship  has landed  from Venus. The crew have come to offer them  work on rebuilding  Venus  and creating a New Earth.  But when he arrives Bert  finds it is  a dictatorship built on  slave labour in which he is expected to act an overseer wearing a ludicrously ornate uniform.  Unable to stomach  this, he strikes down the vicious overssder Major Khan (played almost inevitably by George Pastell), assumes his identity  manages  to make his way on to a spaceship  returning  to Mars.

After the crew disembarks he blows up the spaceship: “there’ll  be no more slaving expeditions to Mars”.  Bert returns to Annika and the waiting Zaylo. He is now accepts  that he is no longer an Earthman,  but a Martian. He tells Annika, “Maybe there never was a place like the Earth that I was remembering…I stopped crying for the moon, and Earth. I’m going to be content  just to live, and to enjoy living.” He finds Zaylo by the water-wheel  and tells her, “This time I’ve come to stay.”

This is scarcely a science-fiction story at all. With minimal  change it could all easily have taken place on Earth in  some post-colonial backwater,  a shory story written  by Somerset Maugham perhaps.  In tone and sentiment   it bears a marked resemblance  to Ray Bradbury’s  novel The Martian Chronicles (1950) which  also featured canals and Earthmen trying to find their  way and place on Mars. Its as languid and unhurried as Bert’s   meanderings around mars on the canals, with little real tension or drama. The ending  you always expected would happen doe shappen. Fortunately  after this false start   the series improved a good deal.

Reviews

I have not been able to find any newspaper reviews on first broadcast, although,  according to the notes accompanying the DVD, it was slated by the critics on Late Night Line Up.   Unusually  for this period the story was repeated on 22 July 1966. In The Times their anonymous televison critic wrote:

Science fiction, as distinct from essays in the supernatural, is difficult to handle on television, as was demonstarted  by  BBC 2  last night. this story by John Wyndham is placed on Mars  and Venus after the disintegration of the earth, but for film purposes the strain on credulity is always too great. The medium is too limited for effects of costume and lighting to do the trick; and if the leading earthman, nicely played by Terence Morgan, succumbed in the end to the charms of a Martian maiden, the romance remained essentially earthbound. A few surviving space ships  have left colonies of earthmen on the two planets, and inferences are no doubt invited by the picture of Venus turned into a slave state by the tyrants in power.

Life on Mars, is by contrast  is primitive and gentle;  our earthmen, having had a taste of Venus and its “work, obedience and progress,”  finds that Martian simplicities have their consolation. As directed by Peter Potter, it was a slick piece of spoofing if we must have that sort of thing. 

Where else  have I seen the cast?

Terence  Morgan appeared  in  Laurence Olivier’s film of Hamlet (1948) as Laertes. He  played the title role in the television series  Sir Francis Drake (1961-1962  in which Roger Delgado also appeared as a Spanish nobleman. (I used to watch this, aged 6!)

Jesscia Dunning appeared in another episode of  Out of the Unknown, “Lamda 1” (1966).

Hannah Gordon appeared  in the Doctor Who serial, “The Highlanders” (1966) as Kirsty.

George Pastell (also known as Niko Pastellides)   memorably played the unhinged  Eric Klieg in the Doctor Who serial “The Tomb of the Cybermen”.

Geoffrey Palmer appeared in three Doctor Who serials : as Edward Masters in “The Silurians”, the Administrator in The Mutants and  Hardaker in “Voyage of the Damned”.

Roy Stewart appeared in three  Doctor Who serials : as a Saracen guard  in “The Crusade“, Toberman in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” and Tony in  “Terror of the Autons“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The golden-eyed Children: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957)

midwich-cuckoos-front-coverAfter the post-nuclear war landscape of The Chrysalids  John Wyndham’s  fourth novel, The Midwich Cuckoos,  was a return to familiar (though,  as we shall see,  unsettling) territory, a possible alien invasion of  the world.

It begins with a small ordinary  English village being subject to a mysterious force rendering everyone within a circle  unconscious for a whole day on  Tuesday 27th September (which would have fallen in  1960).   The authorities outside cannot get in:  an aerial photograph reveals an object in the village  with “a pale  oval outline, with a shape, judging by the shadows, not unlike the inverted bowl of a spoon.” When the village come back to life the object has gone, while the villagers appear not to have been harmed by what they quickly  come to  call the “Dayout”.

Some months later, however,  every woman of childbearing age, married or single, discovers that she is pregnant. The story is told, partly at least, through the eyes of  village resident and  writer Richard Gayford and his wife, Janet, who fortunately were not in the village at the time of the Dayout.

Gayford is recruited by an old friend and government intelligence officer, Bernard Westcott,  to observe what takes place in the village after the Dayout and report back.  He is the typical Wyndham protagonist, intelligent enough, but his wife is cleverer. The novel also has that familar Wyndham character, the older man who sees what is really going on, which in  The Midwich Cuckoos  is Gordon Zellaby, who lives in a large house in the village,  and writes learned books. His daughter Ferrelyn, planning to be married, is one of the pregnant women.

