The Kraken Wakes
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Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The Kraken Wakes is an apocalyptic science fiction novel by John Wyndham, originally published by Michael Joseph in the United Kingdom in 1953, and first published in the United States in the same year by Ballantine Books under the title Out of the Deeps as a mass market paperback. The title is a reference to Alfred Tennyson's sonnet The Kraken. The eponymous kraken is a sea monster from Scandinavian folklore.
The novel describes escalating phases of what appears to be an invasion of Earth by never-seen aliens, as told through the eyes of Mike Watson, who works for the English Broadcasting Company (EBC) with his wife and co-reporter Phyllis. A major role is also played by Professor Alastair Bocker – more clear-minded and far-sighted about the developing crisis than everybody else, but with the habit of telling brutally unvarnished and unwanted truths.
Mike and Phyllis are witness to several major events of the invasion, which proceeds in a series of drawn-out phases; it in fact takes years before the bulk of humanity even realise that their world has been invaded.
In the first phase, objects from outer space land in the oceans. Mike and Phyllis happen to see five of the "meteors" falling into the sea, from the ship where they are sailing on their honeymoon. Eventually the distribution of the objects' landing points – always at ocean depths, never on land – implies intelligence.
The aliens are speculated to come from a gas giant, and thus can only survive under conditions of extreme pressures in which humans would be instantly crushed. The deepest parts of the oceans are the only parts of Earth in any way useful to them, and they presumably have no need or use for the dry land or even the shallower parts of the seas. Bocker puts forward the theory that the two species could co-exist indefinitely, hardly noticing each other's presence.
Humanity nevertheless feels threatened by this new phenomenon – particularly since the newcomers show signs of intensive work to adapt the ocean deeps to their needs. A British bathysphere is sent down to investigate, and is destroyed by the aliens with the loss of two lives. The British government responds by exploding a nuclear device in the same location.
As it turns out, the aliens have more means of getting at the humans than the other way around; a similar American attempt ends in disaster. Moreover, humanity is not united in the face of the mounting threat – the Cold War between West and East is well under way, with the two sides often suspiciously attributing the effects of the alien attacks to their human opponents, or refusing to co-operate based on different political ideals.
Phase two of the war starts when ships all over the globe begin to be attacked by unknown weapons and are rapidly sunk, causing havoc to the world economy. Shortly after, the aliens also start "harvesting" the land by sending up biological "sea tanks", which capture humans from coastal settlements, for reasons that are never made clear; the Watsons witness one of these assaults on a Caribbean island. These attacks are eventually met with enough retaliation from the various human militaries that "...their percentage of losses mounted and their returns diminished".
And so, in the final phase, the aliens begin melting the polar ice caps, causing sea levels to rise. London and other ports are flooded (the government relocates to Harrogate), causing widespread social and political collapse. The Watsons cover the ongoing story for the EBC until the radio (and organised social and political life in general) ceases to exist, whereupon they can only try to survive and escape a now-flooded London, eventually relocating to a Cornwall holiday cottage which due to the floods now exists on an island in its own right.
At the end, scientists in Japan develop an underwater ultrasonic weapon that kills the aliens. However, the global population has been reduced to between a fifth and an eighth of its pre-invasion level, and the world's climate has been unalterably changed.
Up to the end, humans have no clear idea what their opponents looked like. The most they have is some protoplasm which floated to the surface of the sea after the ultrasonic weapon was used.
As stated in the book by the protagonist, the book aims to demonstrate that an alien invasion of Earth could take a very different form from that in The War of The Worlds; publication of the book coincided with the release of 1953 film The War of the Worlds, an adaptation of H. G. Wells' classic work which got considerable attention from the general public and among science fiction fans in particular.
The theme of disastrous floods affecting both Britain and the Netherlands, prominent in the book's later part, might have been inspired by the then recent North Sea flood of 1953.
There are two different endings, depending on the book's printed origin:
- In US versions, the Watsons are tracked down by Bocker via helicopter, and he explains a great deal of what has happened to the world while Mike & Phyllis have been isolated - even describing the Japanese ultrasonic device in some detail.
- In the UK edition they are instead approached by a neighbour in a rowing boat, who gives them only a brief overview of what has happened in the world - excluding much of the detail and just mentioning that the Japanese have developed an ultrasonic device. He tells them that their names have been broadcast on radio, and that a "Council For Reconstruction" has been formed.
The UK edition is less bleak than the US version, implying that humanity has already begun to rebuild, and that civilisation survives - albeit at a lesser level than before.
Groff Conklin, reviewing the American edition, characterised the novel as "sheer melodrama, sure, but melodrama spiced with wit [and] with pungent commentary on human foibles... A truly satisfying shocker." In F&SF, Boucher and McComas selected the novel as one of the best science fiction books of 1953, describing it as "humanly convincing"; they praised the novel as "a solid and admirable story of small-scale human reactions to vast terror." P. Schuyler Miller found this novel superior to The Day of the Triffids, citing its "characteristic, deceptive quietness." New York Times reviewer J. Francis McComas similarly noted that while the novel was "somewhat quieter in tone" than Triffids, it would "nevertheless exert an even more lasting effect on the imagination." One newspaper reviewer, however, was less impressed, declaring that "[The novel's pace] is that of a slightly superior snail," indicating that this novel may make the reader impatient.
|Michael Watson||Robert Beatty||Jonathan Cake|
|Phyllis Watson||Grizelda Hervey||Saira Todd|
|Freddie Whittier||Hugh Falkus||David Fleeshman|
|Dr. Alistair Bocker||Arthur Lawrence||Russell Dixon|
|Capt. Winters RN||Edward Jewesbury||William Oxborrow|
The novel was adapted by John Keir Cross as a single 90-minute drama for the BBC Home Service, first broadcast on 28 April 1954. It was produced by Peter Watts. An adaptation by John Constable as a single 90-minute drama for BBC Radio 4 was first broadcast on 21 February 1998. It was produced by Susan Roberts, with music by Paul Gargill. This version was released on CD by BBC Audiobooks in 2007.
- "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, April 1954, p. 119
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, March 1954, p. 93.
- "Recommended Reading," F&SF, April 1954, p. 72.
- "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, September 1954, p. 152.
- "Spaceman's Realm", The New York Times Book Review, 10 July 1955, p. 15.
- "Time and Space", Hartford Courant, 7 February 1954, p. SM19
- Wyndham, John (1953), The Kraken Wakes (1st ed.), London: Michael Joseph.
- ——— (1953), Out of the Deeps (1st US ed.), New York: Ballantine.
- ——— (1955), The Kraken Wakes (1st Penguin ed.), London: Penguin.
- ——— (1970), The Kraken Wakes, London: Penguin, ISBN 0-14-001075-0.