May 14, 2015 by Darius
I recently read The Chrysalids by British science fiction author John Wyndham. Published in 1955, The Chrysalids is definitely one of the classics of sci-fi. If it seems derivative, well, that’s because you’ve probably seen things that derive from it.
The Chrysalids takes place in a future society where some sort of apocalypse (almost certainly a nuclear exchange) has wiped out most of humanity and sent the pockets of survivors far backwards in terms of technology. Mutation, among humans and other life forms, is common.
One of the things humanity has retained is religion, but in the post-apocalyptic world, every pocket of humanity seems to have its own version of God’s will – and, of course, everyone else’s is wrong. The gist of the story pits religious fundamentalists – a community of people who aggressively cull any animals, plants, and people that display any sort of genetic variation (because their deviation is not in keeping with “God’s image”) – against other communities that have adapted to or even embraced changes that emerged in the post-apocalyptic world.
By the end of the book, though, one has to ask how much humans truly have evolved or even are capable of evolving. Do the number of toes or unusual mental powers actually change who humans are, what they want, and how they treat each other?
Like many early science fiction writers, though, John Wyndham can’t quite make the whole book a thing of beauty. The idea takes precedence over the storytelling, and the first half of The Chrysalids is much better than its second half.