25 September, 2012

A Most Favourite Author

John Wyndham & Lucas Parkes

This is the only one of Wyndham's books of which this statement is true: I had not read this since UHill, which means it is at least thirtyfive years since i had last read it. And how has it aged in that longish stretch of time? It seems to me that we had agreed, in class, that it was one of the weaker of Wyndham's books that we read together (though none of his books are actually weak); i would say that the passage of time has not strengthened it.

Part of the weakness is the structure: The book, novel, is five short stories which are linked by being about several generations of the same family, and the urge that the male members of that family seem to have to get into space. A novel usually has the strength that the same characters are kept through all of it, thus giving the author and the reader time to get to know them properly; a collection of short stories may have a common theme, but tends not to have much linking the stories other than that; this collection has more than theme, the plot develops from one to the other, to a degree they are dependent upon the previous stories, but the tenuous familial relations (the last is a four greats grandson to the first) are not enough to hold them together as a novel. This is unfortunate, as each of the stories is actually good, and could stand by itself.

I think the error was in the collecting or, perhaps, in the attempt to make the five stories hang together; as i say, each, alone, is quite a good story, a part of the development of space, how Britain, along with the USA and the USSR was able to enter space and go to the moon, how Brazil, after a nuclear war, made space a monopolised part of its domain, and how that monopoly was broken. Fascinating to read, as the stories were written at least ten years before Armstrong and Aldrich were on the moon, so perhaps even before Sputnik. The estimates Wyndham made of how things would be done, what the effects of space would be, what other planets would be like, are fascinating ~ as always with his writing. So much so that i feel a little guilty in criticising the overall presentation of the book; i would not be honest, though, were i not to report my reactions, even when less than favourable to one of my favourite authors.

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