A week or two ago, in between sessions of playing Fallout 4 that were longer than I care to admit, I read John Wyndham’s The Crysalids. I loved it. Wyndham’s charming prose and interesting angle on post-apocalyptica made me eager to read more of his work.
A friend and I decided on The Midwich Cuckoos. After finishing the book in a few sittings, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. In Cuckoos, Wyndham describes events in a quaint English village in which the women find themselves mysteriously impregnated with children that are not of our kin. The children are parasites, parasites (from space?) that look almost identical to humans physically, but possess psychic cognitive powers well beyond our comprehension. It’s an interesting premise, one that would make for a great story, but unfortunately I found Wyndham’s treatment of it rather dull.
I found the The Chrysalids strength to be the focus on character and interpersonal dynamics. Cuckoos, on the other hand, is written from a 10,000 foot view. The narrator’s inner life is mostly opaque, and one gets the feeling that he’s conveniently in the right place to witness the discussions that Wyndham wants to have about the ethical and spiritual implications of the alien(?) infiltration of human society that he’s describing.
As I said, much of the story is told from a 10,000 foot view. It’s clear that Wyndham is less interested in the personal experiences of the Midwich locals than he is in Midwich itself, as an idea, a question: what would happen if humanity found itself in competition for survival with a superior genus of homo?
With the exception of Zelleby, the local scholar of Midwich, there are really no interesting characters to speak of. And Zelleby is only really interesting in his moments of speculation on the nature of the parasitic Children and the implications for the future of the human race. The rest of the time, he speaks in the same tone as the rest of the characters as the disjointed clumsily jumps from one moment in time to the next.
The Midwich Cuckoos is less of a novel and more of a thought-experiment. Not to say that thought-experiments can’t make for good literature. It’s only that this one was not that interesting. It was a cool idea, with an okay plot, interspersed by moments of somewhat interesting reflections on human evolution. Overall, it was just alright.