Posted on | July 6, 2010 | 8 Comments
When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city -which was strange because it began before I even knew what a city was.
So opens John Wyndham’s post-nuclear catastrophe dystopian novel, as narrated by David, a child living in a small place called Labrador. Not much is known about the nuclear war, how humanity survived, and the extent of the damage done. That’s all in the past – all that matters is the present state of affairs, the present society, where mutation of any form is illegal, and anyone “different” is sent out to the Fringes and cast away from society.
It’s a religious society, which staunchly believes that “any creature that shall seem to be human, but is not formed thus is not human. it is neither man nor woman. It is blasphemy against the true Image of God, and hateful in the sight of God,” and David’s father is one of those people who follows this to the tee. Everyone is taught the basic moralities of this society at a very young age:
Watch Thou for the Mutant
The Norm is the Will of God
The Devil is the Father of Deviation
and few, if any, question these maxims. However, when David befriends a “mutant,” a girl with six toes, he starts puzzling over the ways of his world. Flowers, people and animals which are considered to be “deviant” are done away with, and even new born babies are inspected by the officials, before they are given the “certificate of humanity.”
David himself is “different” though – he can telepathically communicate with a group of children (think Midnight’s Children). When the authorities discover the “mutation” of this group of arguably gifted children, they flee to the Fringes, to escape the fate that awaits them in Labrador, with the Inspectors hot on their heels.
While this book is essentially an adventure story, it’s also a discussion on human nature and society. If we juxtapose this against the present world, the two words that come to mind immediately are fundamentalism and conformity. The religion is laid out for everyone to follow, without them having a say in it. The Bible and another book, Repentances, survived the nuclear horror, and everyone is compelled to follow them, without challenging or contradicting any of their sayings. However, if we don’t challenge society’s beliefs or their norms, how do we figure out what’s fair and what’s right? How do we grow? How do we improve ourselves? And, if everyone is identical, and there’s no tolerance for any “mutation,” how do we evolve? How do we become a “developed” society?
I think those are the points Wyndham stresses on, as he creates this post-apocalyptic world. However, this book is fast-paced and essentially a thriller, so much so that the themes he discusses blend in with the story, and very much become a part of it: from the time David questions the beliefs of the society he belongs to, to the time he ponders Enlightment.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book – my first Wyndham incidentally. Post-apocalyptic dystopian novels seem to be a genre I rather “enjoy” (slightly warped?), so are there any other books you’d recommend? Or, any other books by Wyndham? Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are two that have been recommended to me recently.