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The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham

The Kraken Wakes (original 1953; edition 1970)

by John Wyndham

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1,405398,585 (3.66)76
It started with fireballs raining down from the sky and crashing into the oceans' deeps. Then ships began sinking mysteriously and later 'sea tanks' emerged from the deeps to claim people. . . For journalists Mike and Phyllis Watson, what at first appears to be a curiosity becomes a global calamity. Helpless, they watch as humanity struggles to survive now that water - one of the compounds upon which life depends - is turned against us. Finally, sea levels begin their inexorable rise and the world looks set to drown. . . The Kraken Wakesis a brilliant novel of how humankind responds to the threat of its own extinction and, ultimately, asks us what we are prepared to do in order to survive. 'Ingenious, horrifying and well told' - Guardian… (more)
Title:The Kraken Wakes
Authors:John Wyndham
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (1970), Paperback
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)

  1. 20
    Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (generalkala)
  2. 10
    War with the Newts by Karel Čapek (bertilak)
  3. 10
    Flood by Stephen Baxter (bertilak)
    bertilak: Two different accounts of extreme increases of sea level.
  4. 00
    The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: There are similarities in style and content between Hoyle and Wyndham. Two classics of British Sci Fi.
  5. 00
    The Swarm by Frank Schätzing (divinenanny)
    divinenanny: Almost the same premis, but expanded and modernised.
  6. 00
    The Great Wash (UK) / The Secret Masters (US) by Gerald Kersh (SomeGuyInVirginia)
  7. 00
    After the Rain by John Bowen (edwinbcn)

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» See also 76 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
I was pleasantly surprised by this. Depressingly not having read neither Day of the Triffids nor The War of the Worlds yet, but being a huge fan of black and white B-Movies, I was hoping this book would tap into that "quaint" view of science that often seems to come through in the "sci fi" of the 50s.

And in a way, it lived up to that expectation. But at the same time, it was also more than that - a fascinating slice into the mindset of the post-war world. An exploration of a time of uncertainty - rapid technological progress amongst a shuffling, threatening backdrop of all-too-global politics. These threads of the book, along with the reaction of the press and the public it lays out, still resonate today, perhaps for all the same reasons.

The book progresses at a good, interesting speed, and it quickly becomes clear that this is a 'what if' affair. In the same way that 'Death at Intervals' by Jose Saramago focuses not on the problem at hand, but on how it affects whole populations, so The Kraken Wakes also becomes a mirror to ourselves. "Science fiction" is a misnomer. This is a book on coping with change, conflict and, most of all, unknowability.

Recommended. ( )
  6loss | Nov 7, 2019 |
The Kraken Wakes

What makes John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes (1953) one of the horror genre's first postmodern novels?

Journalists Mike and Phyllis Watson have their honeymoon cruise interrupted when a spate of fireballs shoot across the sky. More fireballs crash into the water all over the world until a pattern emerges: they are aiming for the deepest parts of our oceans. Exploratory diving loses lives and state-of-the-art equipment. Everything up to and including nuclear bombs are dropped to destroy them. Then the mysterious alien visitors who have taken up residence at the highest bathymetric conditions on Earth start to fight back...

The unreliable narrator (a frequent feature of the postmodern novel) is a role played in The Kraken Wakes by the Press as a whole. Mike and Phyllis frequently reflect on the tension between high and low culture, and their role as journalists in producing stories that sacrifice accuracy and integrity for advertising revenue:

"The Tape considered it but they dropped it because without some weighty kind of backing it would be just another Tape scare and the circulation figures hadn't justified their last two scares."

Parodying modern style is essential in the postmodern novel. Hack journalism designed to frighten and entertain, but which has scant regard for getting hold of the facts, is fair game for Wyndham:

"'It is what is known as an angle. It means in translation that nobody has the ghost of an idea what happened to the Yatsushiro. Consequently she has been classified as a mystery of the sea. This gives her a natural affinity with other mysteries of the sea in the white heat of composition.'"

Any self-respecting work of postmodernism needs to be aware of itself as a work of art or literature. In The Kraken Wakes, the authorities seek to control the narrative with twists and turns that change as their agenda develops. One minute, we're supposed to be afraid of the bathies and stay out of the water. The next minute technology's winning the battle and we're supposed to be piling back into ocean liners. The whole novel develops along these lines. Mike and his wife, at times seeming almost aware that they are in a work of fiction, mock the shifts in their own story and, as consummate professionals, tailor their copy to blame the Russians or aliens, as their editor requires:

"'Ah! The blinding light of science! So reassuring for the rest of us. Observe the nicer points. Not just general metal fatigue, not even weld fatigue, which might alarm people about welded ships in general? No, just the fatigue of an unspecified alloy or two used in a Japanese ship...The sea is as safe as it ever was.'"

