John Wyndham



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John Wyndham

The Chrysalids is set in a post-nuclear world, a thousand years after humankind has sent itself back to the stone-age. A town believes that they know what a true human should look like and bans any deviation from that norm, but there is actually no way of knowing what a true human is supposed to be like.

As a child the narrator (still living in the pre-automobile world) had a recurring dream of a city with horseless carts and flying machines. His eldest sister Mary advised him not to tell anyone. He used to play alone because his next older sister Sarah was already too old to play with him. One day he met for the first time a child, Sophie, who had been kept isolated by her family. While playing with him, Sophie got injured and the narrator, David, realized that her foot had six toes instead of five. She made him swear not to tell anyone. Her mother too begged David not to tell anyone. She was obviously afraid that the girl would be treated like a monster or a devil. The mother allows David to come and see Sophie again only if he promises to come alone and without anyone knowing. On the way home David realized the problem: the Christian scriptures often recited in the church specifically classified as evil any deviation from the normal body. David's family is the first and still the richest of the district, Waknuk, first colonized by David's grandfather, and his father is a model of religious thinking and doing, but particularly wary of "deviations". The district lies far away from the capital Rigo and borders on the Badlands and the Fringes. The people of the latter occasionally raid Waknuk. They all speak about the Old People, who were said to have superior technology (David's family owns the only steam engine in the region). David gets punished by his father for simply joking about having three hands: obviously his father would kill Sophie if he knew of her extra toes. David is a special child: he knows what his cousin Rosalind is doing. His uncle Axel overhears David talking to Rosalind who is not present and eventually believes that David and Rosalind had that power to communicate at a distance. Axel realizes that the children would be in danger if their parents knew and asks David to promise to keep it secret. David doesn't tell him that it is not just him and Rosalind but a whole bunch of children. The Fringes attack and David's town catches two prisoners. One looks just like his father except that he has abnormal arms and legs that make him very tall: he looks like a spider. David's father gets into an argument with another uncle, Angus, who owns giant horses. David's father is determined to get rid of any mutant species, but this time the government has approved the giant horses. David tells Sophie (who does not attend school) what he knows about the world: they live in a region that used to be called Labrador by the Old People and used to be very cold; civilization was destroyed many generations back by some colossal disaster called the Tribulation; the only book that survived is the Bible; the human race is just beginning to return again to civilization. The town carefully burns the crops that are mutant. One day a boy, Alan, sees David playing with Sophie and, upon seeing Sophie's footprint, guesses that she is a mutant. David attacks him to give Sophie a chance to flee, but her parents don't want to take any chances that Alan will inform David's father and decide to pack their things and leave. David is severely punished by his father for having befriended a "deviation", and the inspector explains to him that hiding a "deviation" is a crime because deviations are sent by the Devil. The town is striving for a pure race with no deviations. David communicates the events to the other children by thoughts. The fleeing family is soon captured. David would like to leave the town but his uncle discourages him. Nonetheless, his uncle admits that the dogma of Rigo's land is dubious. There are other people in Labrador. Some of them are just savages (in the Fringes) but others are perfectly civilized people except that their concept of "purity" is different. Nobody can know for sure what the Old People looked like and what the "image of God" is. However, what is true is that the Badlands are inhabited only by mutated animals and that humans die if they set foot on them. David tells uncle Axel that there are eight total telepathic children. His uncle protects David because he is not certain what the "image of God" really is: what if the real image of God is telepathic children like David? When his mother gives birth to a child, Petra, the family has to wait for the inspector to certify that the baby is normal, not a deviation, otherwise the baby would be eliminated and the mother possibly taken away too. David's aunt Harriet is not so lucky: she too gives birth, but her baby is a deviation. David overhears Harriet begging his mother to exchange babies just for one day so that Harriet can get a certificate for her own baby. David's mother is horrified that Harriet would want to keep a malformed baby. When informed, David's father gets furious and reminds Harriet of what happens in places where people are not strict: the deviations pollute the race and soon they have all sorts of monsters around. Harriet is desperate because this is her third malformed baby and her husband is certain to turn her away and find another wife. Harriet drowns herself. Years later David and Rosalind both hear Petra's call for help when she is about to drown and realize that Petra is also one of them and in fact has a stronger mental power. That year the deviations are particularly bad. A lot of crops have to be burned and animals slaughtered. One of the telepathic kids, Anne, decides