This week’s book review is of British 1950’s sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos. I came across a battered 1970’s edition of John Wyndham’s novel in the Ryedale Dog Rescue charity shop in March. I don’t usually read sci-fi, but I thought I’d give The Midwich Cuckoos a go. Sometimes the best reads happen by chance.
The premise of the plot is pretty simple. An alien craft lands near the sleepy English village of Midwich, rendering all it’s inhabitants unconscious. Apart from a few accidental deaths, people recover quickly, with seemingly no ill effects. However, this is just the start of a strange series of events that effects the entire village for years.
I won’t spoil the plot for you, but the events of the story involve a struggle between the inhabitants of the village and invading aliens, with the usual dramatic conclusion. What I like about Wyndham’s novel is that the conflict is much more subtle and psychological than the usual run of 1950’s ‘robots with death rays’ stories. Wyndham raises some interesting questions about the limits of human intelligence and evolution. It’s a good story that makes you think, and they aren’t always easy to come by.
The Midwich Cuckoos is a fairly short book and the story moves along pretty quickly, even though the events take place over about ten years. At times the book seems a bit dated, which isn’t a problem if you approach it for what it is: a piece of groundbreaking sci-fi from 60 years ago. It also seems quite quaint at times: with its rural village setting it almost feels like an Agatha Christie novel with added spacemen.
On second thoughts though, this is one of it’s strengths. Midwich is an ordinary, actually very dull, place, and it’s this ordinariness that makes the growing horror of the situation seem worse. Faced with something literally out of this world, most villagers behave in a thoroughly civilised way. In the end it’s this approach that puts the world at risk, and only a violent conclusion is possible. I suppose it raises the question about whether it’s possible to adopt a humane approach to an inhuman species, who works to its own ruthless rules.
Despite it’s faults I enjoyed The Midwich Cuckoos. It reminded me of the almost cosy scares I got watching Dr Who as a kid.
If you fancy a shot at reading about Martians vs the Home Counties, why not give The Midwich Cuckoos a try. John Wyndham wrote several sci-fi novels along similar lines, the most famous probably being The Day of the Triffids. I enjoyed my trip back in time to face a possible version of our future, and found myself being entertained and challenged at the same time.