And of course the authorities are ready to jump on the bandwagon in the interest of keeping public attention deflected from more pressing worries:

"The tendency to play the things up to an extent which was almost creating alarm puzzled me until I discovered that in certain quarters almost anything which diverted attention from troubles at home was considered worthy of encouragement. Sea tanks were particularly suitable for this purpose; their sensation value was high."

The Kraken Wakes doesn't come close to being the first postmodern novel. Cervantes' Don Quixote published in 1605 takes that honour, but all the same it was pretty quick off the mark. Postmodern novels were all the rage in science fiction in the postwar period but few horror novels used its narrative techniques. I'm not sure why, because The Kraken Wakes amply justifies that horror and postmodernism are very natural bedfellows.

Enjoy! ( )
1 vote johncadamssf | May 21, 2019 |
I always love John Wyndham books, something about the matter of fact, somewhat old fashioned voice to the protagonists. They are a bit dated and you could say sexist, but there is usually a strong female character proving the 1950s male characters wrong. In The Kraken Wakes we have a mysterious alien invasion and it shows how ill-equipped we are to deal with a war with a creature so different to us. It works well as a parable about climate change and sea level change, as well as exploring how quickly society can break down, and how ineffective government can be in a time of crisis. Reading this in late 2018 I couldn't help thinking of Brexit parallels. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Jan 13, 2019 |
Horrifying and well told story of the terrifying consequences when an unknown threat takes control of the oceans, beginning with sinking ships before moving on to raids on seaside areas and then melting the ice caps. Particularly poignant given the current threat of global warming ( )
  AccyP | Dec 20, 2018 |
In 1953 John Wyndham's tale of alien invasion, following in the footsteps of H.G. Wells, was published in England as "The Kraken Wakes". That same year an American version was published in America as a Ballantine paperback original (35c on the cover) and that was what was in my hand as I read, "Out of the Deeps". There are no Krakens as we might think of them in either book. According to wikipedia I was warned there are differences between the two books. This was Wyndham's second novel, following upon the breakout "Day of the Triffids."

After finishing the American paperback I then listened to an audiobook of the British version, The Kraken Wakes. I never think it entirely fair to review an audiobook vs a print book since so much can depend on the delivery of a narrator, plus or minus. So I tried to focus on the story itself to decide overall strengths and weaknesses of the different versions of the story. As it happens I like both versions of the story, and I thought the narrator very good, and I think I'd give a slight nod to the British version as the better of the two. The main story is told in 3 parts, named Phase One, Phase Two and Phase Three. The British version begins quite differently - there is an extended preface that the American novel lacks, and I liked it. It also describes the choice of the title, coming from a poem by Tennyson.

Below the thunders of the upper deep;
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

I think the British preface is a very nice introduction to what we read. It lets us know right off that the narrator is looking back on the past and how the world has changed and how he and his wife, the two of them an integral part of the story, lived through it.

The British novel is a much longer and elaborate story. I noted in a great number of places that descriptive bits and extended conversations had been cut out for the American version, as well as changes to phrasing here and there. As I listened I noted some of the added detail in the British version was quite good and probably should or could have been left in, and in other places sections were chopped out or completely rewritten, sometimes for the better in the American version as the dialogue gets excessively wordy at times. There is overall quite a lot of material in the British edition that does not appear in the American. The American version of the story comes across as a much tighter story and supplies an ending with added material which was a plus. In sum, the American version was quite satisfactory and then listening to the British version I was able to pick up extra details and backstory.

So what is the story about - it is about an alien invasion that was not recognized for a number of years. When the monsters do show up things get a little wild and entertaining. We never actually see the invaders as far as I could tell. By the end much of humanity is gone and the world has been vastly changed by rising sea levels. The invading enemy has suffered as well but would seem to be victorious. Who were they and where did they come from and why? These questions were asked early on. We never find out. The story leaves us with a sense that humanity might eventually survive due to an invention by the Japanese that seems to destroy the aliens. But who knows - the world as it once was is gone. I liked the American ending of the novel much better.

The story suffers from weaving the Russians and the Cold War into things far too much, even for a story published in 1953. I was also bothered by an excess of denial (especially in the original Brit version but both versions suffer from it) of what was going on - this was after all prime-time in the UFO sighting years. Once or twice, fine, but on and on year after year, I just didn't buy it. Still, this was fairly good reading of an oldie and I'll give it a 3 star OK. ( )
  RBeffa | Feb 26, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wyndham, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, C.W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buddingh', C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jennings, AlexNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kannosto, MattiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lord, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Willock, HarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The nearest iceberg looked firmly grounded.
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