Archive for August, 2021

Review: The Midwich Cuckoos

Sunday, August 22nd, 2021

I came to this as through a couple roads. There’s an off-the-cuff reference to it in The Invisibles that I ran down for my contemoporaneous annotations of that series which is enough of a draw to attract me. When the guys at Random Horror Podcast No. 9 covered the first film version of (Village of the Damned) and hinted at some powerful depth in that movie, I decided to pull it from the library.

There was a lot I liked about it, but it didn’t have the depth that Cecil and Jeffrey implied. For what it’s worth, I found their analysis of Village of the Damned reflects their depth as thinkers and artists more than the movie supports. And I’m delighted that they pushed me to read the source.

It hits all the beats of late 1950’s SF. It wrestles with issues of evolution, the roles of science and the military, societal mores, and political dogma without any of the distractions of realistic characters. The characters are all there to make philosophical points and raise intriguing questions, not to engage the reader emotionally. They are solid, just not much beyond stereotypes. The ideas are the stars of the show.

To its credit, the plot is well constructed to maneuver the characters to bring out the ideas that John Wyndham wants to address. The clockwork is well-crafted and executed with the occasional well-turned phrase to bring it to life. And it has a life. The characters move believably through the machinations that bring the questions of a hostile nature and humanity’s role and the role of its intellectual, spiritual and emotional constructs in it into sharp relief.

They are interesting ideas and worth thoughts. My only deep criticism of it, allowing for how it stays so well in its genre lane, is that there is little ambiguity present. Wyndham uses his world to raise his issues, but makes sure to scope each one tightly. The result feels as much like a murder mystery or one of Asimov’s puzzle stories. Given the constraints, there are few resolutions that make any sense other than the one the characters reach.

I see why Cecil and Jeffrey asked questions that neither Midwich nor Village raised. I like looking at the ideas, but my thoughts all start by negating one of the explicitly stated facts of the plot. I find the value in the power of the the underlying ideas to provoke speculation.

Strongly recommended.