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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Chocky (1968) by John Wyndham

Cover art from the 2015 re-issue of Chocky by John Wyndham, with a new foreword by Margaret Atwood
Book Review
Chocky (1968)
by John Wyndham

   John Wyndham occupies a solid third place on any list of mid 20th century English/British science fiction writers, firmly ensconced behind Arthur C. Clarke and J.G. Ballard.  If Clarke is the prophet of the future, and Ballard is the master of the alternative dystopian present, then Wyndham is the link to the past, the bridge between the proto-science fiction of H.G. Wells in War of the Worlds and Arthur C. Clarke in 2001.

  Like his other entry on the 1001 Books list, Day of the Triffids, Chocky is a short story lengthened out make a thin novel or novella.  Both books had their work in Wyndham's work as a writer of genre science fiction, and like the plant terrorized world of Triffids, Chocky features a memorable set up: A little boy visited by an imaginary friend who is apparently visiting from a highly advanced civilization in another galaxy.

    Wyndham elaborates this scenario with a minimum of fuss and bother- it's all very English of him, and this English-ness might just explain why he is so neglected compared to Clarke and Ballard.  Unlike those two, Wyndham doesn't have a modern day cult keeping his memory alive.  I can see where the editorial staff of 1001 Books would want him represented, but in the American market his popularity hovers between "out of print" and "recently reprinted but in a New York review of books paperback edition."   The New York Review of Books paperback reissue is a good guide to when a book is hovering at the margin of commercial viability, and also makes a prima facie case that the author in question is overlooked by big publishing.

   Like the book itself, the ending of Chocky is tied up in a neat, question answering bow, and in this regard it's a departure from the question provoking endings of other 60's English sci-fi classics.  I'm thinking of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, but also of Ballard's 60's stories.

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