The Kraken Wakes

by John Wyndham
Reviewed date: 2005 Jan 2
Rating: 3
182 pages
Entitled Out of the Deeps in the US edition.
cover art

Plot synopsis: The Earth is invaded by strange red spaceships that land in the seas and descend to the deepest trenches of the oceans. The aliens cripple trade by sinking any ship that sails across deep waters. They attack humanity with strange sea-tanks that rise from the deeps during the night to wipe out coastal towns and villages. And finally, they threaten humanity with extinction by melting the polar ice caps, thereby raising the sea level by hundreds of feet.

Analysis: The premise of The Kraken Wakes is good, but the ending is disappointing. Wyndham leaves everything a mystery: we never even get to meet an alien. They stay down in the Deeps of the ocean. We never learn what they look like, why they came to Earth, where they came from, or why they are so methodically devoted to driving mankind to extinction. There is absolutely no explanation. The alien intelligences are, in the end, no more than plot devices. They might as well be gremlins or demons or leprechauns for all the difference it makes. But the book's biggest disappointment is the infuriatingly simple manner in which the invaders are finally defeated. It's like a book about the dangers of using up non-renewable energy sources ending by having the scientists invent a device that produces abundant cheap energy from rocks and sand. It's a cop-out, that's what it is.

Further, the characters in The Kraken Wakes are not well developed. The narrator is a correspondent for the English Broadcasting Company (EBC) but his character is hardly explored. He exists merely to tell the story.

In its barest form, the book reminds one of H. G. Wells's classic War of the Worlds. Replace Martians with mysterious red spaceships, have them land in the oceans instead of Britain, and instead of Heat-Rays and Black Smoke their weapons are sea-tanks and melting the ice caps. The expository writing style is reminiscent of War of the Worlds, as is the human impotence against the invaders' weapons.

Despite the disappointing ending, most of the book is an interesting read. I rate it a three out of five, but I recommend you skip this book and read The Day of the Triffids instead.

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