skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
[personal profile] skygiants
I'm familiar with John Wyndham as the author of such science fiction classics as Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes, but I'd never heard of The Chrysalids before reading it for work book club.

The Chrysalids is I think the earliest example I've ever encountered of the now-familiar trope, Psychic Kids Against Cruel World. In this particular case, the cruel world is a post-apocalyptic future in what I think is strongly implied to be northern Canada, which has set up a strict religious farming society in response to massive nuclear destruction.

The fact that protagonist David is a Psychic Kid isn't actually revealed until a few chapters in, after David has already talked us through his friendship with six-toed Sophie, Sophie's parents' attempt to hide her 'mutation', the eventual discovery of Sophie's extra toe by the authorities, and Sophie's family's attempt to flee. Only then is David like, "ALSO, by the way, I have a telepathic bond with my cousin Rosemary and a couple other random kids from the closest six towns or so and we all live in terror lest anyone should find out and denounce us as mutants! GOOD TIMES."

Eventually a couple things start to disturb the tenuous balance that keeps David and his other psychic friends safe and out of suspicion:

- one teenage telepathic girl decides to marry a local non-telepathic boy, despite the fact that all of her friends think this is a terrible idea -- as it, in fact, turns out very definitely to be
- David's baby sister turns out to be an ENORMOUSLY POWERFUL telepath who is CONSTANTLY SCREAMING at all the other telepathic kids ALL THE TIME because she DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE AN INDOOR TELEPATH VOICE, which means that suddenly all the telepathic kids are, like, running out to the middle of the woods together for no apparent reason because Petra fell into a hole and will not shut up in their heads
- also, while we're at it, Petra informs David that there are some other people out there she's been chatting with, well beyond the bounds of what the rest of the community considers dead world; they're super far away! but they're there!

You probably have a sense of the kind of book this is by now, I think. It's a very good example of this kind of book; maybe the ur-example? In any case, I enjoyed it, in a grim and postapocalyptic but not hopeless sort of way.

Date: 2017-03-14 07:58 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Photo of me with my 2012 Purim beard, with stripes shaven into it. (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I think Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human predates The Chrysalids as an example of the trope by a couple of years.

Date: 2017-03-14 08:52 pm (UTC)
kore: Sam Wilson and Jane foster kiss as Cap and Thor (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Yeah,More than Human was published in 1953 and was an expansion of Baby is Three, which was in the 1952 Galaxy https://archive.org/stream/galaxymagazine-1952-10/Galaxy_1952_10#page/n5/mode/2up Chrysalids came out in 1955.

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Date: 2017-03-14 08:49 pm (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
Oooh, it's ages since I read "The Chrysalids", but I do remember enjoying it.

Date: 2017-03-14 08:51 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
I remember reading this at school now I've read your plot summary, which is confusing as a little quick googling reveals that what I've been thinking of as The Chrysalids for years is actually Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, which is similarly psychic kids in a village, but less positively so.

Date: 2017-03-14 09:22 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
what I've been thinking of as The Chrysalids for years is actually Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, which is similarly psychic kids in a village, but less positively so.

I can see how that would happen! I did read both, but forgot about The Chrysalids until just now.

Date: 2017-03-15 04:20 pm (UTC)
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] larryhammer
Okay, The Midwich Cuckoos must be the one I read, as the plot summary of the post sounds both right and wrong to me.

Date: 2017-03-14 09:20 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
David's baby sister turns out to be an ENORMOUSLY POWERFUL telepath who is CONSTANTLY SCREAMING at all the other telepathic kids ALL THE TIME because she DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE AN INDOOR TELEPATH VOICE, which means that suddenly all the telepathic kids are, like, running out to the middle of the woods together for no apparent reason because Petra fell into a hole and will not shut up in their heads

That's wonderful. The protagonist of Cordwainer Smith's Norstrilia (1964/1975) has shouty, erratic telepathy, which in a community of normally communicative telepaths makes him an outlier and a risk and in part explains why he goes offplanet, purchases the planet Earth, and accidentally gets involved in a civil rights revolution, although some of that just kind of happens to him.

I read a bunch of John Wyndham in middle school, but I just had to change this statement mid-sentence because I did read The Chrysalids; I just remembered nothing about the characters and everything about Tribulation, Blasphemies, and the dangerous moral uncertainty of the Manx cat. I'm interested that Wyndham wrote The Chrysalids first and then The Midwich Cuckoos, which also describes a society of not quite human children (mutants in the first case, aliens in the second) who can communicate mind-to-mind with each other, only as the title suggests the later set are destructive, amoral, and must be destroyed.

