The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 24: The Outward Urge (John Wyndham, 1959)

Books left: 2. Weeks left: 5 (oooh. Panicked rush produced gains. Maybe I’ll just have a little rest. Just five minutes.)

There are not, at any time, many people who have – what do you call it in English? – Divine discontent? Vision? Most men like to be settled among their familiar things with a notice on the door: “Do Not Disturb.” They would still have that notice hanging outside their caves if it were not for the few discontented men. 

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John Wyndham, best known for The Day of the Triffids, was an intelligent man of wide experience who dabbled in careers including farming, law, commercial art, advertising and the military as well as writing.

His scientific imagination is formidable – this is the man who brought us, among many other titles, not only the Triffids but The Chrysalids, The Midwich Cuckoos (better known under the name of film adaptation The Village of the Damned) and The Kraken Wakes, one of my most beloved novels and one that gave me a lifelong passion for sea monsters.

His biography points out he even tried writing detective fiction, which gives me an immediate thump of excitement and urge to rush off and start Googling. But one book at a time Emma.

It’s fascinating to discover what such a man imagined would be the stages and methods of man’s exploration of space, writing as he did a decade before the first Moon landing. And he doesn’t stop at the Moon – chapters one to four are The Space Station, set in 1994, The Moon, in 2044, Mars, in 2094 and Venus in 2144. The fifth, published for the first time in another edition two years later and thereafter alongside the others in its Penguin editions, is The Emptiness of Space: The Asteroids 2194 and is a melancholic and slightly odd little addendum, only 18 pages long.

Wyndham ties them together with the device of the Troon family, whose successive generations each play key roles in the milestones each chapter relates, thanks to their unquenchable, seemingly genetic yen for space.

It’s fascinating to see how Wyndham visualises the technology involved, the characteristics of Mars and Venus, the particulars of humans dealing with life in space and zero-gravity and the politics of those left behind, dealing with the inevitable question: who owns space?

He is one of my favourite writers and his incisive political mind, which helped make The Kraken Wakes such a chillingly realistic read, is at its sharpest in dealing with questions such as these. In this book as in all others his writing is quiet, dry and mannered but crackling with suspense and the pull of the unknown.

In fact I could not detect at all the presence of another voice, namely Lucas Parkes, acknowledged as a co-author on the cover. I felt vindicated in this when a search revealed that Lucas Parkes was a pen-name Wyndham occasionally used and in this case, the book being closer to conventional hard science fiction style and less like Wyndham’s other novels, publishers decided to use the joint byline. At least this is according to Wikipedia.

The book slipped down easily enough but I must confess, not accompanied by the sense of excitement or compulsion I usually feel with a Wyndham. I suspect my indifference is due at least in part to my well-documented dislike of short stories – this book’s parts are better described as related short stories rather than chapters. Each has a new setting, time period and introduces a new principal character, though of course each is a Troon and they are linked by their blood and their singular obsession.

So it may be only a matter of personal taste, but I will pass this one on as a curiosity to amuse space buffs, to satisfy the appetites of this Project to burn away all extraneous matter and leave only what is holy. In fact, in a show of unprecedented bravery I am just going to keep The Kraken Wakes as my favourite and let the rest go.

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One thought on “The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 24: The Outward Urge (John Wyndham, 1959)

  1. Pingback: Ready, Player Two? Ernest Cline’s Armada and how it measures up | DAMAGE CATASTROPHIC

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