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Starchild’s Play: John Wyndham’s Chocky

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads a classic story of alien possession by the master of British science fiction

What if your son had an imaginary friend with whom he often conversed, answering questions that nobody had apparently asked, and behaving as though this invisible and seemingly immaterial Other were the most natural thing in the world? Many parents will probably have observed such a thing with their own children. But what, then, if the idea started to take root, a small but nevertheless nagging doubt, that this imaginary friend was not imaginary at all, but something objectively real, which had inhabited your child’s brain and was capable of speaking directly to him through some form of thought-transference?

John Wyndham’s late novel Chocky, published in 1968, just one year before his death (although it was based on a novelette published five years earlier), ponders this latter question. Read the rest of this entry

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Crusoe in Concrete: J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reappraises J. G. Ballard’s 1970s masterpiece

‘Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.’ This remark by J. G. Ballard, who has a claim to being one of the most important English writers of the second half of the twentieth century, strikes at the heart of what drives his fiction. And although it’s not his most famous book, for me the remarkable tour de force that is Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island best demonstrates this.

Ballard has always struck me as a curious mixture of H. G. Wells and William Burroughs, in so far as he can be likened to anybody. Certainly, his novels and stories frequently have the clarity and simplicity of concept that we see in Wells’s fiction, just as the narratives driven by these concepts proceed to undo that simplicity by showing the complications that inevitably ensue. Read the rest of this entry

Wells’s Heir? John Wyndham’s The Seeds of Time

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle dusts off the half-forgotten science-fiction stories of John Wyndham

A good many of the books that feature in this weekly Friday column are found in charity shops while I’m looking for something else. So it was with this week’s featured book, or rather pile of books, by John Wyndham, who has been called the most successful British science-fiction writer after H. G. Wells. In his lifetime, Wyndham was a bestselling novelist. How many people read his novels and short stories now, I wonder?

Like many people, I knew the titles before I picked up the books: The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids. A number of Wyndham’s novels have been successfully adapted for film, with The Midwich Cuckoos being made into a feature film titled Village of the Damned on not one but two occasions. ‘Triffid’ has even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as follows: Read the rest of this entry