When the sixty-one  children are born they appear  to be normal human children, except they all have a sheen to the skin, golden hair  and golden eyes. Soon, however, they  display mental powers, forcing those mothers who have left the village to bring them back so that they can all be together.  Zellaby carries out  some tests and realises that the Children of Midwich  are a single entity, one girl and one boy, who share intelligence, thoughts  and learning. Already he suspects what is really going on,  but blanches at the course of action that  he feels is neccessary :

Cuckoos are very determined survivors. So determined that there is really only one thing to be done with them  once one’s nest is infested. I am,  as you know,  a humane man…As a further disadvantage I am a civilised man. For these reasons I shall not be able to bring myself  to approve of what ought to be done. Nor, even when we perceive its advisability, will the rest of us. So, like the poor hen-thrush we shall feed and nurture the monster, and betray our own species.

village-of-the-damned

The novel resembles The Kraken Wakes in that the tension  is built up quite slowly as a series of  disturbing events occur.  Unlike  his other novels the whole  action takes place within the village, and nowhere else, creating  a claustrophobic feeling. One of the odd things about the novel is  the chief storyteller up to now, Richard Gayford, whom the reader no doubt expected would take the narative forward,    leaves the village with Jane  at the end of Part One,  and  is absent for  eight years.

Returning to London for a short visit he bumps into Westcott,  and accompanies him on a return trip to Midwich, during which he is brought up  to date with what has happened whilst he has been away.   The Children grew up much quicker than human children  – by the time they were nine, they were the size of teenagers – and eventually the authorities decided  that it was  best to set up a special  school in The Grange  to look after them together.  Westcott is  returning  for an inquest into the  death of a young man,  Jim Pawle, killed when his car hit a wall. The verdict is “Accidental Death”, but  Gayford learns  the truth from Zellaby, that the  car hit one of the Children by accident, and they appear to have  somehow deliberately made Pawle crash.

After the inquest Pawle’s brother, David,  shoots and wounds one of the Children,  who then make him shoot himself. This leads to an attaks by the villagers on the Grange which ends in deaths and injuries when the Children use their mental powers to make them attack each other. Afterwards, one of the Children gives Westcott  and the others a chilling warning

I will put it more plainly. It is that if there is any attempt to interefere  with us or molest us, by anybody, we shall defend ourselves. We have shown that we can, and we hope that that will be warning enough to prevent further trouble.

Zellaby  explains that he believes an interplanetary  invasion is under way:

we have not grasped that they represent  a danger to our species, while they are in no  doubt that we are a danger to theirs. And they intend to survive.

Westcott now  reveals there were other Dayouts in other parts of the world. In most  cases the Children were killed at  birth, but  in the Soviet Union one group of Children  survived in a town called Gizhinsk,  which  he has just learned, has  been wiped out by an attack by an atomic cannon, killing the entire population. The Soviets then issued a warning calling  on all governments to “neutralize” any such known groups as the Children were “a threat to the whole human race.” Zellaby sums up  the dilemma  they are now  facing:

In a quandary where  every course is immoral, there still remains the ability to act for the greatest  good of the greatest number. Ergo, the Children ought to be eliminated at the least possible cost, with least possible delay. I am sorry to have to arrive at the conclusion. …It is the right step…But of course, our authorities will not be able to bring themselves to take it…

At the end of the book it is  Zellaby who takes on the moral responsibility for dealing  with  the dilemma. Gayford accompanies him to the weekly film show that  he runs for the children at the Grange and  reflects as he watches them help Zellaby unload the equipment:

There was nothing odd or mysterious about the Children now…For the first time since my return I was able to appreciate that the Children “had a  small ‘c’ too”. Nor was there any any doubt at all that Zellaby’s was a popular event. I watched him as he watched them with a kindly, half-wistful smile. I had a confused feeling that these could not be the Children at all; that the theories, fears and threats we had discussed  must have to do with some  other group of Children.

Shortly after Gayford returns to Zellaby’s home he sees a flash of bright light and a blast hits the house, smashing the windows, He realised that Zellaby has blown up himself with all the  children. His wife Angela finds a note which  reveals that Zellaby  had a terminal illness and ends:

As to this –  well we have lived so long in a garden that we have all but forgotten the commonplaces of survival…If you want to keep alive in the jungle, you must live as the jungle does.

The core of the novel  is the moral  question of how  to act  against invaders who arrive,  not in spaceships or cylinders as in H GWells’s The War of the Worlds,  but in the form of children. Step by step Wyndham leads us  down  the path to a dreadful conclusion, that the Children must be killed. He emphasises the horror  of this  by making the Children seem, just before this happens, the most like children they have been for the whole novel.

This is not Wyndham’s best novel,  but it is certainly his most unsettling one, sonething he perhaps empphasis  by  placing the action in the archetypal English village, where nothing ever happens. Is there a nod here,  perhaps,  to Went the Day Well? Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1942 film in which an English village  resists  a German invasion (the Germans are disguised as British soldiers).

Films and radio dramatisations

The novel was filmed in 1960 by MGM , retitled  somewhat sensationally as The Village of the Damned.  The Richard  Gayford character does not appears, the film’s hero is Gordon Zellaby,  played by George Sanders, whilst his wife is played by Barbara Shelley (who also appeared in the film version of Quatermass and the Pit in 1967) . You can watch a trailer here.

The novel was adapted by William Ingram in three 30-minute episodes for the BBC World Service, first broadcast in  1982. It was directed by Gordon House.

Another  adaptation by Dan Ribellato in two 60-minute episodes for Radio Four  was broadcast  in  2003.

Surprisingly no television  version has been made.

Other posts

In my previous posts I have looked at Wyndham’s previous novels

The Day of the Triffids

The Kraken Wakes

The Chrysalids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Watch Thou For The Mutant”: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)

chrysalids-front-coverIn previous posts I have looked at The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes, both of which were set in the contemporary Britain of the 1950s,  and showed the breakdown of society when faced with an unprecedented  threat.  John Wyndham’s third novel  The Chrysalids is quite different in tone and content.