to marry the very Alan who turned in Sophie. The other telepathic kids try to dissuade her but she's in love. David tells his uncle Axel who advises him to kill her because sooner or later she will give away the whole lot of them. David opposes the idea and doesn't even discuss it with the other kids. One day Alan is found dead, killed by an arrow. Anne is convinced that one of them did it. Anne hangs herself and leaves a note for the inspector denouncing all of them, but her sister Rachel (who is also one of the telepathic kids) finds the note first and destroys it. Meanwhile, David wanted to marry Rosalind, but Rosalind was Angus' daughter and David's father never made peace with Angus. Petra is now six years old and her mental power is still astonishing. One day she is attacked in the woods by a deviation and she sends out a mental scream so loud that the other telepathic kids cannot communicate with each other. They all rush to the woods not knowing that David has already arrived and has already killed the beast. A man, Jerome, sees four of them (two girls, Rosalind and David) with Petra and becomes suspicious. A few days later uncle Axel tells David that the inspector has been asking about him and precisely the kids who were there when Jerome arrived. Uncle Axel also confesses that he killed Alan after finding out that Alan was ready to betray them all. David starts training Petra to use her mental power in a more moderate way and to transmit more than plain screams. Petra's power is so much stronger that she can hear telepathic people who live far away: for the first time the kids realize that there are others like the outside their region. David tells the telepathic kids that the inspector is suspecting four of them. The punishment would be "sterilization", expulsion and probable death. They are afraid that six-year-old Petra could be easily tricked by the inspector into confessing her mental power and David agrees that it would be better for her to die than to be sterilized and banned. Basically he agrees to kill his own little sister if the inspector tries to interrogate her. The inspector arrests two telepathic girls who immediately send out a mental alarm to the others. David and Rosalind take Petra and flee town, riding on two giant mutant horses, chased by a posse. The two captured girls are tortured until they confess that David, Rosalind and Petra are mutants. Luckily for the fugitives, one of the telepathic kids, Michael, is not suspected and has been drafted into the posse, so that he can alert them on the moves of the chasers. Petra makes contact with a distant telepathic who lives in Sealand, who offers help despite the distance. David doesn't quite understand how such a distant person could possibly help them, but Petra understands that the people in Sealand all use mental powers, and think that the people without those powers are inferior beings. The Sealand woman shows no respect for the Old People, because it's the Old People who caused the devastation in which humans have plunged: there is nothing to be proud of if you are "pure" like the Old People, if you are not a deviant. David, Rosalind and Petra finally enter the Fringes, where the chasers will have to be more careful for fear of the mutant humans who live there. A group of Fringe people capture the three fugitives but don't seem to have evil intentions. David, Rosalind and Petra are taken to the chief of the Fringe tribe, who turns out to be the "spider man" with long limbs. The chief tells David that he is his uncle: his father's older brother Gordon, banned from Waknuk for being a deviation. He doesn't want to hurt him but he does want children and the deviant women are no good for this: Rosalind is a godsend for him. David tries in vain to rebel. He is subdued and wakes up next to a woman who recognizes him and he recognizes her: Sophie. She was sterilized and sent to the Fringes, where she became Gordon's lover, but she cannot have children. Sophie takes him to her cave and later kills a man in order to free Rosalind and Petra. David makes contact with Michael: the posse is still advancing in the Fringes, determined to capture the three fugitives and extort from them the names of all the other telepathic kids. Obviously they are viewed as a bigger danger than all other deviants. They can now read distinctly the thoughts of Petra's Sealand friend, who claims to be now less than one day away from them. Michael tells them that David's and Petra's father is with the posse, clearly detemined to kill his own children in order to stop their deviation from making children. The Sealand woman, who is rapidly approaching, scorns the zeal of David's father and his lot to defend the "pure" human body that has caused the Tribulation. She preaches that a new better race is being born. The posse attacks the village and is about to prevail: Gordon kills his brother (David's father) but is then killed; so he is Sophie. Then a flying machine appears in the sky (just the kind that David had been always seeing in his recurring dreams), dropping a sort of weapon of mass destruction. Petra's friend saves them all, including Michael, while all the others (the Pure as well as the Fringe people) are killed: Petra's friend considers them an inferior race, doomed to extinction just like the dinosaurs. Petra's friend refuses to pick up Rachel, who has been left behind in Waknuk, because the flying machine doesn't have enough fuel. Michael decides to stay and live with Rachel until the day that he finds a way to reach Sealand. As they approach Sealand, which is exactly the land of David's dreams, they start hearing in their minds the multitudes of telepathic people. Sealand is a much more advanced place than any other place on Earth. The new race has created something wonderful.
