A lot of stories take place in a world after an apocalypse, but The Kraken Wakes follows a couple who witness the first warning signs and live through the worst of it. In The Day of the Triffids, Wyndham used the societal breakdown as a backdrop to a more personal story, but in The Kraken Wakes he really focused on how the world was reacting. The personal story was still there, but it felt like its purpose was to give a viewpoint for this larger problem rather than to really explore the relationship.
This is the first-hand account of Mike Watson, and his wife Phyllis, as they look back on the alien invasion. They were on a ship at sea when they first witnessed, what appeared to be, five blazing meteors fall from the sky and into the water. They both worked at the EBC radio, a fictional competitor to the BBC, so they’re involved in gathering evidence in order to warn and inform British citizens. It’s an interesting balance of trying to raise awareness of a possible alien invasion without appearing to be a fringe news outlet, while dealing with competitors and stakeholders of the corporation.
While you don’t get to see much of the aliens, I loved how unique they appeared to be. The first major encounter is with a tank-like mass that emerges from the ocean, crawls up the shore and into a courtyard, and launches tentacles out in every direction. These tentacles latch on to various objects and people and slowly drag them back to be enveloped and captured. Researchers eventually decide that these creatures are intelligently controlled and are being sent to harvest organic matter, but specifically for what they do not know.
The invaders’ main form of attack is ingenious as well, particularly for the time this book was written. They essentially cause high-speed global warming by melting the polar ice caps, causing the sea level to slowly rise. We get to watch the Watsons, and to a lesser extent the rest of society, deal with their slow and inevitable demise. As more and more towns are lost to the ocean, all the humans can do is try to calculate when the sea rising will stop based on what they know about the ice caps. There is no defense, just the question of how much will be lost. It’s an interesting scenario to watch unfold.
I’m glad I picked up the audio version of this. The narrator, Alex Jennings, was fantastic. The book had background music at a few parts, which is a huge pet peeve of mine, but it actually worked quite well in this, adding a haunting mood at the right moments.
This is a slow-paced novel. It has a few tense scenes, but if you’re looking for an action-packed alien invasion, this is not the book. It’s more of a thought experiment of how this would play out if it happened. It wasn’t my favourite Wyndham novel, but I still really enjoyed it.