When David is old enough to realise that, though not visibly abnormal, mentally he – and others – are different, more than human, he is terrified of discovery. He lives in a land threatened by the twisted mutants of the cursed Fringes, a land where genetic conformity is the Will of God, and any deviation, from a minor quirk to a body warping-distortion, marks the sufferer as non-human, to be cruelly abused and ruthlessly cast out.
If their ability to communicate using thought alone is found out, David and his friends would be in terrible danger. They would have to run – but where to? And who is this new, distant thought-voice they can hear? Could it be from the impossible glittering cities that David has dreamt of, places from the past, from before God sent his terrible earth-scorching destruction to punish the wicked? And might it hold the key to their freedom..?
Just in case you get the wrong idea this book is not of the romantic comedy genre but is another fine offering from John Wyndham, author of such esteemed works as The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of The Triffids amongst others.
Wyndham writes in a style he calls ‘logical fantasy’, in the case of The Chrysalids, a major catastrophe has happened and we join a community that seems to be blindly following the doomed path to repeating the previous mistakes of our sometimes less than illustrious history.
Set around a post apocalyptic society, hundreds of years after ‘The Tribulation’ – the cause of which will be obvious to you intelligent readers – a pre-industrial society is trying to scrape out a living from the Earth and bring themselves back to the imagined utopia before the event happened. This society like so many is one fuelled by fears and propaganda where a terrible revenge is due to anybody who doesn’t conform.
Anybody different is considered evil and this is played out with some chilling nods to the pure race and all the hateful indoctrination that comes with it, as well as the religious mania that people in power use to cement their ideas over society. It makes for an interesting compare and contrast exercise with today’s society fraught as it is with aversion to change, fear of the other and the religious intolerance coming from all sides and all faiths.
This backdrop of paranoia creates a story charged with real and terrible danger. As everybody is clinging to the last vestiges of a dead world, David and his friends must come to terms with who they are, which brings new thoughts and feelings, whilst working out the mysteries that surround their group. What precisely have they have begun to sense and can they find a peace for themselves?
the author does a superb job of keeping the tension of the story, ratcheting up the prejudice and hostility whilst also showing the fundamental misunderstanding of so many characters actual beliefs – which seem hypocritical on closer examination – and regressive to society as a whole. It’s a fast paced book and feels very back to the earthy roots of humanity and is a welcome tonic to the usual survivors stories.
This tale of adaptation and change, the evolution of society and the danger of repeating the same mistakes as before is very much topical, what with fundamentalist words that are now in use on the news every day and the world seemingly going more than just a bit mental. The thoughts that Wyndham conveys are by no means subtle and it is a little dated in its writing but I like that it seems something that would be fitting for this new society relearning what it had previously. The whole feel of the book is satisfyingly grim but with hope.
This is classic sci-fi at its best, with a great dystopian world which made me an avid reader whilst sincerely caring for these characters and their plight. This is now hands down my favourite John Wyndham novel and a cracking read for anybody new to his work. The key elements for me are its horrific nature which is always darkly brooding in the background, coupled with the nice little touch of the geography of the new world and the ending which I thought was fascinating and left me speculating on the morals of all involved.