The novel set  in the future, perhaps  several centuries after our own time. The story is told through the eyes of David Strorm as he grows  up in a rural part of Labrador, called Waknuk. This is a religiously fundamentalist society, fearful of any kind of physical difference in human bodies. Every Sunday  without fail they recite a creed:

And God created man in in His own image. And God decreed that man should have one body, one head, two arms and two legs; that each arm should be jointed in two places and end in one hand; that each hand should have four fingers and one thumb; that each finger  should have a flat finger-nail..

We, the readers, soon divine that the “Tribulation” of which  they talk  was in fact a nuclear war,  and that this is the society that has somehow survived,  plunged back into a subsistence way of life, based on farming, with no technology. They use  horses for travel, and  bows and arrows for weapons, for instance.  It’s clear that the fall-out is still creating mutations in humans, “deviations” as they call them,  who  when discovered  are driven out of society to “The Fringes”. David’s father  Joseph, is particularly fervent on rooting out “blasphemy”. They believe:

The penance of Tribulation that had been put upon the world must be worked out, the long climb faithfully retraced, and, at last, if the temptations  of  the way were resisted, there would be the reward of forgiveness. – the restoration of the Golden Age.

chrysalids-1As he grows up David’s austere but orderly world is disrupted by a series of events. H  becomes friends with a girl called Sophie,  and  discovers one day that she has six toes, not five. He  does not report this, as she is his friend and he does not see her as a “deviation” but as a person.  Eventually, of course,  this secret  is discovered: Sophie and her family are driven out, while David is brutally beaten by his father.

watch-thou

But David has his own secret, he too is a “mutant, ”  able to communicate by telepathy with his cousin Rosalind and a number of other teenagers who  have made it  into adolescence  without being discovered. David does have one ally, his uncle Axel who finds out about David’s ability,  and warns him that he must never reveal his secret. Axel is that  familar figure in Wyndham’s novels, the older man who challenges  the received wisdoms and “commonsense”  of their time. He is a close cousin to Michael Beadley in the Day of the Triffids and Alastair Bocker in The Kraken Wakes.  A former sailor, Axel  has travelled widely and seen things on sea and land  which make him very  sceptical of the rigid pieties of his own society.

“Preacher words!” he said,  and thought for a moment. “I’m telling you,” he went on, “that a lot of saying a thing is so, doesn’t prove it is.  I’m telling you that nobody, nobody, really knows what is the true image. They all think they know – just as we think we know, but, for all we can prove, the Old People themselves may not have been the true image.”  He turned, and looked long and steadily at me again.

“So,”  he said, “how am I, and how is anyone sure that this “difference” that you and Rosalind have does not make you something  nearer to the true image than other people are? Perhaps the Old People were the image; very well then , one of the things they  say about them is that they could talk to one another over long distances. Now  we can’t do that  – but you and Rosalind can.  Just think that over, Davie. You two  may be nearer to the image than we are.”

chrysalids-3

David’s mother gives birth to another child, Petra, who appears perfectly normal  until  one day, when still  a young child,   she falls into the river, and in panic  displays  astonishing telepathic power,  summoning  Michael and the others to rescue her. As she grows up they are able to teach her to use her power – and to  keep it a secret. Then one day, whilst out riding,  Petra is attacked by a  wild cat which kills her pony. Again she screams for help telepathically summoning  all the group to help her. This gathering  is observed by a passing stranger,  who becomes suspicious and starts to make enquiries. A few days  later in the middle of the night two of the group, Sally and Katherine, are seized by the authorities  and tortured to make them reveal their secret. Alerted by the sisters,  David, Rosalind and Petra steal horses and flee towards The Fringes. Another of their group, Michael, undiscovered,  is with the armed posse which sets off to hunt them down. He tells his friends:

They’re afraid of us. They want to capture you and learn more about us – that’s why there’s the large reward. It isn’t just a question of the true image – though that’s the way they’re making it appear. What they’ve seen is that we could be a real danger to them. Imagine if there were a lot more of us than there are, able to think together and plan and co-ordinate without all their machinery of words and messages : we could outwit them all the time. They find that a very unpleasant thought; so we are to be stamped out before there can be any more of us. They see it as a matter of survival – and they may be right, you know.

That “matter of survival” is the key theme of the rest of the novel, both of the travellers and  of the human race.  As they flee Petra tells them  that she has made contact  with another “think-together” person, a woman who lives  a very long way away across the sea  in a place called “Sealand” where everyone is telepathic.  The woman tells them that she will come and rescue  them because of Petra’s remarkable power.

In the meantime,  Michael, Rosalind and Petra make it to the Fringes,  where they are helped by Sophie who is living there in poverty and squalor. The pursuing posse attacks the camp and Sophie is killed, but the group is saved when the flying  machine  arrives and sprays glistening threads that  land on everyone in the camp, and bind them tight. The  Sealand woman makes her way to the cave where they are hiding:

Petra raised her hand and tentatively touched the woman’s face, as if to assure herself that it was real. The Sealand woman laughed, kissed her, and put her down again. She shook her head slowly, as if she were not quite believing. “It was worth while,” she said in words  so curiously pronounced that I scarcely understood them at first. “Yes, certainly it was worth while!” She slipped into thought-forms, much easier to follow than her words.

“It was not simple to get permission to come. Such an immense distance; more than twice as far as any  of us has been before. So costly to send the ship: they could scarcely believe it would be worth it. But it will be…” She looked at Petra, wonderingly.”At her age, and untrained – yet she can throw a thought half-way around the world!”

