Thursday, July 04, 2013

John Wyndham - Web

John Wyndham is best known for three superb science fiction novels, The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes and The Chrysalids. He is less well known for his short stories, which are often marked by wonderfully subtle British humour (I recommend Pawley's Peepholes as a wonderful example of this), or a great sense of the macabre.

Web was not published until ten years after his death. In a bare 140 pages Wyndham tells a terrifying tale of human fallibility in the face of nature. Its a tight novel, shorn of any embellishment. While there are lots of characters, we know a minimum about them, because the story here is not really about people, but what happens to them.

A millionaire English lord desperate to be remembered for posterity for more than simply endowing a college fund, decides to create a Utopia in the middle of the Pacific. Choosing the remote island of Tanakuata he dispatches a small group of colonists, armed with the latest technology and backed up by large sums of money.

The island is the real story here. Shaded in mist at the beginning, we know little of the physical place, but we know its history. Tales of shipwreck and cannibalism and more recently the betrayal of the islanders who lived there before the place was hit by radiation from a nearby testing of a nuclear bomb. Readers will not be surprised to know that it is here that it all goes wrong.

This is a genuinely creepy novel, that doesn't shy from some interesting philosophical musings on the relationship between humans and nature. But its one that will probably sit longer in the mind than some longer and more detailed books. It'll also probably make you check for cobwebs before you sleep.

"Strange, so few birds... I'd have expected thousands of birds."

1 comment:

pechorinsjournal said...

Web was always one of my favourite Wyndhams, and it's much overlooked so nice to see someone read it. Glad you liked it.