The Kraken Wakes – John Wyndham (1953)
‘BELOW THE THUNDERS OF THE UPPER DEEP;
FAR, FAR BENEATH IN THE ABYSMAL SEA,
HIS ANCIENT, DREAMLESS, UNINVADED SLEEP
THE KRAKEN SLEEPETH…
UNTIL THE LATTER FIRE SHALL HEAT THE DEEP;
THEN ONCE BY MEN AND ANGELS TO BE SEEN,
IN ROARING HE SHALL RISE…
Ships are sinking for no apparent reason, carrying hundreds to a chill, dark, underwater grave. Strange fireballs race through the sky above the deepest trenches of the oceans. Something is about to show itself, something terrible and alien, a force capable of causing global catastrophe.
Humankind, having probed the uncharted vastness of the seas with men and machines, has found that it is not alone; a powerful and inexplicable presence lurks there. Has it mistaken our investigations for threats?
or could it be that this new intelligence is simply malevolent, intent on the destruction of those who have entered the fathomless deep it dwells within?’
Blurb from an undated Penguin edition, circa 2007
Although probably the weakest of Wyndham’s novels it is nonetheless interesting because of its themic relationship to his better-known works.
Mike and Phyllis Watson are two reporters for EBC (The English Broadcasting Corporation). In the prologue, in which they are watching icebergs float by, Phyllis suggests that her husband write a book of ‘how it all happened’, and Mike suggests that he start the book with some literary quote, in this case Tennyson, describing the Kraken, asleep in the deep. Thus, the reader is tantalised into entering the story which begins with mysterious fireballs crashing into the sea at points which mark the deepest areas of the oceans.
Before long, ships are disappearing, and then small islands start being invaded by ‘sea-tanks’ which exude jellyfish-like creatures who attach their tentacles to humans and drag them away to the sea.
Mike Watson is the narrator and, as usual, Wyndham creates a protagonist who is educated, middle-class and level-headed. Phyllis appears to be Mike’s equal in all things, and when working as a team to obtain information she is more than capable of employing her feminine wiles to persuade interviewees to talk more freely than they perhaps normally would.
Showing remarkable adaptability and versatility she even takes up bricklaying at one point – although admittedly for logical reasons which are made clear later in the novel.
Watson – as the narrator – writes very well and has a modicum of wit, reminiscent of a watered-down PG Wodehouse. It is, unfortunately, this style of reportage which is the novel’s failing.
As in all, I think, of Wyndham’s novels, the story develops over a long timescale, jumping months and sometimes years in order that changes can be observed. In other books, however, we are there with the protagonists, facing the triffids, or watching the sinister children of Midwich. Here, most of the action takes place off stage, reports are analysed by Mr and Mrs Watson who then interview military personnel or scientists. Eventually we do encounter the ‘bathies’ as they come to be known when they attack an island which Professor Bocker has predicted is ripe for invasion.
This section is Wyndham in top form, providing a truly gripping and imaginative experience which is eerily reminiscent of ‘War of The Worlds’. We soon return, however, to having to rely on ‘reports’ from various places in the world as to what the aquatic beasties are up to.
Again Wyndham has returned to the theme of the eternal battle between species in nature. If two sentient species exist on the same world, then they will soon be engaged in a battle for territory and resources.
What is very interesting about Wyndham’s invaders is that he postulates that they are not living creatures as we know them, but are some form of organic technology, an idea that was pretty radical for Nineteen Fifty Three. This suggestion, although tacitly accepted by the protagonists, is never fully explained or discussed.
One gets the impression that this is a novel that was written in a hurry, or at the very least was never fully revised before publication. The denouement seems particularly rushed, almost as if an editor had insisted on some upbeat ending which was hastily written in.