David  suddenly realises that the threads have killed all the attackers, but  the Sealand woman is unrepentant, explaining that they are  a doomed race and that the  “think-together” people are the future:

Your minds are confused by your ties and your upbringing: you are still half-thinking of them as the same kind as yourselves. That  is why you are  shocked. …They  can see quite well that if it is to survive they have not only to preserve  it from detioriation, but they must protect it from the even more serious threat of the superior variant. For ours is a superior variant…The essential  quality of life is living: the essential  quality of living is change; change is evolution; and we are part of it.

chrsyalids-2

The woman takes David, Rosalind  and Petra in the flying machine off to New Zealand:  Michael stays behind  to rescue another member of the group,  Rachel, promising to make their way to find them one day. The novel finishes as the machine  arrives above a sunlit city with  David sensing  something new,  a kind of suffused glow:

“What  is it?” I  said,  puzzled. “Can’t you guess, David? It’s people. Lots and lots of our kind of people”.

The Chrsyalids is Wyndham’s  masterpiece.  His chilling  vision of a dystopian  future is perfectly realised and the narative is compelling,  carrying the ring of truth  in its  depiction on how societies  can bond in fear against perceived “Outsiders” and repress dissent and change.

Wyndham wrote, of course, during the Cold War:  a time when there was a real fear that the two superpowers, the USA and  the Soviet Union – now armed with hydrogen bombs of enormous destructive power –  would  destroy the world between them. This  fear found its way  into a good few science fiction novels  and plays, some of which I have listed below  This survey is by no means exhasutive, of course.

Novels

The Spurious Sun, by George Borodin (1948) begins  with an H-bomb-like explosion in Scotland which ignites the upper atmosphere; savage wars ensue worldwide, the UK is eliminated by nuclear weapons, and both Leningrad and San Francisco are obliterated. 

 Death of a World by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1948). An expedition to a deserted Earth turns up a diary describing the last days of Earth.

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley (1948) is a  satire on the potential for the destruction of humanity.

Shadow on the Hearth by Judith Merril (1950)  tells the story of Westchester housewife, Gladys Mitchell, coping with the aftermath of a nuclear attack on New York.

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955)  is set in the aftermath of a nuclear war and  it portrays a world where scientific knowledge is feared and restricted.

 On the Beach by Neville Shute (1957) is   set in Australia in the aftermath of a nuclear  war,  and follows the fate of  group of  people awaiting the arrival of  the fallout from the northern hemisphere. The government  issues suicide pills to the population. The novel was a worldwide bestseller and  was filmed in 1959 and again in 2000.

On the Last Day by Mervyn Jones (1958)  features  a Russian/Chinese invasion of Britain, during a non-nuclear Third World War , and of the successful attempt of the British government in exile (in Canada) to build a new intercontinental missile. Jones was  an activist  in CND.

Two Hours to Doom by Peter Bryant (1958)  imagines an attack on the Soviet Union by American  planes,  ordered in by a paranoid general. The USA cooperates with the Soviets to shoot the planes down, and when one plane  gets through the Americans  offer to destroy one of their own  cities as quid pro quo. At the last minute the plane fails to reach its target. The novel was the basis for the the film Dr Strangelove.

Alas,  Babylon, by Pat Frank, (1959) shows the aftermath of a nuclear war as it affects a small town in Florida, Fort Repose.

The Last Day, a novel of the day after tomorrow  by Helen Clarkson (1959).  The story takes place in a  village on the New England coast, and tells what happens in the six days following a nuclear war.   You can read it here

Level 7 by Mordecai Roshwald (1959) is the story  of soldier X-127 living with others  in an  underground military bunker,  Level 7,  who  narrates the tale of  life in the bunker  before, during and after a nuclear war that kills the rest of humanity. 

Dark December  by  Alfred Coppel (1960) is set in a world after a nuclear war. A soldier sets off on a journey to his home in California. En route he saves a captured Russian pilot.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (1960) is a  series of linked stories which begin  six  hundred years after a nuclear war.  Society rebuilds itself,  but political conflicts lead to  another  nuclear war.

Drama on television

Number Three, broadcast by the BBC on 1st  February 1953. This was dramatised from a novel by Charles Irving by Nigel Neale and  others.  Scientists at an atom research station  working on a new form of nuclear power discover  the project leader plans to  use it as a weapon.

Doomsday for Dyson  by J B Priestley, broadcast on ITV on 10th March 1958. An anti-war fantasy about a man standing trial in the afterlife for killing his family in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. It was followed by a short studio discussion on the issues raised.

Underground, broadcast  by ATV on 30th  November 1958 in the “Armchair Theatre” series.  It was written by James Forsyth, adapted from novel by Harold Rein Few Were Left, directed by William Kotcheff.  The survivors of a nuclear holocaust are trapped in the London Underground.

The Offshore Island, broadcast by the BBC on 14th  April 1959. It was written by Michael Voysey, based on a play by  Marganita Laski, an activist in CND.  A  drama about a family whose farm remains unaffected, eight years after a nuclear war. Their peace is disturbed by a force of American soldiers and then a Russsian one.

The Poisoned Earth, broadcast by  ITV on 28th  February 1961 in the “Play of the Week” series. It was written by Arden Winch. Moral problems are raised when a new type of nuclear bomb, with limited fallout range, is developed.

The Road, broadcast by the BBC on 29 September 1963.  It was written by Nigel Kneale,  and was  part of  the “First Night” drama series.  A  scientist and a philosopher  in C18th investigate  “ghosts” that appear on Michaelmass Eve each year. In the end we realise  that they are actually visions from  the future of  people fleeing down a road from a nuclear war.  Unfortunately The Road was wiped. An adapation for radio, written by Toby Hadoke, was broadcast by Radio Four on 27 October 2019. This is a an interview with Toby about his work on this version.

