Review: The Kraken Wakes (book)
Author: John Wyndham
Genre: sci-fi, post-apocalyptic
Notes: the title is a reference to Alfred Tennyson’s poem “The Kraken”.
Mike Watson works as a reporter for the EBC, and his wife Phyllis writes documentary scripts and works as a reporter as well. It’s during their honeymoon, however, that they witness a strange and important phenomenon worth being reported. They are on a cruise, and from the ship they see five “objects” fall from the sky and land in the ocean. Meteors of some kind, they guess. Watson still reports the event, but it doesn’t get much attention from the public. Later, Watson and Phyllis find out that it’s not the first time it happens: similar “objects” have fallen into oceans before, always in the deepest zones. From what they gather, they come from outer space - from a gas giant, speculates a scientist, and that would explain their need to reach high pressure areas - and they have to be some form of intelligent life. The first attempts to reach this lifeform result in death and the sinking of several ships. These aliens start rebuilding the ocean soil to suit their needs, and it becomes clear that there can’t be a peaceful relationship between humans and them, especially when the attacks on the beaches start… And that’s only the beginning of a bigger catastrophe.
Rather than a “sudden” apocalypse, like in The Day of The Triffids, here we witness a different one. A gradual disaster, which is effective as a writing strategy because it feels very realistic. Here it’s aliens, but aren’t the planet’s conditions slowly worsening in our reality as well? Could humanity have prevented the actions of their alien invaders? It’s unclear, but it could have done more and that is for sure. Economy and events happening only in distant, “exotic” lands blind the eyes of many, who fail to see that it could happen everywhere. Watson and Phyllis are aware that something terrible will happen, but they can’t do anything to prevent it.They witness the horror from the deep firsthand, and they believe in professor Bocker, a scientist who tries to warn humanity of the upcoming danger but is labeled a catastrophist. And saying “I told you so” is not that effective when thousands have died.
Like in the best horror stories, we never actually see how these creatures look like. We see their actions, their methods, even their weapons, but we can never be sure of their form. It’s also striking how this species adapts to human response to their actions: if a strategy stops working they will come up with a new one, or change the conditions of the battlefield until they can have the upper hand. They become an interesting foe because their goal is identical (and thus opposite) to humanity’s: survival.
Another striking point in this novel is the couple of main characters: the story is told from Watson’s pov, and yet his wife Pyhllis is even more interesting than him, a badass documentary writer with a passion for construction (she literally build walls and structures), she is always in the front lines with Watson, determined to find the truth about the mystery that lies in the deep. The chemistry between the two is incredibly well-built and pleasing to read: they aren’t a perfect couple, they argue and have moments of sadness, but they’re ultimately very united. A couple that plans together survives together, right?
The abyss theme gives the novel a half-Lovecraftian, half-Jules Verne vibe, and yet it manages to be more realistic than both. Which, in turns, makes it even scarier. A must for fans of apocalyptic realities.