A terrifying story of conformity and deformity in a world paralysed by genetic mutation
In The Chrysalids John Wyndham takes the reader into the anguished heart of a community where the chances of breeding true are less than 50 percent and where deviations are rooted out and destroyed as offences and abominations. The narrator of The Chrysalids is David, who can communicate with a small group of young people by means of 'thought shapes'. This deviation from a cruelly rigid norm goes unnoticed at first. But sooner or later the secret is bound to be discovered, and the results are violent, horrific... and believable.Nyrb - 2008
The Chrysalids is set in the future after a devastating global nuclear war. David, the young hero of the novel, lives in a tight-knit community of religious and genetic fundamentalists, always on the alert for any deviation from the norm of God's creation. Abnormal plants are publicly burned, with much singing of hymns. Abnormal humans (who are not really human) are also condemned to destruction — unless they succeed in fleeing to the Fringes, that Wild Country where, as the authorities say, nothing is reliable and the devil does his work. David grows up ringed by admonitions: Keep pure the stock of the Lord; Watch thou for the mutant.
At first he does not question. Then, however, he realizes that he too is out of the ordinary, in possesssion of a power that could doom him to death or introduce him to a new, hitherto unimagined world of freedom.
As one reviewer noted when the book was first published, John Wyndham writes with a 'miraculous avoidance of cliche and a gentle, sophisticated, slighty astringent humour. He is one of the few authors whose compulsive readability is a compliment to the intelligence.'Nyrb - 2008
"[Wyndham] was responsible for a series of eerily terrifying tales of destroyed civilisations; created several of the twentieth century's most imaginative monsters; and wrote a handful of novels that are rightly regarded as modern classics." —The Observer (London)
"John Wyndham's portrait of a community driven to authoritarian madness by its overwhelming fear of difference — in this case, of genetic mutations in the aftermath of nuclear war — finds its echoes in every society." —The Scotsman
The Chrysalids is a perfectly conceived and constructed work from the classic era of science fiction, a Voltairean philosophical tale that has as much resonance in our own day, when religious and scientific dogmatism are both on the march, as when it was written during the cold war.