Terror from the Deeps: The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

1075_JOHN_WYNDHAM_The_Kraken_Wakes_1960In a previous  post I discussed The Day of the  Triffids In his second novel  The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham again imagines  the  breakdown of  human civilisation, but in a very different  way and from a very different kind of menace. By contrast with  The Day of the Triffids  –  in which the Triffids were home-grown destroyers and  highly visible throughout the novel – in The Kraken Wakes  the  invaders appear  to be  from another planet,   and  are almost  never seen.

The story is told through the eyes of Mike and Phyllis Watson, radio journalists for the English Broadcasting Company, whose  profession  means  – conveniently for the narrative –  that they are either  present  at some of the key events or are in touch with the scientists or military officers trying to make  sense of what is happening. It’s quite clear that Phyllis,  like Josella in The Day of the Triffids, is the  sharper, more  prescient,  of the couple, and also has a greater imagination than Mike,  who comes across a stolid man of the 1950s: he probably wears a tweed jacket.

The story is spread  over several years as  the menace and terror  escalate a little at a time:  in fact the three chapters are titled Phase One, Phase Two and Phase Three. Phase One begins with Mike and Phyllis taking  their honeymoon  on a cruise ship from  which,  nearing the Azores, they observe  five fuzzy red  fireballs landing in the ocean and disappearing. After reporting this  when they get back home they learn that there have been  similar sightings around the world and that the sea sectors in which  the fireballs  land correlate with the deepest parts of the ocean.  The Watsons are invited to join a Royal Navy  expedition to investigate which lowers two men in a bathyscope,  equipped with cameras. Finding nothing in the depths,  they think  that they see something as they ascend to the surface, as Mike Watson relates:

This time we could undoubtedly make out a lighter patch. It was roughly oval, but indistinct, and there was nothing to give it scale….Again the camera showed us a glimpse of the thing as it passed  one of the bathyscope’s ports, but we were little wiser; the definition too poor for us to be sure of anything about it. “It’s going up now. Rising faster than we are. Getting beyond our angle of view. ought to be a window in the top of this thing…Lost it now. Gone somewhere up above above us. Maybe it’ll – The voice cut off dead. Simultaneously, there was a brief, vivid flash on the screen, and it too went dead.The sound of the winch outside altered as it speeded up….At last, the end  came up…Both the main and the communications cables ended in a blob of fused metal.

After this incident shipping starts to sink and the powers-that-be decide to drop an atomic bomb into the ocean near the Marianas, but with no effect. At this point Wyndham  introduces Dr Alastair Bocker into the narrative, whose analyses and predictictions are invariably derided by conventional scientific  and political opinion, but  usually turn out to be correct. Wyndham uses him to play a similar role to that of Michael Beadley in The Day of the Triffids. Bocker suggests that the intelligences in the deep have  come from another planet, possibly Jupiter, and that an invasion is under way. He also suggests that the discolouration of the ocean,  which has started happening, is  caused by the intelligences drilling communication routes between the various ocean deeps.

deep sea

In Phase Two  a string of ocean going  passenger liners  are sunk with the loss of all passengers,  forcing  the authorities to acknowledge the reality of the deep-sea menace, which  the public now reluctantly accepts, having been inclined to blame the Russians up to now. (This novel was written during the Cold War, remember). “Back room boffins”  eventually come up with   anti-attack devices, which when fitted to ships  deal with this particular threat,  but it’s far from  over.  Soon reports come in of  mysterious  raids on remote islands  in which the population vanishes: all that can be found are tracks leading to and from the sea and slime covering the ground and buildings. Mike and Phyllis go off on a expedition, led by Bocker, to an island called Escondida  where he predicts the next raid  may take place. Nothing happens for several weeks and the group takes it easy,  enjoying the sunshine. Then it starts.

What follows is one of the most  horrific episodes in modern science  fiction as Wyndham  presents us with grey metal  “sea-tanks”, some 35 feet long, which  grind their way  out of the sea and into the town square. They then release white cilia, sticky  tentacles,  which ensnare the  fleeing crowd. Phyllis physically stops Mike from going out (almost certainly saving his life),  so he watches from a window:

The thing that had burst was no longer in the air. It was now a round body no more than a couple of feet in diameter  surrounded by a radiation of cilia. It was drawing these back into itself with whatever they had caught, and the tension was  keeping  it a little off the ground. Some of the people it was pulling were shouting and struggling, others were like inert bundles of clothes.

I saw poor Muriel Flynn among them. She was lying on her back, dragged across the cobbles by a tentacle caught in her red hair. She had been badly hurt by the fall when she was pulled out of her window, and was crying out with terror, too. Leslie dragged alongside her, but it looked as if the fall had mercifully broken his neck.

Over on the far side I saw a man  rush forward and try to pull a screaming  woman away, but when he touched the cillium that held her hand his hand became  fastened to it, too, and they were dragged along.

As the circle contracted, the white cilia came closer to one another. The struggling people inevitably touched more of them and became  more helplessly enmeshed than before. There was a relentless deliberation about it which  made it seem horribly as though one watched through the eye of a slow-motion camera. ..the machines…still lay where they had stopped, looking like huge grey slugs, each engaged in producing several of its disgusting bubbles at different stages. …I looked out again. Half a dozen objects, looking like tight round bales, were rolling over and over on their way to the street that led to the waterfront.

