Classic Sci-Fi: THE KRAKEN WAKES - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal awakens the Kraken!

The alien invasion story is one that has both captivated readers and viewers while also receiving the periodical reinvention. Yet, there are tales, sometimes decades old, that continue to resonate. The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham is one such example and one that has lost none of its power since its first publication nearly seventy years ago in 1953.

In some ways, it's easy to look at The Kraken Wakes and think of it as an aquatic take on The War of the Worlds. It is, after all, a semi-journalistic account of an alien invasion in which our protagonists, husband and wife Michael and Phyllis Watson of the English broadcasting Company, are present for specific events while relaying others. Indeed, like HG Wells's work, the invaders arrive out of the sky in a series of curious fireballs. From then on, they are rarely seen but are a lingering menace over much of the novel, but with their appearance being all the more effective as a result. There's a definite lineage from Wells to Wyndham's tale, published the same year that a celebrated film version of the former was released.

To say that was all there is to Wyndham's novel would be to do it a disservice of the highest order. The Kraken Wakes is not the tale of a lightning assault upon humanity and the Earth as envisaged by Wells (or, indeed, director Rolland Emmerich with Independence Day). Instead, it is a slow invasion, one that occurs in three phases, which our narrator shapes his narrative around. What begins with fireballs and odd activity in the depths of the world's oceans leads to attempts at military assault, causing an escalation that leads first to land assaults as the invaders roll into coastal towns and, eventually, something that will be all too familiar to a twenty-first-century readership: the melting of the ice caps and the flooding of cities. Wyndham offers readers a ringside view to the end of the world piece by piece, at the hands of an enemy largely invisible to us.

In other ways, this nearly seventy-year-old novel remains prescient. As the timescale suggests, this is a gradual process over the space of a few years. Through Watson’s account, we experience reactions to events as they get gradually worse, and how they cover events as journalists. They watch as the crisis builds with people taking only gradual notice of it and expert warnings being dismissed. Cold War tensions, too, come into play, hampering responses to events by governments and allowing some, such as the wife of one of the Watson's friends, to go on believing the Russians are behind things. With debates over climate change and other events taking place as I write these words in the spring of 2020, Wyndham's novel feels oddly prophetic at times.

While written in the 1950s, and having some of the trappings of the period, Wyndham's novel has a timeless and timely quality to it. The Kraken Wakes remains a unique tale of an extraterrestrial invasion, one that takes place largely unseen and which we are seemingly helpless to stop. And in part down to our inability and unwillingness to deal with things, something which is a little too easy to believe these days.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

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