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Vintage Treasures: Re-Birth (The Chrysalids) by John Wyndham

Sunday, November 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Re-Birth John Wyndham-small Re-Birth John Wyndham-back-small

Cover by Michael Herring

In the 1950s, Ballantine Books reprinted much of John Wyndham’s science fiction in the US with memorable covers by Richard Powers, including The Kraken Wakes (1953), The Chrysalids (1955), Tales of Gooseflesh and Laughter (1956), Trouble with Lichen (1960), and The Infinite Moment (1961). In the process they also made up new names for it, because, you know, America. So The Kraken Wakes became Out of the Deeps, and The Chrysalids became Re-Birth.

In the mid-70s, which was when I was discovering John Wyndham, Del Rey repackaged four of Wyndham’s most popular novels with brand new modern covers. They were:

The Midwich Cuckoos (June 1976)
Trouble with Lichen (August 1977)
Out of the Deeps (December 1977)
Re-Birth (April 1978)

Wikipedia calls The Chrysalids “the least typical of Wyndham’s major novels, but regarded by some as his best.” In a ridiculously short 3-sentence review Kirkus said it was “SF on the fantasy side.” A far more reliable reviewer, Jo Walton at Tor.com, called it, “My favourite of his books… [it] set the pattern for the post-apocalyptic novel.” It’s is my favorite as well…. but mostly because it’s the only one set in Canada (Labrador, that strange slip of Quebec that belongs to Newfoundland). Here’s a snippet from Jo comments.

John Wyndham was a very odd person. He was a middle-class Englishman who lived for most of his life in clubs, without any close relationships. He had a very odd view of women. Yet he singlehandedly invented a whole pile of sub-genres of SF. It’s as if, although he was so reclusive, in the 1950s he was plugged in to the world’s subconscious fears and articulated them one by one in short, amazingly readable novels, which became huge worldwide bestsellers…

Unlike the cosy catastrophes, The Chrysalids is set generations after nuclear war has permanently destroyed our civilization. It unites the themes of Wyndham’s other best known work — it has a catastrophe sure enough, and it has a strange generation of children growing up different in a world that fears them, but it’s a different and interesting world, and it tells the story from the point of view of one of the children. (Wyndham, like Spider Robinson, believed that telepathy would make people get on much better. It must be charming not to have thoughts that are better kept to yourself.)…

Like so many books I read as a child, The Chrysalids is much shorter than it used to be. It is only 200 pages long. Wyndham really was a terrific storyteller. He manages to evoke his oppressive world of “Watch Thou For The Mutant” and burning the blasphemous crops is evoked in impressively few words… Wyndham’s attitude to women is exceedingly peculiar. It goes way beyond the times he lived in. But the book does pass the Bechdel test, which is pretty good for a first person male novel — the narrator overhears two women have a conversation about a mutant (female) baby.

Read Jo’s complete review here.

Our previous coverage of John Wyndham includes:

Out of the Deeps
The Midwich Cuckoos
The Complete Carpenter: Village of the Damned (1995)
The Early John Wyndham: Sleepers of Mars and Wanderers of Time

Re-Birth was published by Del Rey in April 1978. It is 185 pages, priced at $1.75, with a cover by Michael Herring.

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

2 Comments »

  1. My first taste of Wyndham was the movie version of Day of the Triffids; that lead me to the book it was based on and eventually every one of his novels my library system had. That included Day of the Triffids and all four of the books republished by Del Rey in the 70’s; well worth a look.

    You’re right when you say Wyndham was a terrific storyteller; those books are entertaining and very well told tales that too many people today dismiss as “old” and “outdated because most of his best-known work was written between 1951 and 1960. People don’t know what they’re missing.

    Thanks for putting a spotlight on a writer who was a major influence on SF in the mid 20th century and who is all but forgotten today.

    Comment by John E. Boyle - November 17, 2019 9:43 pm

  2. You’re very welcome, John. I think John Wyndham is overdue to be rediscovered. I think perhaps the fact that he was a bestselling writer may work against him in this case… he doesn’t have the cachet of many of today’s ‘forgotten’ SF writers, who are harder to find in paperback. But we’ll see.

    Comment by John ONeill - November 17, 2019 9:48 pm


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