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Date: 2017-03-14 10:49 pm (UTC)
kore: Sam Wilson and Jane foster kiss as Cap and Thor (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I was trying to think of "telepathic baby stories" and then OH, of course remembered Bradbury's horrific "The Small Assassin." Only no, apparently that baby isn't telepathic at all, just with the "intelligence and mind" of a full-grown adult and so therefore it's psychotic, because it's trapped in a baby. //shudders

Apparently there are telepathic babies in an eighties novel called A Cage of Butterflies, but I never read it.

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A Cage of Butterflies

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Date: 2017-03-14 09:24 pm (UTC)
kore: Sam Wilson and Jane foster kiss as Cap and Thor (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I think it's more famous as a post-nuclear holocaust book than a psychic kids book?That was how I remembered it anyway, when I was reading a lot of post-nuke books as a teenager. I remember this was deeeeeepressing and the horribly stifling fundamentalist regime was so well-done I couldn't bear to finish it. Altho apparently I missed out on a controversial deus ex machina ending.

Wyndham's having a renaissance right now thanks to the NYRB and some other prestige reprints, and he's often compared to Wells, but I find him much more depressing and humourless than Wells. Wells has that "sensawunda" even in the Time Machine with that awful glimpse of the far far future; you can really tell Wyndham's writing post-WWII, post-austerity, post- the Enlightenment period of scifi where just coming up with the ideas themselves was new and fun. He's a little like Orwell, but without the politics (which is kind of like saying, "like water but not wet," but oh well). Aldiss was terribly snippy about him in Billion Year Spree (where I first got a lot of information about sff writers, in addition to the very old Encyclopedia of Science Fiction) and said his post-apoc stuff was "cozy," which made me wonder in horror what Aldiss would consider uncozy.

Date: 2017-03-14 09:58 pm (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)
From: [personal profile] legionseagle
Wyndham has a much better sense of humour than Wells, really. Trouble with Lichen is hilarious, and the running gag about Sex is my Adventure in The Day of the Triffids has always been something I treasure.

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Date: 2017-03-14 10:00 pm (UTC)
frith_in_thorns: (ME Citadel)
From: [personal profile] frith_in_thorns
omg I was given that book by my dad when I was 10 (he hadn't actually read it...) and I'm sure it's one of my formative influences. I don't think it was the first post-apocolyptic book I'd read (well, definitely not, I read Triffids first), and not even the first post-nuclear, but it was my first encounter with the sort of purposely insular blood-and-hellfire setup, I think. (I'm in the UK, I get the feeling I'd have encountered it earlier in US books.)

Crysalids is still my favourite Wyndham, but I really enjoy him as an author (although some social attitudes in particular haven't aged well -- Lichen springs to mind) -- he does this very slow, gradual build of momentum really well where there are a few striking events but it's very hard to pin down, say, a page or so on which the plot turns as the whole set-up gradually slides off a cliff. They're so grim. I love them.

Date: 2017-03-14 11:41 pm (UTC)
st_aurafina: Rainbow DNA (Default)
From: [personal profile] st_aurafina
I loved the Chrysalids! I think it's my favourite Wyndham. That I later went on to join X-Men fandom probably says a lot.

Date: 2017-03-15 08:21 am (UTC)
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)
From: [personal profile] vass
- David's baby sister turns out to be an ENORMOUSLY POWERFUL telepath who is CONSTANTLY SCREAMING at all the other telepathic kids ALL THE TIME because she DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO USE AN INDOOR TELEPATH VOICE

That reminds me a minor Anne McCaffrey character, in one of the Pegasus books. Wasn't there a teenage girl in that who had an incredibly loud telepathic voice?

Date: 2017-03-15 07:42 pm (UTC)
weaver: (Default)
From: [personal profile] weaver
oooh this was one of the first books i remember reading! Now I need to go read it again.

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Date: 2017-03-20 02:21 am (UTC)
withherhands: (Peanut Butter Kitty Time)
From: [personal profile] withherhands
I actually read this one in school! We read this in Grade 10, along with "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "The Merchant of Venice" for our dose of Shakespeare. As you can see, there was a theme to that year. ;)

I should really re-read it; I remember liking it more than "1984" or "Brave New World" (the latter was a school text, the former not), mainly because it seemed more hopeful at the end than the other dystopian fiction I read around that time. It's been more than 20 years since I read it, though, so it might be interesting to re-read it and see how it stands up to Older Me.

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