Plan for Chaos – Review
Forty years ago I thought I’d read my last Wyndham story.
The I found the pre-war pulp stories he’d written for the American market, but frankly they weren’t as good. Now I’ve found “Web” and” Plan for Chaos”, both published posthumously.
“Web” I’ll review elsewhere,
Plan for Chaos is fascinating. Think of cloning and the Boys from Brazil, or think of Reagan’s Star Wars programme, or North Korea’s enterprise in electronic warfare.
Wyndham got there first, and he got it right. Another achievement of this extraordinary Englishman.
No more spoilers, but it moves well, and the interplay of motivations in the second half of the story is a delight. The development is logical, the Male Protagonist is no action hero, he’s an everyman caught up in something dreadful, able to report, but not influence events. The Female Protagonist is again typical Wyndham, tougher minded than the male, but sympathetically drawn.
There are the occasional lectures that appear in all Wyndham novels, but they fit. They explain the motivations and the backgrounds. Skip them on first read if you wish, but go back and read them more carefully afterwards. They are worth it, they complete the story, and more importantly they make you question your own certainties about right and wrong.
Having said all that, it’s not perfect. The biggest flaw, and the one that stopped it being published was his attempt to set the opening chapters in the USA. It doesn’t work. It might have been less obvious it he had just produced another pulp sci-fi like so many other UK writers did, but here he is speaking for the first time in his true voice, and that voice is clearly English, and an educated upper-middle class Southern England one at that. Put that in New York and it just does not fit.
What he should have done is set it in England, the England he knew and lived in. The plot need not have changed much, but the book would have been immeasurably better. However there seems to be a received wisdom amongst USA publishers that USA readers are not bright enough to cope with long words or with non-American heros (that’s why “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” became “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in the USA). That seems rather patronising to me.
Wyndham certainly does have long words. My English is pretty good, but even I had to look up “objurgation”. but that is his style, an educated literary style, and it doesn’t seem to have stopped quite a few Americans reading “Day of the Triffids”.
There’s one other flaw, the ending seems rushed, as if he’d dashed something off, then never got round to revising it. Maybe that’s what happened, or maybe it’s just Wyndham being more interested in his characters than in the catastophe that they live through. He had developed his characters to the point he wanted, so he felt it better to stop the story that to carry on into long irrelevance.
So – flaws, yes, but well worth it, and I’m glad to have had the chance of once more reading that quiet, restrained English voice describe horrors far worse than any cheap pulp shocker.