The Midwich Cuckoos is inspired by Wells' Mars invasion but Wyndham introduces a moral factor: what if the invaders are in fact humans like us, at least body-wise? Don't they automatically acquire the same rights that we have, including the right to succeed against us, even though this might end up eliminating the human race? It is easy to fight an invading race, it is much more difficult to fight it once it adopts the human form. The man who relates the events of the 26th of September is a writer, who that evening went out with his wife to celebrate his birthday. When they returned to their village, they found that soldiers had closed all roads leading into it. Curious about what could have happened in such a quiet village, they set out on foot through the fields and didn't stop when a soldier spotted them: suddenly they froze and fell to the ground. It turns out that this is what started happening the night before at 22:17. A woman was on the phone with a friend of that village and her telephone conversation was abruptly interrupted at that time. All the phones of the village went out. The truck sent by the phone company to investigate disappeared. A fire truck called to put out a fire also disappeared. So did the police car sent to investigate. Finally, it became obvious that anybody approaching the village was falling down like dead, and the military well called because gas was assumed to be the cause. The military, meanwhile, had reports of an unidentified flying object making a crash landing near the village. The soldiers understood that the mysterious paralyzing gas made a circle around a location where planes spotted a mysterious object. The soldiers started pulling back people from the polluted circle and one by one the people returned to normal life. This is where Richard, the narrator, wakes up. He sees the soldiers pulling back his wife Janet from the circle and she comes back to life like him. The victims of this gas seem to have no side-effect. Planes use birds to asses how high the gas spreads and realize that is basically creates a protecting dome around the mysterious UFO. Richard is recognized by Bernard, a fellow soldier during the war, now a colonel who has been sent there by the secret services to investigate the case. Bernard asks the couple not to spread any information to the population. None of the experts summoned by the various agencies has any explanation. Then suddenly the UFO disappears. Eleven people have died of the inconvenience of being "frozen" for one day, but other than that the life of the village seems to return to normal. The village suspects that this has to do with scientific experiments carried out nearby, but Bernard rules it out and asks Richard and Janet to be his personal spies. Richard starts writing a diary of what happens at the village. Bernard turns out to be right: not everything went back to normal. Unmarried women find themselves pregnant. And soon every woman of childbearing age finds herself pregnant. A meeting is called by the vicar and the doctor to reassure the women that it is happening to everybody and they don't have to be ashamed of it. Nobody has a scientific explanation of how this could have happened. The village decides to accept the pregnancies and reassure the women that there is nothing to be worried about it. Despite the fact that the women start feeling "used" as incubators by a stranger, they all carry out the pregnancy. The babies are born and they look normal except for golden eyes. Soon they appear to control their mothers. The most noticeable fact is that all the women return to the village because their children commanded them to do so. There are also cases in which babies punish their mothers for making mistakes that cause pain. The doctor refuses to admit that this power is real, but one of the citizens, Gordon, the father of one of these girls, Ferrelyn, who is married to one of the soldiers, Alan, is instead looking for a rational explanation, and eventually he reaches it: the babies have been sent by another race to infiltrate humankind and destroy it from the inside. He asks Alan to take Ferrelyn away, leaving the baby behind, because he fears that, as they grow up, the babies will exert stronger and stronger influence on the mothers. Gordon makes a stunning discovery: that the boys share the same mind, and the girls share the same mind. If a boy learns something, all the other boys automatically know it, and ditto for the girls. Richard and Janet move to Canada and try to forget the whole case, but one day years later Richard runs into Bernard who invites him to visit the village again. Richard then learns that the children have grown at twice the speed of ordinary children, that they look almost identical, and that they are feared by the villagers: a man died in a car accident after hitting one of them and the witnesses clearly understood that the children did it with their minds as revenge; both animals and humans have been punished for angering some of the children, and the punishment has been carried out through mental powers. Gordon has aged but his theory is now shared by everybody. Gordon is fascinated by the boys and has become their main teacher, and the boy trust him like noone else. They are about to leave the village when they personally witness a deadly accident: the brother of the driver who died in the car accident grabs a gun and shoots dead one of the children, and seconds later he turns his gun to himself and kills himself. There is no doubt in Richard, Janet and Bernard that the children's minds made him commit suicide. Many of the villagers reach the same conclusion and swear revenge. The