When you’re an Audible member you get some audiobooks as part of the deal. That works well for me because sometimes I just want noise in the background and don’t want to worry about missing a few minutes here and there.
It was in this spirit of not really caring that I downloaded The Kraken Wakes, a 1953 horror novel by John Wyndham, an Englishman. I thought it’d be about ships battling a really big octopus, but the story is far more uncanny than that. After a certain point I really started to listen and stopped having it on as background noise. This story is unsettling and, in parts, surprisingly frightening. Wyndham clearly had an eye for the nightmarish.
The Kraken Wakes begins in a similar way to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Strange balls of fire shoot down from the sky. But instead of hitting land, they disappear beneath the sea. What happens next takes years to unfold. I won’t spoil it for you by giving too much away.
This story has a strange relevance to us today in this era of noticeable climate crisis. The creatures beneath the sea have a slow-motion impact on the whole world. How people react reminded me of how we behave today. The Kraken Wakes doesn’t share the tone of that recent movie about climate denial, Don’t Look Up, but it echoes it all the same.
Another interesting thing about The Kraken Wakes is the technology. We’re all used to historical stories where people had no electronics at all. Similarly, we’re used to futuristic tales of faster-than-light travel and matter transporters. This book is about a time when tech was neither historical nor futuristic. In 1953, the world was very like ours but not quite. They had telephones, tape recorders, television and radio, cars, planes and nuclear bombs. But there was a lot they still didn’t have.
The first satellite didn’t go into space until 1957. So in The Kraken Wakes there are no satellites to help people monitor the sea creature situation. When anyone wants to find out what’s happening in remote parts of the world they have to travel there. It seems mind boggling today.
And of course, there was no internet either. When they wanted to know what was going on, the public had to rely on journalists, rumours and word of mouth.
Here in the year 2022 many people seem to spend a lot of time being cross with 20th-century society. How could they not act on the environment sooner?!?!? What were they playing at? I think The Kraken Wakes shows how much more difficult it was for people to get an accurate picture of world events. And how much harder it was to obtain scientific information. Despite all the retro TV shows around today, it’s easy for us to forget how different the 20th century was.
The Kraken Wakes audiobook is read by the actor Alex Jennings. His TV and movie roles include the Duke of Windsor in The Crown, Prince Charles in The Queen, and King Leopold in Victoria. I enjoyed his narration and thought his voice was well suited to a British story set in the 1950s.
Coincidentally, another John Wyndham story is coming out on Sky TV this June. Watch out for The Midwich Cuckoos.