After this the raids increase to a full onslaught on coasts  around the world with hundreds of “sea-tanks”  causing thousands of deaths. However the machines (if that is truly  what they are) are  vulnerable to explosive shells,  and eventually they are held at bay   by a combination of mines, weaponry and an alert public:

It was the Irish who took almost the whole weight of the north-European attack, which  was conducted, according to Bocker,  from a base somewhere in the Deep, south of Rockall. They rapidly developed a skill in dealing with them that made it a point of dishonour that even one should get away…England’s only raids occurred  in Cornwall, and they too were small affairs for the most part.

The raids cease but,  as  Bocker prophesies in a radio  broadcast, “These things, whatever  they may be, have not only succeeeded in throwing us out of their element  with ease, but already they have advanced  to do battle with us in ours. For the moment  we have pushed them back, but they will return, for the same urge drives them as drives us – the neccessity to exterminate, or be exterminated. And when they come again , if we let them, they will come better equipped…

icebergs

In Phase Three the intelligences succeed in melting the Arctic  and Antarctic polar ice,   and water levels around the globe start to rise rapidly.  As  London is progressively  flooded the government flees to Harrogate.  Mike and Phyllis stay on in the capital  to broadcast from an EBC studio  until   conditions  become impossible. By now the government has ceased broadcasting,  and the country has balkanised   into a series of armed enclaves of  desperate people,  ready  and willing to shoot at others seeking safety and food.  The Watsons manage to find a boat and, after a number of adventures, make their way to their cottage in Cornwall, where Phyllis, with her usual foresight,  has laid in stocks of food.

Some months later they learn from a neighbour that their names have been  broadcast by Bocker, who is  part of a Council  for Reconstruction. He wants  them to go London  to help in  the business of rebuilding a post-deluge society. What about the inteligences?  According to Bocker, scientists   have succeeded at last in building an ultra-sound weapon that is being used to systematically to kill them   and  clear the deeps.  The last words in the novel go to  Phyllis, wise as ever:

I was just thinking…Nothing is really new, is it, Mike? Once upon a time there was a great plain, covered with forests and full of wild animals. I expect our ancestors hunted there. Then one day the water came and drowned it all and there was the North Sea…I think we’ve been here before, Mike…and and we got through last time.

Stories about what might lurk in the sea and one day rise to the surface are part of folk-culture and go back centuries. Wyndham successfully plays on these primitive fears in what is a deftly plotted story, driven by  the narrative, which  slowly rachets up the tension.   He also  subverts the conventional alien invasion novel   in which “they”  crash to earth and set about  the violent destruction of humanity. In The Kraken Wakes  “they” arrive silently and stealthily: in fact we are never quite clear whether this is  really an  invasion at all;  are the intelligences  simply seeking a new home in the deeps, but are then forced to deal with  the intrusive behaviour of humanity who will not leave them alone?

In the end  it seems the planet  cannot be shared, a conclusion that  even the humanitarian Bocker is forced to accept. The idea of the aliens “shrimping” human beings in their sea raids,  as Phyllis graphically  puts it,  is surely a nod by Wyndham  to Wells’ The War of the Worlds in which the Martians’ war machines use their ” long, flexible, glittering tentacles” to harvest  human beings and put them in a basket to be later used,  as Wells hints,  for some ghastly alien purpose.

As in  The Day of the Triffids,  Wyndham cannot resist some social  satire, poking fun at the fickleness of public opinion which demands immediate action, any action, to solve  a perceived problem,  and the stock responses of the press:

The news of the latest sinking was announced on the 8am news bulletin on a Saturday. The Sunday papers took full advantage of  their opportunity. At least six of them slashed at official incompetence with almost eighteenth-century gusto, and set the pitch for the Dailies. The Times screwed down rebukes to make the juice  run out. The Guardian’s approach was similar in intention, but more like an advancing set of circular-saws in manner…The Worker, after pointing out that in a properly ordered society such tragedies would have been  impossible since luxury liners would not exist and therefore could not be sunk, rounded upon owners who drove seamen into danger in unprotected ships at inadequate wages. 

It  can plausibly  be The Sea Devilsargued  that The Kraken Wakes influenced Maclolm Hulke’s 1971  Doctor Who serial “The Sea Devils”,  in which an undersea colony of Silurians – intelligent reptiles who once ruled the earth millions of years ago –  are awoken and begin attacking ships, sinking them.  In one episode they also come ashore to attack the coast.  The Doctor tries to make  peace between the Silurians and humanity – but fails,  and they are destroyed.    As Malcolm once said,  What you need for science fiction is a good original idea. It doesn’t have to be your original idea.” You can read my post on the work of Malcolm Hulke here.

 

Productions

It is  surprising that The Kraken Wakes has never  been filmed or produced as a television  series, since it offers a great deal of dramatic incident, while the melting of the icecaps chimes with contemporary concerns over global warming.

The novel  has been produced as a radio series on a number of occasions.

In  1954 it was produced by Peter Watts  on the Third Programme from  a script by  John Keir Cross. Michael Watson was played by Robert Beatty, Phyllis Watson was played by Grizelda Hervey.

In 1965 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast an adaptation starring Sam Paine, Shirley Broderick, Michael Irwin and Derek Walston. You can listen to this here

In 1998 it was produced by Susan Roberts on Radio Four from  a script by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by John Branwell, Phyllis Watson was played by  Kathryn Hunt.

In 2008  it was produced by Susan Roberts on Radio Four from  a script by John Constable. Michael Watson was played by Jonathan Cake, Phyllis Watson was  played by Sarah Todd.

