John Wyndham (1903–1969) created some of the most intriguing and intelligent science fiction of the 20th century. His gripping stories show ordinary, sometimes heroic characters reacting to unsettling or disastrous events that call into question the very nature of human society. With Wyndham’s writing, science fiction becomes an instrument to force us to look at our own world with fresh eyes and to examine our comfortable assumptions, from human superiority to the permanence of civilisation. These Folio editions feature superb illustrations by Patrick Leger and each novel is separately introduced by science-fiction writer Adam Roberts, who praises Wyndham’s narratives as ‘some of the most cunningly wound-up, potently memorable fictions of the century’.
'When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong ...’
Experimental biological engineering has created ‘triffids’ – walking plants with deadly whip-like stings and an intelligence that enables them to communicate with one another. One day strange green meteors in the sky turn every human being who looks at them blind. Bill Masen, who was in hospital during the light show, is one of the few people who can still see – and as he wanders through London, he bears witness to a world in collapse. The day of the triffids has arrived. Yet, as Adam Roberts argues in his insightful introduction, the book, first published in 1951, is not only about these monstrous plants: ‘What’s going on in this superb fable is much more unsettling: the end of our civilisation, and the messy, precarious passage towards something new’.
'Who are these children? There’s something about the way they look at one with those curious eyes’
Every woman, married or unmarried, in the sleepy English village of Midwich suddenly finds herself pregnant. The children are born blond-haired and golden-eyed and seem merely unusual, but as they grow, their ‘families’ begin to notice their sinister powers of telepathy and group-mind sensibility. When the children are ostracised they respond by forcing the villagers to act against their will – sometimes violently. A difficult decision must be made. Are these children really human at all, and what sort of threat do they pose? Famously filmed as Village of the Damned, this is a classic story of stark moral choices. What is permissible if a race, even an entire species, is under attack? In his introduction, Roberts examines these questions and points out that when the book was first published in 1957, the horror of the Holocaust was a very recent memory.
‘The warning: WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT! faced me as I went in, but it was much too familiar to stir a thought’
Published in 1955, The Chrysalids is set in an imagined future that has uncomfortable similarities with a repressive past. Following a catastrophe known as the ‘Tribulation’, the farming community of Waknuk is ruled by puritan fundamentalists who see any deviation from the norm as the ‘devil’s work’. The narrator David is terrified that his unusual ability, telepathy, will make him an outcast in his own community. Wyndham brilliantly uses this concept to comment on past, present and future: New World Puritans in the cultural hysteria of the Salem-witch trials; the McCarthy persecutions of the 1950s, and the all-pervasive threat of nuclear war.