I can still count the number of sci-fi novels I’ve read on one hand. H.G. Wells – The War of the Worlds, H G Wells – The Invisible Man, John Wyndham – The Chrysalids, John Wyndham – The Day of the Triffids and now John Wyndham – The Midwich Cuckoos. I’m delighted to say that I’ve enjoyed all of them without exception. Perhaps I should read more. Do you have any recommendations?
I was particularly gratified reading The Midwich Cuckoos when, despite the paucity of my knowledge, I spotted and understood the intertextual allusion the H G Wells’ The War of the Worlds. I’ve read that I cried, an absolutely inappropriate feeling of achievement at the moment Wyndham’s main characters are despairing of their enemies and wishing for traditional aliens, aliens of the Martian, of the Wellsian kind. For Wyndham’s aliens are in human form, children born of Midwich women, who are all impregnated during an invasion which lasts a mere 24 hours. All kinds of ethical dilemmas rising to the surface when the civilized inhabitants of Midwich come to realise that the Children must be annihilated before they begin to annihilate.
Wyndham didn’t think of his works as sci-fi. He called them “logical fantasy”, which he wrote so logically, that the idea becomes plausible. The Midwich Cuckoos is not really focussed on the aliens or even the ultimate showdown. It’s an exploration of humanity, the consequences of the invasion and how middle England would remain civilised in the face of adversity. How the villagers pull together despite their burning resentment about being used in this way. The palpable relief when the births produce children, not two-headed, slimy deathray wielding monsters. Disquiet follows only a couple of weeks after the births and as the years pass, the differences and the supremacy of the Children becomes apparent.
It becomes manifest that these really are cuckoos in the human nest- another species that will ultimately herald the destruction of homo sapiens on the planet, should they be allowed to survive.
But who will undertake this loathsome task? An individual, the military, the government? It’s a mighty problem and one which Wyndham addresses with satirical bite. When is murder justified? Is it murder if the victims aren’t really human? How can a democratic government address the issue and still remain popular? The situation is fraught with weighty matters and while the issues are thoroughly aired between characters, scattered and well-paced dialogue ensures that plot is not sacrificed to debate. Sprinklings of well-timed humour add to the enjoyment of the read. We all know how canaries were used in the mines. Read chapter 1 to find out how one poor canary was used to map the boundary of the exclusion zone around Midwich during the 24-hour invasion. I shouldn’t laugh really but it’s impossible to resist ….. the poor bird!