On 8 January 2016 a new adaptation, written by Val McDermid, was recorded live in Media City,  Salford, with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. It  starred  Tamsin Greig, Paul Higgins and Richard Harrington. The score was composed by  Alan Edward Williams.  The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, played herself in pre-recorded section. This production was  broadcast on Radio Four on 28  May 2016. More information here

Finally, the title of the book comes from a poem by Tennyson, The Kraken.

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

 

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Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

Falling off the tightrope: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)

Triffids front cover

“When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” This is the arresting first sentence  of  The Day of the Triffids, the novel  which made John Wyndham’s name as a science fiction writer and  which has remained in print  ever since its  first publication in 1951.

Wyndham was born in 1903: his full name was John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris!  He had a public school education, including  a period  spent at the liberal school,  Bedales. He tried his hand at a number of professions before turning (like many a down at heel young person)  to writing.  By the early  1930s he was making a living selling science fiction stories to American  magazines such as Amazing Stories, under the pen names of John Beynon,  John Lucas Harris and Lucas Parkes. In 1933  his short story “The Puff-Ball Menace” was published in Wonder Stories,  in which  an enemy  country plants a fungus in Britain which breeds rapidly  and is fatal. He also wrote a  novel Planet Plane which was set on Mars. Its fair to say that none of his work was noticed by the general public.

After serving in the army during the Second  World War he went back to writing, now using a new  pen name  “John Wyndham”  and had his first success with The Day of the Triffids.

John Duttine as Bill Masen

Bill Masen (John Duttine) in 1981 TV adapatation

The narrator is Bill Masen  whom we find at the start of the novel in hospital,   having suffered a minor eye injury and awaiting the removal of his bandages.  He calls repeatedly,  but nobody comes.  Plucking up the courage to take off the bandages, and venturing on to the streets of London, he discovers that most of the world has gone blind overnight, apparently after watching a metor shower. He rescues a young woman, Josella Playton, and they  meet up with a group of other survivors, led by Michael Beadley, who  plan to leave London and set up in the countryside. Before they can do do so Bill and Josella are separated, captured by another group of survivors, led by a man called Coker.  Bill is forced  to lead a group of blinded people, finding food for them,  until he frees  himself when they die from a form of  plague. Bill teams up with Coker for a time, seeking Josella,  but they part when  Bill  heads off to Surrey looking for a farm house mentioned by her. On the way he rescues a young sighted girl, Susan, and eventually  they find Josella and her friends, who are blind. They survive by farming,  but are menaced by the triffids, a  plant which  mysteriously appeared around the planet some decades  before. It  was bred for its oil,  but can walk on three stalks and kill with a poisoned lash.

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

Bill and Josella (Emma Relph) battle a triffid

After six years the small group is found by a helicopter from the Isle of Wight,  where Coker and  Beadley have established a colony. They plan to go there,  but are  then found by another group, a para-military outfit from Brighton, who plan to turn the farm into a feudal-type seigneury. Bill, Josella  and the others get them drunk and successfully make their escape as the triffids pour into the farm.  The book ends with Bill completing his memoir:

” We think now we can see  the way, but there is still a lot of work  and research to be done before the day that we, or our children, or their children, will cross the narrow straits on the great crusade to drive the triffids back  and back with ceaseless destruction until we have wiped the last one of them from the face of the land that they have usurped.”

The novel’s  opening grips the reader with its vivid scenes of a London where most people have gone blind, and which quickly descends into  violence  and chaos.  This  is not a sentimental read:  a number cannot face a future without sight and kill  themselves,  while others try and capture a sighted person to act as the guide. This is what has happened to Josella until Bill frees her.  Some can cope. I  like the little vignette  of Bill encountering a blind man who, when he learns what has happened , gives a short, bitter laugh and says “They’ll be be needing all their damned patronage for themselves now,”  and sets off again “with an exaggerated air of independence.

Having set out  the  opening scenes Wyndham goes back  into past to explain the presence of the triffids which, he suggests,  were developed behind  the Iron Curtain for their oil,  but then scattered around the world when a plane was shot down in which a man  was trying to smuggle the seeds  to a company in the West. As a young boy  Bill was nearly killed by one that grew in his garden, but then went on to work with them, which is why he is wary of them from the beginning of the novel unlike others.  He is proved right when the triffids escape from the farms and began  killing the now defenceless humans.

In  Wyndham’s  novels   his male leads, whilst  decent and  resourceful in the face of crisis,  are never   the smartest people in the room.  Josella is  sharper  on the uptake than  Bill;  Walter – his   work colleague at the triffid farm – theorises that  that the plants are using their rattling stalks to communicate (something Bill has never  noticed) telling him, “there’s certainly intelligence there,  of a kind.”;  Michael Beadley points that the world they knew has gone and will never return; Susan,  when grown up at the farm in Surrey, points out that the triffids respond to noise and can act in concert by massing together. Bill is given one  insight  when, towards the end of the novel,  he suggest that the blindness was not a natural phenomenenon,  but  caused by a satellite  weapon which had been accidentally triggered.  Wyndham did not invent the idea of satellites orbiting the earth,  but he was one of the first writers  to suggest their potential as weapons.