children have been raised in a building controlled by the military. Several villagers march on the building to set it on fire. The children use their mental power to turn the villagers against each other. Four villagers are killed in the riot that follows. Then the children block all roads leading out of the village: they use their mental power to turn back any villager who tries to leave. The reason is not immediately clear. Richard himself finds that he cannot drive beyond an invisible border. The police chief interrogates a child who candidly confesses to the crime and warns the police chief that retaliation will be implacable if any other attempt is made to hurt them. To prove his point to the skeptic chief, the child induces fear in his mind. Gordon is now convinced that the children represent an alien invasion. Richard still finds it hard to believe but Gordon points out that the human race itself pops up suddenly on this plane, implying that the human race too could be the "invention" of someone carrying out tests of different species. Bernard finally tells Richard and Gordon what the government knows. The village is not alone. There were similar cases of UFOs and collective pregnancies. Only two villages succeeded in raising the children, the other one being in the Soviet Union (at the time a military opponent of Britain). The Soviet Union has just concluded that the children represent a threat to the state and to the whole human race and it has nuked the village. Bernard interrogates another child, who candidly admits that they are fighting for their survival. The child is fully aware that they represent a superior race and that inevitably this will lead to the extinction of the human race, and that the human race might try and stop this natural selection from happening. The boy knows what happened in Russia, and knows that Britain has a different political system under which it is unthinkable to kill all the villagers in order to wipe out the children. We now know why the children have locked all the villagers inside: they have taken everybody hostage. Bernard sees the children staring at an airplane and causing the crew to parachute out of it, clearly distrustful of any airplane after the Russians nuked the children in Russia. The children explain that, had they wanted, they could have caused the plane to crash with everybody on board. They are not using their mental power to kill humans, just to defend themselves. The children demand from Bernard a plane to take them where they will be safe. Gordon reaches the conclusion that the children must be destroyed as soon as possible. He visits them under the pretext of showing them movies that they like and then blows himself up to kill them all.
The Day Of The Triffids William Masen si sveglia in ospedale, dove e` stato ricoverato per una delicata operazione agli occhi, e si rende conto che attorno a lui sta succedendo qualcosa di strano. Presto si accorge di essere stato abbandonato. Si leva la benda L'ultima cosa che ricorda e` la pioggia di meteoriti di cui gli parlava l'infermiera: peccato che lui non abbia potuto guardare fuori dalla finestra come tutti gli altri. Ma quella e` stata la sua fortuna, perche' scopre che quelle meteoriti hanno privato della vista quasi tutti gli altri esseri umani. Masen e` un biologo, uno dei primi ad aver studiato i "triffid", vegetali prodotti artificialmente (si dice) nei laboratori dei sovietici e poi sfuggiti al controllo degli scienziati. I triffid sono in grado di muoversi da soli e di iniettare veleno letale. Un suo collega fu il primo a notare un'intelligenza in queste piante che le faceva assomigliare piu` agli insetti che ai vegetali. L'unica ragione per cui l'uomo poteva dominare queste piante era in effetti il fatto di possedere la vista... William venne reso temporaneamente cieco dalla puntura di un triffid.
La coincidenza lo colpisce subito: le citta` sono in balia all'anarchia dopo che quasi tutti sono diventati ciechi, ma i triffid si sono moltiplicati e hanno preso improvvisamente ad infierire contro la razza umana, come se cercassero di prendere il sopravvento. Gli umani non fanno molto per meritare la loro supremazia: i ciechi si impadroniscono dei pochi vedenti per usarli come guida verso i negozi, che vengono saccheggiati senza pieta`. Masen incontra una ragazza, Josella, che e` sfuggita al cataclisma, autrice di una novella erotica, e ne diventa il fedele compagno. Vagano per le strade desolate di Londra finche' incappano nel comizio di Michael Beadley, deciso a fondare una comunita` di uomini vedenti che possano ricostruire la societa`, anche a costo di abbandonare al loro destino i non vedenti. William e Josella vengono rapiti da una gang di non vedenti capitanati dal vedente Cocker: ogni vedente diventa l'occhio di un gruppo di non vedenti. William e Josella vengono separati. Quando William si libera del gruppo, si mette alla ricerca della ragazza, e le sue tracce lo portano lontano da Londra. Lo accompagna proprio Cocker, stanco di Londra. La gente ha cominciato a morire di una peste misteriosa. Incontrano altre comunita` e ritrovano le tracce della comunita` di Beadley. E alla fine William si ricongiunge con Josella. Insieme ad altri formano una comunita` agricola, si sposano, hanno un figlio.
Passano gli anni, ed e` ormai certo che tutto il mondo e` stato vittima delle meteoriti e delle triffid. Ma l'umanita` non ha perso i suoi vizi, poiche' un giorno ai Masen si presenta l'emissario di un nascente impero che ha intenzione di ripristinare l'esercito appena possibile per avere un vantaggio sulle altre nazioni...

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