Newly reread in the midst of Covid-19’s pandemic, The Kraken Wakes” holds some very interesting parallels. It is a classic sci-fi, written in 1953 by John Wyndham who is best known for “The Day of the Triffids”. The threat posed by the Kraken unwinds at a glacial pace as does the narrative. This is a clever device that aligns the reader’s frustration with the pace of the story to that of the protagonist.
Although the manifestation of the Kraken’s menace arises over the course of many years, any hope of an appropriate response to this menace is undermined by the inability of the human race to come to grips with an unfamiliar reality, not to their liking. The worse it gets, the further they descend into denial and wishful thinking. To the fictitious population the inevitable outcome, though patently obvious for some time before, comes as a great surprise.
The Kraken Wakes is an Anglo-centric tale as is the vista of this comparison. The writing style is old fashioned and the author’s prejudices, reflected in the patriarchal attitudes of the protagonist, are dated and at times painful but Wyndham’s keen perception of human nature is being agonizingly reflected on the current global stage that is Covid-19 in 2020.
Early scenes in the story occur in locations far removed from the Anglo’s domain and so events are viewed as novel and, perhaps even the result, of that ‘otherness’ that keeps ‘them’ apart from ‘us’. Not unlike our recent compassionate but aloof coverage of unfolding SARS, MARS, Swine-flu, and Ebola crises. The idea that any such thing could unfold ‘here’ is unimaginable, both in the novel and the recent here-and-now.
As the baffling threat materializes closer and closer to home, so begins the blame game. In the Cold War-era, it’s the Russians’ fault and of course, now it’s the Chinese. Attribution of blame completely ignores the fact that, as in our contemporary situation, those ‘others’ being blamed were the first affected by, and continue to share in equal quantity, this unintelligible peril. So goes the blame game.
Unhappy with the response or lack thereof of their own government, this fictitious population look for a Rescue Ranger. In the past as in the present, this role is awarded to ‘the Americans’, and here any resemblance to the present is lost. No one could possibly have foreseen the descent into chaos that has marked the USA’s current response to Covid-19, not even the “A village in Texas has lost its idiot” T-shirt designers. The world is watching with morbid fascination as Donald Trump trumps Kim Jong-un on the idiocy scale, and Americans die like flies.
There is however, one interesting parallel with modern USA. Very early in the Kraken Wakes narrative, an academic, one Dr Bocker, correctly interprets sparsely available data and attempts to warn the population of the emerging threat. He is ridiculed and ostracized by his peers even long after his theories are proven correct, the truth being too bitter a pill to swallow.
Here in July 2020, we appear to be between Part 2 and Part 3 of this story. Will civilization as we know it be forever altered? Will technology eventually find a way to beat this pandemic scourge or will it, like the Bubonic Plague, continue to make cameo appearances for the next 360 years?
Reading a novel, we can simply read to the end and in fiction, of course, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end that makes sense. Life is just a little more complicated than that. Moreover, reading this novel we can compress the many years into a few hours reading. Unfortunately, we are doomed to take, as the authors of time travel sci-fi would call it, the long way.