Whilst the 1950s has come to be viewed as era of   peace and stability,  this is far  from the truth.  The Second World War had devastated  much of Europe as cities were bombed and burned,  whilst millions died in extermination camps. This was followed by the Cold War  in which both sides stockpiled nuclear weapons: the threat of another, even more destructive war, seemed very real.  Wyndham gives a key speech to Michael Beadley,  near  the beginning of the book,  which sums this up: “From 6 August 1945, the margin of survival has narrowed appallingly. Indeed, two days ago, it was narrower than it is at the moment. If you need to dramatize, you could well take for your material the years succeeding 1945 when the path of safety started to shrink to a tight-rope along which we had to walk with our eyes deliberately closed to the depths beneath us.”  Society, Wyndham suggests, is  so fragile it  could vanish  overnight.  Bill suggests to Josella later in the novel: “You remember  what Michael Beadley said about the tightrope we’ve been walking on for years….Well,  I think what happened was that we came off it – and that a few of us just managed to survive the crash.”

still from 2009 TV version

a still from 2009 TV version

Amidst his vivid depiction of the end  of the world,  Wyndham finds time for some social satire. At  the meeting chaired by Michael Beadley at the University, a Dr Vorless, a Professor of Sociology, shocks some of  the audience when he tells them  that conventional social morality is dead and that in order to survive, “The men must work and the women have babies…In our new world, then, babies become very much more important than husbands.” He suggests men should have three partners, one sighted, two blind. Bill is  taken  aback,  but Josella  reassures him, “You won’t need to worry at, all, my dear,  I shall choose two nice, sensible girls.”Oh“,  says Bill.

Wyndham gives a misogynist speech  to  Coker  who,  after  he and Bill have  made  their way a manor house  being used  as a refuge by survivors,   discovers that they are using candles. He  gets a plant going to provide electricity, but then  rails against a young woman: “You know perfectly well that women  can and do  – or rather did – handle the most complicated and delicate machines when  they took the trouble to understand them. What generally happens is that they’re too busy to take the trouble unless they have to. Why should they bother when the tradition of appealing helplessness can be rationalized as a womanly virtue – and the job just shoved off on to somebody else? …Men  have played up to it by stoutly repairing the poor darling’s vacuum cleaner, and capably replacing  the blown fuse. The whole charade has been accepatable to both parties.” This  feels like somehing said by a travelling commercial agent after several gins in the saloon bar of a Tudorbethan pub in Surrey. Did Wyndham personally  believe this  or did he wish to define Coker’s character more strongly?

John Wyndham

John Wyndham

Wyndham was interviewed on the Tonight programme on 6  September 1961. He said, “what one starts with is the theme, and then you work it out to the logical conclusion as far as possible…The upper limit of sheer invention is what is acceptable to the public whom you are hoping to please, whose attention you are hoping to keep.  Somebody once said that  the heart of fantasy is the willing suspension of disbelief. But you must not go beyond a certain barrier,   if you can find it, in which that willing suspension is shattered.” He explained  that the idea for the triffids came one night when he was walking along a dark lane in the country: “the hedges were only just distinguishable against the sky and the higher things sticking up from the hedges became rather menacing, one felt that they  might come over  and strike down or sting at you. The whole thing eventually grew out of that.” You can watch the  whole interview  here.

Overall The Day of the Triffids certainly stands the test of time as a well-plotted and  imaginative read. It sold very well and was followed by a number of other successful novels that I will be looking at in future posts.

Barbara Shelley

                     Barbara Shelley

The book was adapted for radio and broadcast on the BBC Home Service  in July 1953. In 1960 the  BBC  broadcast  another adaptation, written  by  Giles Cooper,   with Patrick Barr as Bill and Monica Gray  as Josella.  Another version was broadcast  in 1968, also written by Giles Cooper, with Gary Watson as Bill and Barbara  Shelley as Josella. You can listen to both versions here . The 1968 version has music created  by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  Incidentally, Barbara Shelley appeared in a number of films,  including  The Village of the Damned (1960) (an  adapation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos) , the film version of  Quatermass and the Pit (1968),  and also on television in  The Avengers‘ episode “From Venus with Love” (1967) (in which Jon Pertwee also  appeared).

An adaptation by Lance Dann in two 45-minute episodes for the BBC World Service was first broadcast on 8 and 22 September 2001. It was directed by Rosalind Ward , and the cast included Jamie Glover as Bill and Tracy Ann Oberman as Josella.

You also can listen  to the book being read by Roger May   in 17 episodes  here

In 1962 The Day of the Triffids was filmed with Howard  Keel and Jannete Scott  in the main roles,  while Carole Ann Ford had a small part( later to play Susan in Doctor Who in 1963). It’s not very good,  but if you feel you must,  you can watch it here.  In 1974 a triffid, presumably left over from the film, was amongst the props offered for sale in a huge clear-out at Shepperton Studios.

In 1981 the BBC broadcast a six part  adaptation,   written by Douglas Livingstone,  produced by David Maloney and directed by Ken Hannam. It starred  John Duttine as Bill and  Emma Relph as Josella. It been  updated to the early 1980s,  but otherwise follows the book very  closely and respectfully.  Personally I think it’s very good, but you can judge for yourselves  by  watching  it on Daily Motion, beginning here.

In the mid 1980s a band from Perth, Western Australia called The Triffids achived a measure of fame.

Finally there is whole website devoted to the book:  The Readers Guide to Day of the Triffids.

Review

“John Wyndham in The Day of the Triffids writes a Wellsian fantasy and raises up a truly sinister vegetable for the chastisement  of mankind. He has imagination and wit, but to the averagely bedevilled awareness, his use of them here may seem mal a propos”. Paul Bloomfield,  The Guardian,  24 August 1951, p. 4.

If  you would like to comment on this post, you can either  comment  via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.

In my next post I will be looking at The Sleeper Awakes by H G Wells (1910)